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Making ideas work

Getting things sorted

Martin Grant April 2013
open six things

Six learnings for successful experience design.

We have just completed a very successful experience design assignment with AA Insurance (AAI). Success in this instance is measured by both hard and soft business outcomes. In terms of hard numbers, the measures are customer response and sales. The soft outcomes are staff engagement throughout the organisation, transformed workspaces, transformed customer experiences and engaged business partners.

AAI is a business spreading its wings that has a story to be told and that needed some changes to set it for the future. As part of the AA family, the general insurance business is steadily making its mark in its market. The business leaders realised that their success will be rooted in both being part of the AA family and also being an insurance company in its own right. Both of these would provide for the needs of the two shareholders (AAI is a strategic joint venture between the AA and Suncorp).

So, what are the learnings that are above the specific project that anyone doing a similar project can look to?

1. Outside In

A purpose should be grown from a profound understanding of the customer – this needs to be kept central to everything. A senior executive we know says living and breathing organisations 'need a purpose to believe in, a culture to belong to and an experience to contribute to'. When these come from a profound understanding of the customer then they serve as a very clear steer as to where everything needs to head.

AAI has a very clear purpose that fits this bill and there is no doubt that it is central to their success story – even though it was born out of an internal culture piece that the outside world rarely hear uttered or see –it was grounded in customer need and value. We contrast this recently to another project where we were presented with a purpose that came from an internal workshop and this just lacked the clarity of direction or commercial viability that a customer directed purpose enables (needless to say we were required to re-set this).

2. Inside Out

Sitting in a chapel at my son's college recently, the reverend referred to the fact true leaders 'know themselves'. Great organisations need great leaders. Great leaders know 'who they are' and help their organisations' find their character and clarity of purpose. As I look at this project a lot of the success is due to a deep understanding inside the business of 'who they are'.

We are working with another client in the same position where everything is heading the same way just to confirm the significance of this learning. Arguably, starting a project off this type prior to knowing oneself is mostly pointless.

3. Get close to the heart

In any organisation, the heart is the executive leadership team. As we look at the difference between good and great – we see the great come from when we are 'close' to the executive. This closeness means there are lots of conversations ranging from 'fireside' chats to engagement presentations and discussion. By getting close to the AAI team, we got to feel, experience and share their their view of the future in a deeper and more compelling way – way more effective than just reading it in powerpoint.

4. Defining multi-layered differentiating value

The single minded proposition is a duck out of water. It was created in the halls of advertising, taken into the area of brand design and then into the field of experience design. I urge everyone resist any calls for the 'one thing'. Organisations, like AAI are complex ecosystems and as such their story and their way of working is multi-layered. They derive value from a few things done well. We worked with AAI and clarified their value proposition down to four pillars. For another client there is five. For another there are three.

Yes, you need a clear articulation and single minded purpose, but don't be fooled in to thinking that is a silver bullet when delivering value. There is never just one thing. Get used to it.

5. Collaborative design

I would define collaborative design as respecting that everyone around the table has a view worth listening to. With AAI we had many regular evolving conversations with the senior client team. There were no sacred cows, no "ta da" moments, no black magic moments and importantly no egos. It was a process of a few professionals discussing and debating what is right for the organisation, and what would make the most difference. Sure you can employ tools to aid collaboration, but a desire to get the best outcome needs to be shared by all – without this you can't have collaboration.

6. A book of the film

Defining a story, encapsulating a strategy and empowering your culture matters. Sharing the process, the thinking and the vision to empower staff is critical. If the 'film' is the sum of the countless discussions and debates and agreements across the life of the engagement, then the 'book' is the story well told, succinctly and powerfully.

We have a book for AAI and it captures the whole story – the purpose, the customers, the inside story, the outside story and the results of the design process. We have used this book to engage staff, to induct other partners to the business and to direct the activity of the business in every way.

One great client. One great project. Lots of great outcomes. Six learnings. Best of luck.

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