Creative Thinking for Business Process Analysis

24 Sep

Is it possible to think creatively in a left brain environment? I was asking myself this question when asked to take a look at the business analysis process in place for a banking client of mine. As you’ll see below the answer is yes. You can and you should apply creative thinking wherever you can. Especially in left brain environments.

The Brief

I consult in my day job. At the moment, I am part of a pretty large program hoping to overhaul the internal operation of a number of banking products. The standard approach looked a bit like this:




As you might expect, this kind of approach can take an extremely long time. My brief was to look at alternative options for getting the job done quicker.

Using Creative Thinking to Re-Invent Process Analysis

My gut feel was to use an attribute based approach to creative thinking, partly to understand the problem space better and partly to arrive at options that might be less challenging for my client than a complete redesign.

Step 1: mind map the problem space 


Our mind map was done here pretty quickly, with the goal of commenting on each major process step so we could understand what actually happens, and what gets produced. This went up on our big whiteboard and got updated and referred to throughout the rest of the process. We also generated a separate list of questions, which we used as direction during solution building. Here are some of our top questions:

  • Does everyone work separately? What if they could all work together?
  • What happens to issues in manual process? Are they rejected in favour of addressing hard system fixes?
  • How to issues get tested / validated?
  • What is an acceptable solution and who is accountable for it working?


I wrote about SCAMPER in a previous post. Essentially, you get to pick out and play with attributes form the problem space. The goal is to generate ideas or prompts for ideas, which can feed into step 3. This is the creative thinking step, so logistics, judgement and expectations are on hold. We captured our thoughts brainstorm style in a large unstructured mess of post its (on a different wall nearby to the mind map). Here is an extract:

  1. Substitute root cause document with a physical test
  2. Modify the use of sequential steps to form a single activity
  3. Extend the process to build and test solutions
  4. Replace the analysis process with a game
  5. etc

Step 3: Solution Building

During solution building we picked up our SCAMPER prompts and talked them through until we had a workable solution. Here are some examples:

  • Using prompt 4 we could have several teams could compete to solve groups of issues around a given product. Teams would be selected for specialist product knowledge, with the winning team ‘perfecting’ their product first. This could merge with prompt 3 to enable teams to actually fix their issues as well.
  • Using prompt 2 we could form collaborative hit teams briefed to resolve groups of issues in a test environment. This solution would move from hard documents to live walk throughs and screen grabs.
  • Etc.

The bus ride home

We found this process really useful, and piloted a couple of approaches favoured by our client before settling on a preferred approach.

On my way home I got to thinking about how easy it is to separate creative thinking and logical thinking. We are so used to using logical left brain thinking in our day to day work that we often see creative thinking as something we do in a workshop, or on a strategy day. Stop it. Think creatively now.




Service Innovation Examples

11 Sep

Yesterday I wrote about Customer Experience Innovation, an approach to service design in which specific consideration is given to customer ‘jobs to be done’ and the constraints of service delivery within the design context. I thought I would add a few examples to illustrate these points.

A Delightful Customer Experience

This example is taken from Frog Design, one of the most well known service design agencies in the world.

Frog’s brief was to re-imagine the now antiquated pay phone. Taking a design view based around a communication hub built within and for the local community Frog have designed a truly delightful take on the humble phone. Apart from the snappy voice and gesture control (so you don;t have to take your hands out of your pockets presumably) and the directional microphone (so it actually works), we now have geolocated  advertising down to the city block. Expected in 2014, these devices look set to fit right in amongst the New York streets.

Insight Re-focuses Service on Customer Jobs

This case study is taken from Frontier Service Design. During their brief, Frontier were advised that designer customers bought into the Veroproof service because it was cheaper than competing offerings. How wrong they were. On further analysis it turns out the speed of service was the true deciding factor. Know this and you have a completely different direction for any service enhancement.

Service Blueprints in Action

I couldn’t really find an example of services redesigned with and without consideration for the implementation capability of the organisation. But, this example of a service blueprint for a self service DVD kiosk shows some of the key elements. Whilst there is a lot of customer experience design in the top layers, the service blueprint goes on to map the end to end service interactions all the way into he back end systems and processes required to make it all happen. Without consideration of these backstage elements, we risk designing services with no substance.

Customer Experience Innovation

10 Sep

service blueprint

Customer Journey Mapping

I started looking at customer journey mapping late last year. Whilst a great deal has been written on the topic my favourite so far has been by the UK’s HM Government, now sadly archived and somewhat difficult to find*.  Consensus seems to be that customer experience mapping starts by mapping out the sequence of touch points between a service provider and a customer, and goes on to form a level of insight into what happens at each touch point and how the customer feels about this interaction. Solid insight can help to identify the highs and lows of a customer’s experience of our service, and therefore the opportunities for service improvement. Follow this up with some good design and the service provider should be well on their way to re-inventing a more delightful experience.

Solving customer ‘jobs to be done’

In lean terms, all services are underpinned by a central value proposition of helping a customer to ‘get jobs done’. The more essential the customer jobs to be done, the more essential the service. I wrote briefly about understanding the value proposition  some time last year. Applied to customer journey mapping, we should be able to use this level of insight to design services which are not only delightful, but essential as well.

Service Blueprinting

At this point I thought I was on to a pretty compelling service design concept. But something was still missing. It turns out that whilst design agencies are very good at providing advice on how to re-invent the customer journey, they are not so good at actually implementing the customer journey. Worse, the re-invented customer journey may not actually be implementable at all if the service providers internal operations cannot cope with the change. Enter service blueprinting.

The basic idea is to start with a customer journey, and map it to the underlying service delivery infrastructure (systems and processes mostly). When considered during the design phase of the ‘to be’ customer experience, we now have a ‘reality filter’ to apply to our prototype services.

Customer Experience Innovation

Combine all three, and we have (i) delightful customer experiences, (ii) focused on essential customer jobs, (iii) which an organisation believe they can actually implement within an acceptable timeframe.

Declaration of interest

I am currently developing this as a service offering on behalf of my employer, a Brisbane based management consulting group. I am posting here for feedback, as a sounding board, and because I am the author of this and other innovation services. Please contact me through my linkedin profile if you want to discuss further.

A note on HM Government

* Luckily, I managed to download the complete series of PDF’s previously made available by HM Government, which I have reposted here. They are excellent resources and well worth a read.






Feel the Pain

17 Dec

dysonI’ve talked a bit about value proposition design recently, and the need to get out of the building and find out what your customers really want. But what if this isn’t enough? And why is it that so many stories of inventors getting out of the building have  customers do the exact opposite of what was expected?

In this December interview with business review weekly, James Dyson (of cyclonic vacuum cleaner fame) said that:

To design well, one must have experienced the pain and frustration of an existing product not working well

To me, this means more than simply observing your customers in the field. This is about actually trying the product for yourself and living the customer journey. When you can bond with your customers over shared pain, and find a better way forward … that is where true insight comes from. Tim Brown of IDEO encourages us not to ask ‘what’, but to ask ‘why’. Understanding why your customers are behaving in the way they are, and being able to get inside of their heads through having shared their pain and frustration is essential if you want your customer discovery observations to provide real insight.

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Lateral Thinking meets Business Model Innovation

14 Dec

random wordsLateral thinking can be thought of as logical thinking but form a different starting point. If you are able to shift your starting point enough before your logical mind gets to work, you can find yourself with surprising results. Hopefully, novel ideas with some value that you just wouldn’t have thought of using regular logical thinking.

The use of random words is one of many techniques designed to disrupt your regular, left brain thinking and enable you to start thinking creatively. In this post, I’ll continue my theme of putting the innovation back into business model innovation by applying the random word technique to business model innovation.

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Using Five Whys to find Customer Jobs

12 Dec

EinsteinIf I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it (Albert Einstein)

Making sure you are solving the right problem is THE most important part of business model innovation. In terms of developing your value proposition, this means spending time discovering which jobs matter most to your customers, before you go looking for solutions that will offer effective pain relief and gain generation. This post is part 3 of my series on using creative thinking techniques to put the innovation back into business model innovation. In today’s post, I’ll be looking at how the Five Whys technique can be used to get to the heart of the problem your business model is trying to solve.

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Creativity and Business Model Innovation (part 2)

10 Dec

flickrThis week I am looking at different ways we can put the innovation back into business model innovation. Taking the approach that creativity in thinking can be done deliberately, I’m applying various deliberate creative thinking techniques to what is now becoming the familiar area of business model generation, lean startups and customer development. Last week I looked at using the TERMS Star for putting your value innovation into hyper drive, today I’ll take a look at using SCAMPER to power up your disruption when pivoting from one business model to another.

What happened to Game Neverending?

Game Neverending (GNE) was a web based massively multiplayer online game launched in late 2002 and shutdown in 2004. Designed to be user extensible, the game encouraged real time browser chat with players leaving messages and game objects for each other at various locations. With poorly defined gameplay (there wasn’t even really a concept of winning), players quickly developed strong social connections with lots of humour and quite a few pictures being exchanged along with the intended gaming objects. By 2004, the site had relaunched as Flickr.

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