This question helps you uncover the assumptions embedded in an idea. Often assumptions for programs and services are hidden in three key areas: audience, problem and solution. For the idea to be a good one, you need to have found the right audience, correctly identified an important problem and designed a solution that is viable.
Let me give you an example. Using a design thinking approach to design new offerings for key segments of our organization’s audience, a team I led at my last association was able to design experiments that gave us feedback in each of these three key areas.
In one instance, we had designed a program for one audience segment. After we tested the idea with the target audience and received positive feedback, we proceeded to run a pilot. After successfully offering the program to one segment the association’s audience, we were able to replicate it for another audience.
Often this area is the most likely to trip you up. Have you identified a problem that is worth solving? Or a problem that is really critical for your target audience? Or is it just something that would be nice to solve? When hard choices are made about time, money and energy, this challenge gets put on the back burner.
To test our understanding of the problem, we wrote a problem statement or description of what we thought the problem was. For example: “association professionals often have a clear understanding of the views of their highly engaged volunteers, but are not sure that these reflect their average member.” Through our experiments, we were able to get feedback on how important each issue was. With feedback we were able to eliminate a number of ideas that addressed problems that were not seen as critical.
When is the last time you got caught up in your idea and created something more elaborate than was really needed? In one case of one program we were testing with members, during the brainstorming stage, the design team had envisioned an executive leadership development program with an extensive online wrap around component. After testing and customer feedback, we learned that members were interested in the in-person aspect of the program. They doubted, however, that they would use the online components. Thus with a short testing period, we were able to eliminate a costly aspect of the program that would have be time consuming and resource intensive to create. It would have also necessitated increasing the program price, yet our research showed it did not provide sufficient value.
By testing early, getting feedback from customers we were able to learn and iterate, saving money and staff time by eliminating options that sounded promising at the white board but proved to have faulty assumptions.
Want to talk about how this might apply to your organization? Request a free coaching session.
You have probably heard that word a lot recently. Whether you are talking about adaptive management, design thinking or lean start up, each approach involves iteration and experimentation. Creating a prototype – something much simpler and less expensive than a pilot project – is easy to imagine when you are talking about a tangible product. But what about a program or service your nonprofit or association plans to deliver? How can you create a low cost prototype of that to get in front of your customers/members/audience?
Blah, Blah, Blah
Nonprofits and association staff often rely on describing their program – whether to their board or in a grant application – through words. It is then up to the listener/reader to imagine what they are talking about. And usually the focus was on convincing those with money to support this new venture. If the pitch is successful, the program is then funded, usually as a pilot program is developed over a few years.
4 flaws to this approach
This approach has multiple flaws that are easily addressed.
What is a storyboard?
Movies, videos, TV shows are all story boarded before filming starts. The storyboard is a sequence of drawings that show how the shots will progress. For a program you have imagined, you draw the steps in the storyboard that a program participant would take as they complete your program. Think of it as the comic book version of the program you want to create.
But I can’t draw
When I worked with the design teams a number of team members were reluctant when we got to this set because they said they couldn’t draw. I reminded them that this wasn’t the purpose – we were not looking for artistic ability. Just clear enough stick figures to show what would happen as part of the program. Here is an example of piece of one of our first draft storyboards. No awards to artistic merit here! We then worked with a professional illustrator to create clearer versions to put in front of our audience.
Benefits of the storyboard
Let’s talk. I work with associations and nonprofits to help them lower the risk out of launching new program and service development initiatives by coaching them on using human centered design innovation approaches and tools.
Most organizations believe they keep their end user, audience, members or customers front of mind when they are creating new programs or service offerings. Yet often this is based on preconceived notions about members, beliefs developed from a staff member’s time in the field, or based on interactions with a few of their volunteer leaders. It is rarely based on an in depth exploration of the day-to-day work life of their members. Qualitative research digs into their experience and has the opportunity to uncover unmet needs.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.