Design Thinking: Reworking a Familiar Concept to Optimise Your Business

Have you heard of MVP2?

In the tech world today, the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is generally well understood, even if sometimes difficult to achieve in practice. Most people understand that a MVP is a product with just enough features or functionality to be useful and therefore, viable as version 1.0.

But what about processes? Can we agree that a Minimum Viable Process (MVP2) may be defined say, as just enough tasks to do something useful? Where can Design Thinking help to achieve MVP2 outcomes in what is often referred to as Service Design?

The Problem

In business, in government and, as I personally know well, in the NHS – a MVP2 is rarely defined in terms of its simplicity. Yet everywhere we see a need to do two things at the same time, which relate directly to this topic: (a) increase customer/citizen experience; and, (b) reduce the cost-to-serve (the customer or citizen). Often (a) appears in direct conflict with (b): surely, as we strive to reduce costs, customer (or citizen) experience must go down. Aren’t budget airlines a good/bad example of this point? Isn’t customer/citizen experience a straight trade-off with cost-to-serve? Or is there another way to increase customer/citizen experience and reduce costs (to business, citizen or tax payer)?

When we talk about services, we also see some people confusing a service with a product. Retail banks and insurance companies often talk about their mortgage services as a ‘product’. Let’s be clear: mortgages and insurance ‘products’ are not products at all – they are services – and as such, depend upon what is, today, a series of fragmented processes!

The biggest problem of with most customer/citizen-facing services is that they are, all too often, lacking in a definition of what the MVP2 for a given service could or should be. It’s often a torturous journey across many ‘silos’ (organisational departments or separate organisations in a ‘value chain’), with no regard to the end-to-end customer/citizen experience – and the MVP2 is rarely, if ever, quantified or qualified.

As anyone who has applied for mortgage knows, this is one ‘product’  (sorry, service) that desperately needs a new Service Design – and with it a quantification and qualification of what is the MVP2 here!

The Solution

Let’s start with examples of everyday services that all of us hate: applying for a mortgage; making an appointment with your local doctor; buying life insurance, and so on.

What makes these customer/citizen experiences so bad? Answer: regulation.

After the financial crash of 2008, financial services just got a whole lot tougher to buy – thanks to new rules imposed by a quango – the ‘regulator’ – and the all-too familiar sound of a call centre agent blathering mindlessly on from a script, covering the rear ends of their managers and executives who are under the watchful eye of this regulator.

Now we’ve got the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into our pre/post-Brexit laws in UK as a new Data Protection Act – defining how our personal data is stored and shared. Is this going to make applying for a mortgage and buying other services harder? Of course it will – unless we intervene with Design Thinking and apply this to many a new MVP2.

So, let’s think about how we can have our cake and eat it: better customer/citizen experiences and, at the same time, a reduction in cost-to-serve – and now, with GDPR and the new Data Protection Act coming into force in May 2018 – an increase in regulatory compliance.

No more trade-offs at the expense of the customer experience

Let’s take the Stanford Institute of Design ( process as our guide. This is five common sense steps in Design Thinking: Empathise; Define; Ideate; Prototype; and, Test. Now we can apply this to quantify and qualify the MVP2 for say, applying for a mortgage.

And, here’s the key first step: Empathise. That means for the retail bankers, putting themselves in the shoes of the citizen – specifically, in the role of mortgage applicant. Do we really need so much paper, so many repetitive questions, or being read at high-speed a bunch of regulatory waffle, by someone who doesn’t understand it? No we don’t – there is a better way – and Empathy is the key to getting the ‘supply side’ to understand the ‘buy side’ here.

Is digital and Design Thinking a way to not only speed-up the mortgage application and approval process – but a way to redefine a broader Process – namely, ‘buying a home’? Of course it is. . . This is another example of a Process fractured into a number of smaller, disconnected Processes – including one straight out of Dickensian England: the legal process we all know as ‘conveyancing’.

Instead of ‘quill pens’, paper, print, postage, ‘searches’ and other archaic steps – why can’t we simply digitise conveyancing, along with all the other steps in buying a home – resulting in one Service Design, one Minimum Viable Process (MVP2) for an important but joined-up, commonplace Process: buying a home. Make it cheaper, faster – and better.

When we’ve achieved sufficient Empathy when applying the approach to Design Thinking, we’ll be more able to better Define (or re-Define) these everyday Processes – where we truly put the customer/citizen at the centre of Service Design – but where we also apply Lean Thinking to strip out needless activities – and yes, make sure we have regulatory rules and compliance maintained – but in a proportionate and appropriate way.

In Summary

A Minimum Viable Process (MVP2) is probably a bringing together of many Processes that are fractured today, when looking at a truly end-to-end journey – e.g. buying a home.

The first step of Design Thinking – Empathise – is key to getting all stakeholders in any given Process (or set of would-be converged Processes) to better understand the journey, the tasks, the challenges – from everyone’s perspective. This allows the MVP2 to avoid negative trade-off between customer/citizen experience on one side – and cost-to-serve and regulatory compliance on the other.

With Empathise and Define better done – subsequent steps of Design Thinking – Ideate, Prototype and Test – will all lead to superior Service Designs – built on a foundation of validated MVP2’s.

Design Thinking can transform the most important Processes in our everyday lives. And as the examples here show – we still have some way to go in this digital revolution!

We need to quantify and qualify the Minimum Viable Process (MVP2). . . it’s Design Thinking applied.

Ian Smith trained as a product designer then moved into the IT industry, working with new ventures and continuously challenging business-as-usual approaches to digital innovation. Most recently, Ian has been engaged with NTT Data subsidiary everis, focusing on the problem of integrating health and social care.

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