Tag Archives: communication

Value Proposition Design: A Fun and Engaging (New!) Guidebook

Alex Osterwalder's "Value Proposition Design" toolkit is now available

Alex Osterwalder’s “Value Proposition Design” toolkit is now available on Amazon

I just finished reviewing Alex Osterwalder‘s new book, Value Proposition Design, for ASQ’s Quality Management Journal. Although my review won’t be published until January 2015, this is such a refreshing and exciting book that I wanted to make sure all of you know about it now: because it will be available on Amazon tomorrow (Monday, October 20th)!

I met Alex this past September at BIF10 in Providence, Rhode Island, which (if you haven’t heard of it yet… or attended) is an inspiring and intimate two-day gathering of dynamic storytellers and equally dynamic participants. Everyone at BIF is engaged in some kind of social, civic, or business innovation — and many of the projects and ideas you hear about challenge outmoded assumptions in refreshing ways.

Alex is a little different… he’s a catalyst for other innovators. His company aims to provide individuals and teams with the tools they need to create new ventures, or improve existing projects and organizations, by critically examining the entire process of value creation and delivery. And this new release doesn’t disappoint — in large part, because the tools, techniques, and approaches that he promotes are consistent and aligned with various quality bodies of knowledge.

“The authors have created a fun and engaging text, full of cartoon-like pictures and exercises, that will be easily accessible to any member of a business development or quality improvement team. There are practical examples and stories provided throughout, which illuminate the concepts effectively and can help teams expand, refine, enhance, and articulate their visions by applying best practices through successful templates. The only weakness of this book is that it does not tie any of its assertions or practices to the academic literature. However, the Value Proposition Design canvas that this book describes in detail has demonstrated clear value already for many practitioners, and may provide researchers with ideas for making additional connections between established quality tools, principles, and practices.” — Me, in my January 2015 review of this book for the Quality Management Journal

Wherever you flip open the book, it’s organized so you’re presented with a complete idea that spans the left and right pages. This makes it very browsable and engaging, and an effective form for interlacing new ideas with repackaged perspectives on older techniques. For example, the “Find your Earlyvangelist” page reminds me of a new, more agile take on the 3M Lead User process, which many organizations have used over the past two decades to fine-tune their product characteristics and service delivery before wider release. I also like how several of the left page-right page idea blocks are aligned with broader concepts. The picture below shows one such example, where “learning” is the unifying concepts, and the pages that follow describe each of the techniques on the right in details:

vpd2

Overall, this was a really fun book to read and review. Are you looking for a way to get teams with diverse backgrounds on the same page for value creation? If so, this would be an excellent guidebook to help make it happen.

“[Alex’s new book] is a strong new contribution to the practitioner literature in quality management, and outlines many new approaches for value creation.” — Me, in my January 2015 review of this book for the Quality Management Journal

How Not to Deliver on Your Mission

rex-familyI’m sitting here in my hotel room at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar in downtown Toronto. It could have been an amazing experience… even though the room itself is tiny, the bed is functional but definitely not plush, and there’s quite a bit of road noise. You see, there’s a world class jazz band playing downstairs right now. Perhaps they haven’t even started… I’ve no way to know.

I arrived here around 8pm after a long, 10-hour drive from the fantastic BIF10 meeting in Providence. Although the reservations desk was closed, a nice sign instructed me to go to the bar, where it was very easy to order a beer and a sandwich and get my hotel room and bar tab taken care of in one fell swoop. It felt nice. I was enjoying the ambience, until halfway through my second beer when an older man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“You’re going to have to vacate this seat for a paying customer. There’s a band coming in at 9:30.”

This was kind of confusing to me, since I was on my second beer, was done with my sandwich, and had just invested $115 in a room for the night. “I’m staying here,” I let him know.

Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Everyone has to pay the $15 cover. It’s not included in your room.” He was gruff and unyielding, kind of like a New Yorker. (I wasn’t expecting that… I thought Canadians were far more collegial, eh?) He walked away, leaving me to think about what just happened.

About 10 minutes later my bartender came over. “Would you like another beer?” he asked.

“Well, apparently I can’t have one,” I said. “Some other man told me I needed to vacate unless I wanted to pay a $15 cover, even though I’m staying here.”

“That’s right,” the younger guy cheerfully acknowledged. “The shows are not part of the hotel room. Either you pay the cover or you have to leave.”

I’m not one to argue, but this made me really mad. I let him know that this “very important detail” was not on the Hotel’s web site. Nor had anyone told me about it. “Well,” he said, “if you had arrived earlier, the doorman would have told you, and it’s also on your information sheet.” So you see, it was all my fault already. I was late and I didn’t read the sheet.

“Where is my information sheet?”

“Upstairs, on the bed, in the room you haven’t checked into yet.” (Whew. I thought I’d missed it.) I explained to him that I came a half hour out of my way to experience the Rex. I could have stayed in the ASQ conference hotel, nearer the airport, for less. But I came here for the experience of a hotel and a jazz club, together – the home-like nature of being able to weave in and out of the club atmosphere as I’d like. I was so encouraged by their marketing materials that said I’d “feel like part of the family”. He said he was sorry, again, but there was nothing they could do. (Really? It would have been so nice just to be able to sit there and finish that last beer for the evening. I probably would have headed upstairs shortly after the show started, anyway.)

In addition to a “sorry” — he tried to convince me of the value of this very prominent New York band that was about to start, and it was important that they collected the extra $15 from everyone. More important than just letting me finish my dinner.

(Apparently, you interrupt the family while they’re in the middle of their dinner to pay $15 or give up their seat.)

This sent a very strong message. In fact, it felt like extortion must feel (to a lesser extent). You’re not welcome unless you pay ANOTHER $15. You need to leave your seat NOW so someone who’s willing to pay can get in!! Doesn’t matter that you have paid quite a bit. You need to pay more. Sorry.

Could I at least come downstairs a little later (after I write my blog post to vent about this service experience) to get a beer and take it downstairs, I asked?

“Sure, if you pay the $15 first. We’re happy to direct you to other bars.” Well, unfortunately, I think you’ve directed me to other bars (and hotels) permanently. Or maybe it’s fortunate. It would be difficult to feel less wanted and welcome somewhere else.

Dear Rex, I do not feel like part of the family. I am upstairs in my room, feeling like the wayward child who’s not included from the festivities because she didn’t bring an extra $15. Feeling like I couldn’t even stick around to finish my dinner. I wish I could leave now where I feel more welcome — even at a nameless, faceless chain hotel that doesn’t say that it would LIKE me to feel like family, but I’m parked in overnight public parking, and I don’t have anywhere else to go. You claim that you are “attentive, convenient, and down-to-earth friendly.” But all I got was a “sorry you didn’t see our policy.”

LESSON TO SERVICE PROVIDERS: Include that extra $15 in the room charge. Make the guest feel welcome at the show, even if they choose not to attend. If they didn’t know the policy (because you don’t have it on your web site), figure out a way to make accommodations. Or they might see fit to write a blog post to 100,000 quality practitioners across the globe who might be able to learn from this and not make the same mistake.

Expressing Your Needs

This is me. I have NEEDS! I just need to get better at expressing them.

This is me. I have NEEDS! I just need to get better at expressing them.

Achieving quality (re: ISO 9000 para 3.1.5) is all about meeting stated and implied needs.

But our society has conditioned us not to freely express our needs to friends, family, and others; after all, if we need something, the marketing should have worked already, and we should know where we can go to willingly exchange currency for the means to satisfy that need. And Google is always happy to help us find new places to buy things.

But in a gift economy, open expression of needs is critical. When I was at Burning Man, it became habit to express my needs at any given time. After all, if I needed something, I relied on my network to pass the message along – and ultimately connect me with the people who could help me out with the resources that I needed. (I found a great pair of knee socks this way. I gave away a beautiful black jingly bra, several rolls of toilet paper, several gallons of water, and a giant canister of naphtha gas this way.)

Steve Pavlina points out that there is probably a vast audience of potential partners and co-creators who, at any time, are ready and willing (and happy!) to meet your needs. It’s just that you haven’t broadcast those needs and so the people who would be happy to help you meet them are still in the dark. No one knows you have those needs, so no one can say hey! I’ve got gifts that will help you meet those needs.

How often do you have genuine needs in your workplace, or your life – and it’s very likely that others could help you meet those needs – but you just have NO clue how to find people that can help out? Or maybe you just don’t know how to start the conversations? Or maybe you’d like to ask, but you get into self-defeating spirals where the voice on the inside of your head is telling you they probably don’t have the time… you don’t want to be an inconvenience… you don’t want anyone to feel taken advantage of… you don’t want to impose on anyone.

It feels very awkward to express that you would really like help or support from someone else. It feels weak, maybe. But that default feeling of weakness or not-enough-ness is NOT REAL. It’s just what we’re conditioned to believe is true because of the effect marketing — and the consumer-driven economy — has had on us since birth.

I have needs too, and I don’t know how to find people that will help me meet my needs. I am VERY happy to help them meet THEIR needs. So the first step is for me to start getting comfortable with expressing my needs – and being open to the people who will show up to help meet them. For starters, here are some of my needs:

  • I need someone to cut my hair across the back every month or two – straight across! – which I don’t think merits the $30 fee most salons charge. It takes 5 minutes from anyone who has a steady hand and a pair of scissors. (I can provide the scissors). Usually I get my mom to do it, but she’s several hours’ drive away. And I desperately need a cut. I would love to trade anything – or help with your statistics homework – for a straight-across cut.
  • On the same thread, I’d like to find someone who will henna the underside of my hair. My friends and I used to henna each other all the time in high school and college. Now, I have no henna friends… and a head in need of rainbow flavors about every 3 months.
  • I need non-aloof “girlfriends” (can be any gender) to share mutually beneficial great ideas, pointless and short-lived whining, and happy hours with. This is not to imply that my current suite of friends and confidants is inadequate in any way – I just want to make sure the supply of these people is large and diverse enough so that I can tap into it whenever I need to.
  • I need a photographer (preferably in consultation with “girlfriends” who can dress me up) to take headshots for blog + future journal articles. Preferably including dragons and/or some sort of flame throwing or fire breathing (which is why I can’t get the creative services department at work to do it – no dragons, no fire). Because, you know, I like things like that.
  • I need artsy Burner-type friends in Harrisonburg who want to create a “virtual commune” with me. We can share resources and moral support. If you have a venue where we can all get together and spin fire occasionally, that would not be bad either.
  • I need a regular Wednesday afternoon/evening babysitter for my 8 yr old. Must be totally trusted source (so I need to have known you for a while).
  • I need an occasional Monday afternoon/evening and random wildcard afternoon/evening babysitter for my 8 yr old.
  • I need someone in Harrisonburg to refer me to a great family physician or osteopath who will give me what I need to manage chronic sciatica – the result of a injury from surgery over 10 years ago. I’ve been to my old family doctor and several chiropractors already. No one has a solution – the doctor says I’m too young to be feeling like this (you’re right!! I AM!!) and the chiropractors swear they can fix me, but so far, they have only made it worse. As a result I live in almost constant background pain, and it interferes with my ability to think.
  • It would be great to have someone to massage my sore right foot. I have at least one person who will do it, but I feel bad asking, and he’s always working. I say “massage” – but what I really mean is “press that spot on the top of my right foot that releases the pain in my head really hard“. 
  • I need someone to help me grocery shop, cook, and eat healthy. In exchange, I’ll support your grocery-purchasing needs (after all, if you’re cooking for me, you might as well be cooking for YOU too!) I just need instructions, because I am helpless at the grocery store (the site of many panic attacks) and overwhelmed by the entire prospect of eating – which is why, when left to my own devices, I just don’t eat. There are too many possibilities. Note: Cooking partner has probably been identified – within hours of expressing this need.
  • I need someone to force me to go to Bikram Yoga Harrisonburg at least several times a week. Note: This will depend on getting adequate and reliable childcare. Maybe you need someone to force you to go to yoga too. Want to team up and make it happen???

Help??

And more importantly – how I can help YOU?

When Your Ideas are Met With Resistance

bm-survivalHas anyone ever opposed your ideas? Punctuated your plans? (This could be something you’ve experienced at work, or just in the regular course of life.)

Has anyone encouraged you (subtly or not so subtly) to remain entrenched in the status quo? To not “rock the boat”?

Yeah, me too.

Usually, when people question my ideas, plans, or approach – I’ll step back. I don’t want to be perceived as pushy, or aggressive, or anything other than basically nice and considerate of other peoples’ positions and feelings. I like to work in the shadowy background, producing what is meaningful to me, while others focus on what is meaningful to them – never the two paths to meet. If I’m working on projects or products for clients or customers, I defer to them entirely – using my experience or expertise only to guide or inform the process of discovery. I don’t like conflict, but when I do, I’d rather it’s between two OTHER people or organizations – and I’m just in the middle as the broker, attempting to fuse the two positions into a cohesive and mutually agreeable vision.

Sometimes, though, you can’t avoid being one of the parties in conflict – and as a result, today I discovered the blessing of opposition.

In the Summer 2004 issue of Journal for Quality and Participation, Thomas Berstene discussed “The Inexorable Link Between Conflict and Change” — explaining how conflict can facilitate transformation, that is, “the passing from one place, state, form, or phase to another.” He notes how every organization has examples of how constructive conflict can lead to positive transformation, if that conflict is honored for its potential value. Most significantly, he describes the cultivation of power as a means to resolve conflict, by “achieving self-interests without inflicting force on others.”

Cultivating power requires four things:

  • Authenticity. Being totally, completely, unabashedly true to your own needs, desires, and aspirations.
  • Synergy. Cultivating relationships so that you can work in harmony with (most, if not all) others.
  • Inner Strength. A sense of calm, and a higher level of peace and resourcefulness – you know you can come to a positive conclusion!
  • Quality of Being. The “experience of joy, ease, and serenity that derive from identification with one’s authentic Self” which renders these individuals “able to focus their attention on the current situation without dragging in history or resisting what might happen.”

I just got back from Burning Man (more on that later – MUCH more, in fact) so I’m nestled firmly in the womb of my power. All of the cobwebs that have clouded my mind and psyche for the past five years have been whisked away. I’m calm. I trust.

I’m unwilling to be anything other than true to myself right now. There’s just not enough time in this life to be otherwise.

And from this vantage point, I’ve discovered the blessing of opposition!

Today, it became pretty clear that some projects that are important to me are experiencing some resistance from others. That’s OK – maybe they don’t understand why my projects are so important to me. Maybe I can explain it to them. Maybe I’ll never be able to.

But instead of stepping back, this opposition unexpectedly, unashamedly rebirthed the dragon in me.

The opposition to my approach quickly – and with tsunamis of emotion – clarified, for me, what I believe in – the essence of what I think is really important.

And now I know what I believe. I think I knew it before, but now my gut knows it, and my body is ready to live it. I’m committed to what I believe. I’m willing to give up everything to follow what I believe.

And that’s what makes today starkly different — and entirely more colorful — than the potentials I embodied yesterday.

The Key to Engagement is Narrative

doug-hike(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

Customer engagement, employee engagement, and supplier engagement are hot topics in quality management. We know that engagement (which is marked by rich interaction and involvement) is different than participation (just showing up; typically in the quality domain we don’t distinguish between active participation and being a spectator). Consumers can either participate or be engaged; prosumers are always engaged.

The key to achieving engagement is to develop a narrative. A hero’s journey with one role specifically less defined, waiting for someone to step into its import, and in doing so – fulfill a slice of their own destiny.

As explained by novelist Justine Musk, engagement (from the perspective of how the concept can be used to become a better blogger) is this:

John Hagel makes the distinction between story and narrative.

1. Stories are finite: they have a beginning, a middle, and an end resolution.
2. Stories center on a protagonist. You are meant to identify with that character.

The inherent message is Listen.

1. Narratives are open-ended. They lack resolution. They are in the very process of unfolding.
2. They invite you to participate and help determine the outcome. It’s up to “you” to shape how this story will end.

The inherent message is Join.

“Narratives motivate actions,” Hagel notes. “In some cases, they motivate life and death choices…Every powerful movement that has impacted our world has been shaped and energized by a potent narrative.”

A narrative pulls the reader into the hero role, and you, as mentor, give her the tools, gifts and knowledge that enable her quest.

Hagel makes the point that narratives happen on personal, institutional and social levels. These narratives nestle inside each other like Russian dolls.

 

There Is No Process Until It Is Observed

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

I realized today that there’s a little bit of a quantum effect in quality management:

There is no process until it is observed.

Here’s what I mean. In the August 2012 issue of Quality Progress, Lynne Hare writes about how simple flow charts can be useful diagnostic tools. Just ask multiple team members to describe or characterize a process they’re familiar with… and see if they come up with the same thing! He says:

“My opening gambit was to ask each of the six team members to separately draw a process flow diagram. How many of you think I got six different flow diagrams? In fact, I got seven: One person wasn’t sure, so she drew two.

Clearly, the flow diagram exercise underscored the fact there had been no common understanding of the process; therefore, there could be no process control, no variation reduction opportunity and no path to improvement.”

I’ve seen this first hand! Most recently, it happened in our Spring 2012 “Quality and Process Improvement in Action” class at JMU. One student team was trying to document the process used by a community agency to link small businesses with resource providers who could help them develop their products, services, and marketing. After interviewing each of three stakeholders, the team ended up with exactly three vastly different process flow diagrams!

They were confused and dismayed. “What can we possibly do now?!?! We’re stuck!”

Fortunately, we (their professors) had seen this sort of thing before. When all of the stakeholders have a different sense of the process, this provides a pretty strong clue that they have never contemplated the steps of the process before, and how those steps are interrelated. More significantly, they have never shared an understanding of the process. Even though they have all been doing work, playing their roles, and serving a purpose, they have not been working together as part of a process – even if it seemed like they were!

Because the process has not yet been consciously observed by the group of participants, there is no process!

And as Lynne Hare points out in his article, without a common understanding of the process there can be NO process control — NO opportunity to reduce variation — and NO way to improve. If you find yourself in this situation, make it a point to get those participants and stakeholders together and consciously observe the process.

Once you do this, you make it real, and end up with a basis for moving forward.

The Rubric as a General Purpose Quality Tool

According to dictionary.com, one of the definitions for rubric is “any established mode of conduct; protocol.” But the context you’ve probably heard this word in is education – where a grading rubric or a scoring rubric is used to evaluate a complex artifact like a student essay.

In my opinion, it’s time to move the concept of the rubric from the classroom into the mainstream, because it can be applied as a very practical general purpose quality tool! (Hear that, Nancy Tague? I think you should write about rubrics in your next edition of the very excellent book The Quality Toolbox. Let me know if you’d like me to help make this happen.)

A rubric is basically a grid with 1) levels of performance indicated along the top row, and 2) criteria or dimensions of performance listed down the leftmost column. Each cell of the grid contains a descriptive statement that explains how the level of performance in that column might be achieved for a specific dimension:

For example, here’s a rubric that one group constructed to evaluate the quality of the mind maps that they were producing. The performance levels are organized from high performance in the top left (smiley face giving a thumbs up) to low performance in the top right (smiley face that looks like he’s about to pass out):

The dimensions of performance are neatness and presentation, use of images/symbols, and use of color. The descriptive statements in each cell provide specific examples of how the performance level might be achieved, e.g. “has failed to include color in the mind map” is an indicator of a low performance level for the dimension of “use of color” – which is very understandable!

The concept of the rubric as a performance assessment tool is relatively new! Griffin (2009), in a brief history of the rubric, notes that since its introduction in 1981, “the scoring rubric has evolved into a more precise, technical, scientific-looking document. It carries a tone of certainty, authority, and exactitude.” However, she notes, the utility of a rubric will depend upon the thought and consideration that goes into its construction. “A rubric is a product of many minds working collaboratively to create new knowledge. It will, almost by definition, be more thoughtful, valid, unbiased and useful than any one of us could have conceived of being as we worked in isolation.”

Advantages of applying a well developed rubric include:

  • Provides a common language for sharing expectations and feedback
  • Helps to clarify and distinguish the differences between various performance levels
  • Helps to focus an individual or group’s ATTENTION on relevant aspects of each desired quality characteristic or skill area
  • Provides a mechanism to more easily identify strengths and opportunities for improvement
  • Helps lend objectivity to an evaluation process that might otherwise be subjective

Disadvantages:

  • Different rubrics may need to be devised for the different activities or artifacts that are to be evaluated using the rubric
  • Not all evaluators will apply the rubric in exactly the same way – there is a subjective element at work here – so people may need to be trained in the use of a rubric, or perhaps it would be more effective in a group consensus context where inter-rater variability can be interactively discussed and resolved
  • Creating a rubric can be time consuming
  • The rubric may limit exploration of solutions or modes of presentation that do not conform to the rubric

Using Rubrics for Quality Improvement

Rubrics are already applied in the world of quality, although I’ve never heard them go by that name. The process scoring guidelines for the Baldrige Criteria are essentially rubrics (although the extra dimension of ADLI and LeTCI has to be considered in the mind of the examiner). The International Team Excellence Award (ITEA) criteria in the Team Excellence Framework (TEF) also forms a rubric in conjunction with the performance levels of missing, unclear, meets expectations or exceeds expectations.

I see a lot of ways in which rubrics can be developed and applied in the quality community to help us establish best practices for some of our most common project artifacts, such as Project Charters. Nancy Tague includes a Project Charter Checklist in The Quality Toolbox to help us create better and more complete charters… but what if we added a second dimension, which includes performance levels, and turned this checklist into a rubric? Any checklist could be transformed into a rubric. Furthermore, to develop a good rubric, we can brainstorm and rank all of the potential criteria in the left hand column, using a Pareto chart to separate the vital few criteria from the trivial many.

Are any of you already using rubrics for purposes outside training or education? I would love to start a list of resources to share with the quality community.


Reference: Griffin, M. (2009). What is a rubric? Assessment Update, 21(6), Nov/Dec 2009.

Note: There is a comprehensive site containing many examples of rubrics at http://www.web.virginia.edu/iaas/assess/tools/rubrics.shtm – however, they won’t open in Google Chrome.

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