Over the last few months we’ve been working hard to prepare a video series on our business prototyping methodology.
In this video series, we want to cover our entire business prototyping methodology. You will learn about the methods, techniques, and tools we at transentis use to help our clients to better understand, manage, and transform their business.
We’re almost there now – we expect the first videos to go online in March. We will also be publishing blog posts to accompany the videos, starting with this one.
What is the business prototyping methodology?
We’ve been continuously developing the methodology over the last 15 years – we’re a very hands-on consulting boutique that becomes deeply involved with our customers; we don’t sit at the side-lines telling other what to do, we actually roll-up our sleeves and use the business prototyping tools and techniques ourselves.
Over the years we have created hundreds of slides and documents and presented the methodology in many workshops. We have been curating, streamlining and expanding this content over the last year, turning it into a consistent course.
Business prototyping is quite a versatile methodology:
- We use it at a strategic level to help our clients to understand the situation they are currently, to explore possible future scenarios and to design business models that are viable for these scenarios;
- We use it at a more operational level to implement appropriate organizational structures and processes
- We use it at the technological level to help our customers to align their IT systems with business demands.
We have used business prototyping in very diverse industries:
- We have applied it in the tobacco industry to analyze the factors that will impact the adoption of new e-cigarette products, to understand regulation and to develop potential future scenarios;
- We have applied it in the German energy industry to analyze the impact of the energy transition on their business model;
- We have applied it in the transportation industry to design and implement a new, fully-automate service which will generate billions of euros of revenues over the next years.
So, you can see that business prototyping is quite diverse, but if you asked me to sum up what it is about as succinctly as possible, I would say it is about managing complexity.
I think it is safe to say that the business world is becoming more and more complex – one important reason for this is that thanks to the internet and modern logistics everything has become highly inter-connected. These interconnections are forcing companies to transform themselves at an every increasing rate.
Most of our clients are engaged in an almost continuous business transformation process – business transformation is a complex undertaking, not least because you are forced to continue your current operations and re-design and transform them at the same time, which always seems to me is a bit like flying a plane at a high speed while in the process of fixing the wings.
Before we look in to how business prototyping helps us deal with complexity, let’s take a closer look at complexity itself.
Once in a while I like to browse the internet to look for interesting quotes – it turns out complexity is a very rich topic for this. I think my current favorite quote is this one by Richard Branson:
“Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to keep things simple.”
I wholeheartedly agree with this quote and what I particularly like about it is that Richard Branson makes it clear in the last sentence that simplicity is not a state you reach, but it is a process you have to keep working on again and again.
My experience is that when creating something new – be it a business, a product or service – you often end up designing a system that is too complex initially and it is only once you have seen it in operation and you understand it better that you can start simplifying it.
This is echoed by a further quote by Andy Stanley:
“Growth creates complexity, which, then again, requires simplicity”
and in a similar way also by Alfred North Whitehead:
“The only simplicity to be trusted is the simplicity to be found at the other side of complexity”.
Let’s take a closer look at complexity. I like to differentiate between three different kinds of complexity, mainly because they arise for different reasons and you need different capabilities to deal with them properly:
- Detailed complexity
- Social complexity
- Dynamic complexity
Detailed complexity arises because of the multitude of things we have to deal with
In a large transformation program, for instance, it is not uncommon that you have to deal with hundreds of business process and organizational units and at least as many IT-systems which transport thousands of pieces of information. You have to handle thousands of requirements, tens of thousands of action items and fill hundreds of positions in the transformation team.
Mostly, you don’t have much time before the program has to deliver real value. So you need to manage all these details in a very short space of time; it is very easy to lose sight of the big picture and get lost in details.
Business prototyping provides you with the methods necessary to deal with detailed complexity – in particular it helps you to work on multiple levels of abstractions, so that you can ensure that everyone involved understands the big picture, without losing sight of important details.
Added to the detailed complexity comes social complexity: we have to deal with many people from different departments and companies with different work ethics, from different countries with different cultures. Often there is a language barrier, which makes it even harder to formulate goals, requirements and actions in a precise, unambiguous way.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon that we have to deal with people over large periods of time (sometimes even many years) on a regular basis via e-mail, web meetings and phone calls, yet you never actually get to physically meet them.
In such settings, it takes a large amount of effort to make sure that everyone is in the same page.
Business prototyping offers tools and techniques to deal with these challenges
It is a very participative approach that ensures you involve those people who are relevant to a particular issue on a continuous basis, tapping in to their collective brain and reaching shared understanding.
To make things even harder, we need to deal with dynamic complexity. In a business transformation setting, dynamic complexity arises for two reasons:
- Firstly the system you are trying to transform, your business, is a dynamic system itself, because it is constantly interacting with an environment that is itself volatile.
- Secondly, the transformation process itself will be dynamic, not least because the concrete goals you are trying to reach through the transformation quite often change, especially at the outset.
Thankfully, there are often underlying patterns that cause these dynamics, and business prototyping provides you with the mindset and tools for understanding and dealing with these patterns.
This concludes my brief introduction to the purpose of business prototyping – in my next post, I will take a look at business prototyping in slightly more detail, discuss who the methodology is useful for and show you which building blocks the methodology consists of.
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