Business Design Maturity Model: a conversation tool

13/01/2021 Business Design, Maturity Model

Authors: Markus Leineweber, Cristina Colosi, Renske Verweijen, Chitra Mohanlal & Richard Alker

Business Design is a discipline that is becoming increasingly popular. Corporate organisations are investing in centers of excellence. And the number of agencies and consultants who call themselves Business Designers is constantly growing. Time to think about how to get the most out of Business Design as an organisation. The Business Design Maturity Model as described in this article is aimed at business strategists, innovators, designers, agile coaches and change managers within cooperative organisations. We do not have the ambition to build a ‘perfect model’, but rather to provide a conversation starter, a reflection tool for how to successfully implement and scale Business Design within an organisation. We invite you to join us on a journey full of stumbling blocks, such as dangerous meteorites that you must avoid with maximum agility, but that can make your organisation invincible when traveling in unexplored and unpredictable spaces.

Business Design

The rise of Business Design correlates strongly with more general trends such as the need for human-centered innovation and organising teams according to agile principles, to innovate faster and more effectively. Technological developments follow each other in rapid succession and competitive advantage is often less and less sustainable. We therefore no longer have time to tinker endlessly with product development, because there is a good chance that the idea will (partly) have been overtaken by reality by the time it is introduced.

There is no common definition of Business Design. Personally, we like to stick to the words of IDEO:

“Business Design is a way of operating that combines the methods and mindsets of Design Thinking with the tools of business thinkers, analysts, and strategists to create businesses with long-term viability.”

Or in short:

“Not only solve user challenges but also achieve business goals.”

In essence, Business Design is about value creation: value for the end-user and value for the organisation, and finding the sweet spot in this balancing act. Business Design looks at business challenges from three perspectives: the desirability for the end-user and the viability and feasibility for the organisation.

Solutions that are asynchronous, in the sense that the three perspectives are not in balance with each other, are in the short or long term doomed to fail or at least to pay off insufficiently. Business Design aspires to provide synchronous solutions for the creation of sustainable competitive advantage. Have a look at the article by Bert Brautigam about the misperceptions of Design Thinking, which we feel very well captures the essence of Business Design.

Business Design Maturity

In their search for competitive advantage, organisations are increasingly realising that building the ‘right organisation’ requires just as much attention as developing and maintaining the ‘right products and services’. Time to define what we mean by Business Design Maturity. What characterises a highly mature organisation or team?

For us, Business Design Maturity is not an end-state that can be described as the endpoint of a ladder in maturity:

Maturity is much more about achieving a continuous flow, or way of operating, to stick with IDEO terms, of maximum ability to create value for customers and organisation. A flow that makes you invincible, as your organisation shows the ability to continuously explore and exploit business models that are synchronous at all times.

Towards a Business Design Maturity Model

A model is always a simplified description of reality that can be used to represent and share our understanding of it. In the building of a model, it is crucial to balance its usability with the level of details we use in the representation. After all, the map is not the territory: the map is a model of the territory that we use to know where we are, see where we’re going and plan our trip.

This is why we decided to give three different layers of simplification to our model of Business Design Maturity. At its surface, it will be broad enough to be relevant to most organisations, providing a common frame for evaluating the maturity status. As we go deeper, and the level of details increases, we can extract more specific insights on how to boost the journey towards maturity, which can be tailored case-by-case for maximum utility.

To start, we defined the dimensions of maturity in Business Design: four macro-areas useful to snapshot the status of the maturity of a company, unveiling superpowers and mega-flaws. On a deeper level, we identified the areas of maturity. We can look at dimensions as the forces that propel towards maturity, and at areas as the leverages that make it happen. On our last layer, the building blocks of maturity, we’ll find the most tangible manifestations of maturity efforts: a collection of actions that can impact more than one area and dimension at once, increasing the Business Design Maturity of the company.

In this sense, maturity can also be defined as an optimal composition and mastering of each of the Business Design building blocks within your organisation or team.

As you can already see, our Business Design Maturity Model is not strictly linear. Growing on one dimension or area doesn’t necessarily imply growth in the others. And the overall maturity journey does not proceed through pre-determined stages.

We believe that the evolution of organisations in expressing their full potential is a never-ending process, far too complex and dependent on a dynamic context to be captured by a model of linear progression through fixed level-ups. Rather, we focused on identifying those beliefs, principles and practices that are key in supporting the progressive advancement of a company towards a status of increased maturity, and that can serve as a starting point for a worthy discussion around it.

Ready for launch? Space explorers hear the call for adventure. They seek the challenge. They are on a quest. They want to expand human horizons to include what is still unknown, unobserved and untried. But isn’t this the same for any business? Business Design is all about carrying out the mission to explore and exploit this open space of potential business models. Growing in maturity means facing this challenge with increased mastery.

Dimensions of maturity

Let’s play a bit with this metaphor of space exploration to start describing the first layer of our Business Design Maturity Model: the dimensions of maturity. The spaces of improvement that lead to increased efficiency in the mature application of Business Design. Please note, in this phase our model is deliberately very generic, and we also go beyond the scope of Business Design as a specific discipline. But this is a conscious choice as one of our main goals is to facilitate the dialogue between different silos within the organisation, which we believe is one of the core missions of any Business Designer.

These are the four dimension of our Business Design Maturity Model:

  • Internal Synergy: A space mission starts with a yearn for the vast universe and it succeeds when all the people involved cohesively converge their efforts on the shared goal. This applies as well in Business Design: it is essential to define a vision of where the company is going, and to then ensure that everyone is on the same page by implementing a strategy that will align everyone’s contributions. What’s needed is Internal Synergy. Clear, common objectives and transparent communication on roadmaps and priorities are key elements of this dimension.
  • Customer-centricity: Beside aligning on the quest for value, it’s necessary to detect where value could be. For a space mission, this means having a research legacy that observes the distant universe and analyses collected data to identify areas worth of exploration. For a company, this means uncovering the needs and ambitions of its customers and other relevant stakeholders, the true source of any business value. Business Designers treat users as the most important stakeholders, not only for their aptitude for empathy, but because of the ultimate payback it gives in the market.
  • Capability: Now that we have a route, we need a rocket. It is the result of all the knowledge and resources invested in the journey. In a company, this identifies with all the expertise, procedures and resources that fuel the Business Design process. We’ll call this dimension Capability and, just as for the rocket, it needs continuous updates and upgrades.
  • Agility: Finally, we must be ready for all the unpredictable events that our mission could face while on the go. Asteroids? Solar wind? Engine failure? Sensing and responding to change is an essential requisite to cross a universe that moves at increasing speed and in potentially surprising directions. The same applies to business. The ability to adapt or even to change course when necessary determines the success of companies.

Areas of Maturity

Let’s now get a closer look, increasing the granularity of the model. For each dimension, we identified two areas that can reveal the set and settings to unleash the power of Business Design.

An essential prerequisite for a mature application of Business Design is a clear commitment to it, that has to emerge at any level of the organisation: we’re in the dimension of Internal Synergy, where we find the two areas of Business Strategy and Alignment.

  • Business Strategy: Let’s start with a top-down point of view. In a mature application of Business Design, leadership adopt and promote it as a compass for the overall Business Strategy. This starts with grounding strategic decisions to the business vision and purpose, refreshing them with the powerful energy of authenticity. New relevant KPIs emerge, that target the sweet spot of desirability, viability and feasibility and keep operations on track. Finally, this execution on business goals is well balanced with an attitude towards exploring new business models and exploiting existing business model at the same time.
  • Alignment: From a bottom-up perspective, Internal Synergy translates into Alignment. It means that employees are aware and involved in the company belief system and way of working. To achieve this, the organisation must define its own internal rhythm and ceremonies, and invite each employee to be part of them. Internal communication strategies are key, together with a performance management system that reveals and incentivises the contribution of each team to the overall motion of the organisation and adaptation to ways of working.

Within the Dimension of Customer-centricity, we can distinguish the areas of Customer Value Creation and Empathy Incorporation.

  • Customer Value Creation: By now, any company agrees on the centricity of its customers in the process of value creation – and to play this game properly – they must root their guiding Design Principles to a well defined customer experience ambition. Certainly, design research tools and experiential models are a must during product development, that proved how real innovation emerges from interacting with the outside. This paradigm could be pushed further by establishing dedicated facilities, like Open Innovation Labs, to channels a fruitful contamination of ideas from the global, outer environment.
  • Empathy Incorporation: Beside sensing the outside, it is crucial how stimuli are internalised within the company. For Customer-centricity this means building on Empathy Incorporation. The internal perception of delivered value must be intimately co-created with customers through a deep understanding and empathic resonance with them. Quantitative insights from research must be decoded into an internal language that inspire the organisation, and tools like storytelling and experiential drivers can help in making the power of small data accessible to all, igniting the ideation of new ways to serve customer needs.

To make sure that a company, and everyone within, stays on the right Business Design track, it must have the right abilities to do so, which brings us to our next dimension: Capability. This dimension breaks down in two areas: Expertise and Tools & Resources.

  • Expertise: An essential necessity is to know where you stand as an organization when it comes to the right Business Design expertise. What is needed, and is it present? Does it need updating? In a mature Business Design environment team and individual expertise is constantly monitored, curated and build upon.
  • Tools & Recources: But what is expertise without the right tools and resources to bring it into action? A shared understanding how Business design is practiced within projects and with which tools, gives direction and helps teams to move forward towards meaningful innovations.

Let’s now move to our last dimension: Agility. To talk about Agility, we must talk about Agile. More than a way of working, Agile is a philosophy around the way of working: have a look at the original Agile Manifesto to see that for yourself. With the aim of shaping workflows around value-delivery and efficiency, Agile patriarchs stressed giving agency and autonomy to teams and individuals, and on the necessity of cyclical testing of the hypothesis behind projects, so as to sense and respond to change. On these core concepts we built the two Areas in the dimension of Agility: Cross-Functionality and Learning Ecosystem.

  • Cross Functionality: Cross-functional (design) teams condense different expertises within a functional unit that is able to have a holistic view on the many phases of the value-creation process. This convergence of talents can translate to faster, more educated decisions when paired with a decentralised distribution of responsibilities that allows for autonomy.
  • Learning Ecosystem: But how to best use this autonomy? By building on the second area of agility: a Learning Ecosystem. By breaking down big-picture decisions to smaller scale through continuous prototyping, testing and integrating insights, organisations are equipped with change-responding squads that keep it up-to-date with the mutually influenced evolution of product development and customer needs.

Building Blocks of Maturity

We’re now ready to talk about the last layer of our Business Design Maturity Model: the Building Blocks. These are the tangible actions that your organisation can take to actually increase its level of Business Design Maturity.

As stated before, a more practical definition of maturity is the optimal composition and mastering of each of the Business Design building blocks for your organisation or team.

This is the most detailed level of our model, where its applicability is at stake. Do you remember our comment about ‘the map and the territory’? We consider this layer to be the one that needs to be tailored case-by-case as the building blocks must fit the organisational structure and way of working in the organisation.

We won’t try to give a comprehensive and detailed description of the buildings blocks. But below is a list of building blocks that we believe belong in every organisation that wants to implement and scale Business Design. As you can see, the building blocks vary widely. Some are more strategic and some more operational. Blocks can be qualitative and quantitative in nature. We have deliberately not named any categories because blocks can be related to multiple areas and dimensions.

  1. C-level commitment: To create support for Business Design as a leading discipline, C-level commitment is essential. The most tangible expression is the appointment of a Chief Design Officer (CDO).
  2. Purpose driven strategy statement: As Business Designers, we love purpose driven organisations. As this marks the territory for value creation, steers design teams in a common direction and fuels inspiration.
  3. Business model portfolio management: Consciously balancing the exploration of future business models and exploitation of current business models under the same roof.
  4. Opportunity sizing system: Addressable business opportunities by a clear system to estimate market size and potential revenue streams.
  5. Business Design KPI’s: Reformulating KPI’s based on the three perspectives of Business Design: desirability, viability and feasibility.
  6. Adaptation program: A (onboarding) program for scaling shared beliefs, principles and ways of working throughout the organisation.
  7. Performance management: Creating incentives for employees throughout the organisation that stimulate Business Design behaviour.
  8. Alignment rhythm: The implementation of fixed moments for the alignment of design teams: annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily.
  9. Customer experience ambition: Defining the desired customer experience across products and channels using design principles.
  10. Open innovation lab: A physical and digital environment for co-creation with (internal) stakeholders and customers.
  11. Design research tools: A box of empathy and research tools for customer-driven innovation.
  12. Business Design center-of-excellence: Concentrating expertise and resources of the discipline to attain and sustain world-class performance.
  13. Training program: Assessing needs and developing trainings to scale expertise within the organisation.
  14. Open partnerships: Developing valuable relationships with like-minded corporate organisations, design experts, start-ups and agencies.
  15. Business Design playbook: A clear definition of processes and way of working for the efficient and effective execution of design projects.
  16. Business Design toolbox: A very practical box with design tools such as a fixed set of design canvases.
  17. Radical collaboration: Stretching multi-disciplinary collaboration to the ultimate level; stakeholder co-creation as a natural habit.
  18. Autonomous design teams: Design teams with end-to-end responsibility to ensure that value is not lost in the development process of MVP’s.
  19. Experiments system: A system for devising and carrying out mental and physical experiments (e.g. scenario playing, prototype & test).

At this level, it is useful to recognize how each building block initiates a cascade of impact that potentially involves more than one area or dimension at once, revealing the complexity of a company’s internal dynamics, and confirming the necessity of a personalized conversation around what are the best actions to take for every company, given its actual status of Maturity.

The assessment of maturity: useful or not?
When discussing a maturity model for Business Design, the subject of assessment cannot be left out. For us, it is especially important that any assessment triggers the right conversations within the organisation. Assessing is not a goal in itself, right? It seems almost counterproductive to spend a lot of time on a kind of audit that tries to measure Business Design maturity at a very detailed level.

We see assessment mainly as a working method, for example during an internal strategy workshop, to engage relevant stakeholders in a worthy dialogue with each other. Again, in our opinion, one of the core missions of a Business Designer is to break through silos and facilitate multi-disciplinary collaboration within the organisation. Working on maturity is not a top-down affair but starts with building bridges within the organisation and creating intrinsic motivation among stakeholders.

But let’s give it a try. Our proposal is to focus on an assessment of the eight areas of Business Design maturity. At this level, the discussion is sufficiently tangible, but we don’t risk losing our way in too much detail (see visual below). The visualization and underlying provocative questions can be the starting point for a constructive internal dialogue.

The Mature Business Designer: Master of Exploitation & Exploration

Imagine you are that ultimate mature Business Designer. How would that feel? Earlier in this article, we defined maturity as:

“… achieving a continuous flow of maximum ability to create value for customers and organisation. A flow that makes you invincible, because your organisation has the ability to continuously explore and exploit business models that are synchronous at all times.”

Some of you may already have recognized the work of Alex Osterwalder and his colleagues from Strategyzer in the wording above. In their recent book ‘The Invincible Company’, they describe how an organisation can develop a portfolio of different business models. Finding the right balance between exploiting existing business models and exploring new business models is the core of their message:

“The invincible company explores the future, while excelling at exploiting the present. It cultivates an innovation and execution culture that lives in harmony under the same roof.”

Sounds super cool, right? We see the mature Business Designer as the leader in this game, a zen master with superpowers who has achieved a status of invincibility by their ability and agility in conquering every setback and stumbling block and who can create value for both client and organisation like no other.

Summing it up: our space journey has just begun
Still reading? Then we are already incredibly grateful to you. But as Business Designers, we know that our space journey to a fully-fledged Business Design Maturity Model has only just begun. We’ll keep iterating and are therefore curious to hear your thoughts. We invite you to co-create an open-source model with us that can stimulate organisations to take Business Design to the next level.

We would love to have you on board! Are you in? If yes, ignite the conversation by leaving a comment, reaching out or sharing this post with your peers. Let’s conquer together the vast universe of business potential!


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