In August 2014, I attended a talk on design thinking by a professor from OCAD. He was engaging and knowledgeable, and generous with sharing much of the processes that he’s used working alongside clients in helping them approach their business problems more creatively. As the slides flipped by, my hand shot up and I asked,
“Wait a second, isn’t design thinking just business analysis 101?”
“Of course it is,” he said, “Just new language."
Demystifying the Jargon
For 15 years, I worked in the telecommunications industry, and for almost 10 of those it was as a senior business analyst across various segments of the industry. It’s a seemingly ambiguous title that encompasses a variety of working job titles and scopes of work, and can vary greatly depending on the type and size of organization you work for.
By definition, business analysis is “the practice of enabling change in an organizational context, by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.” Not sexy, but straightforward. Or so one would think.
Like anyone who’s worked in large enterprises knows, the ideal definition of a role rarely aligns directly with the actual work. Instead of being allowed to be methodical, define (read: design), and drill down to determine the right solution, process, next steps, or innovation, BAs are usually told from above, “Here’s a solution, make it fit,” without actually taking the time to determine if that’s the right solution.
This is when I started to identify as Business Designer. While my colleagues loved me, the bosses sometimes didn’t, as my reputation as a professional elephant hunter started to precede me. Why? Because instead of ignoring the elephant in the room, I started to raise my hand and ask questions, which put the elephant on the table. It’s not being contrary for contrary’s sake; it’s getting ready to eat the elephant.
Starting with the solution in mind before you really understand the problem is a mistake that all too many organizations make. It’s problematic because the results more often than not don’t actually resolve the issue that initiated the change in the first place.
The more I’ve consulted, audited workplaces, designed projects, processes, and programs, and the more I integrate systems thinking in my approach and execution, the more I know this to be true.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about manufacturers, service providers, not-for-profits, entertainers or product builders. Most organizations, regardless of size or industry, tend to silo their work. Marketing happens over here, strategy happens over there, operations happens a little bit everywhere. We all know how frustrating it is when we’re doing our jobs, and we think we’re moving in a certain direction only to find out that someone else in another department, or in another role is doing similar work, but with a different flavour or a different, even if similar, goal.
This is particularly evident when you start talking about companies and their digital presence. Someone is managing the marketing budget, someone’s doing PR, someone else is tweeting, multiple people are posting on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and someone entirely different is responsible for the website. These individuals often come together to align their activities or build campaigns, but it’s usually in response to an event, an immediate need or a “hey kids, let’s put on a show” moment of inspiration. Rarely—too rarely—is it planned, and purposefully integrated.
Changing the Dialogue
Design is defined as "purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.”
Design thinking is defined as “the cognitive, strategic and practical processes by which design concepts are developed by designers and/or design teams.”
Similar, right? But...
Design sounds sexy, far sexier than business analysis, and it’s certainly a phrase that supports the current enterprise and MBA zeitgeist, along with design thinking and integrative thinking. Really though, these approaches to building and creating in support of business goals are decades old. And just like fashion, everything old becomes new again, with a twist.
Our approach to working with clients is different from most agencies and consultants.
When we talk about business design, we start by talking business goals: online, offline, and everything in between. We don’t build "digital strategies" or "social media strategies" or websites (I mean, we can and we do, but that’s not all).
We work to understand an organization’s overall goals. We look at what they’re trying to achieve each and every day, why they exist, and how our work can help them achieve those goals in a purposeful and integrated way. We dive deep, and consider their marketing, operations, and processes, amongst other elements of their day-to-day business, alongside their storytelling and their online activity, all with their goals in our line of sight.
We don’t start with a solution, app, website, or campaign in mind. We start with asking one question:
To What End?
“To what end?” is the question we use to frame every decision, every go-forward point, and every deliverable that we produce in support of our clients. We mesh the regimen of a business analyst with the sensibility of a designer to create those exceptional experiences that you can only realize when you stand up, step back and take in the bigger picture. We may be capitalizing on that current trend about integrating principles of design into traditional business workflows, and for us and, more importantly, our clients, it’s working.
Are you ready to say “maybe” before you say “no”?
This approach is definitely not what you’re used to, and may not be what you’re looking for. Likely though, it’s the approach that you need. Drop us a line, and let’s start designing…