A Look Within — On Business Transformation

By Nirmal Deshpande, Senior Design Strategist —Method

In 1967 Mel Conway introduced what’s now known as Conway’s Law: any organization that designs a system will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure. Put another way, how your company looks on the inside is likely to be reflected in the products, services, and experiences you produce.

Here at Method, we regularly observe how complexity in our clients’ internal processes and structures can spill into their customer-facing touchpoints. At best, this complexity forces us to work harder to accommodate organizational constraints. At worst, it limits our ability to deliver on market expectations. That’s why whenever we design a product, we do more than study what customers need; we take a peek under the hood as well.

When we look within, we often find that before we can help our clients achieve their goal of designing and building rich product and service experiences, we have to help them transform themselves.

We find ourselves asking three crucial questions again and again:

1) How are you organized?

We want more than your org chart, although that’s often illuminating. Where does your product and service development organization live? Who holds knowledge about your customers? How do your various functional groups work across business units and geographies? We have found that drawing a realistic map of your organization as it really works, not how it looks on paper, helps anticipate roadblocks that constrain design. Then we work with you to determine which constraints to accommodate, and which we can demolish.

We were recently hired by a large skincare and cosmetics brand to develop a new suite of digital tools to connect independent sales reps with consumers. As we began our audit, we found that the product and user experience groups were sequestered in the technology organization, which was more focused on building and maintaining the company’s core infrastructure than on developing new products. All insights about salespeople needs were owned by Sales, customer insights by Marketing, and analytics and business trends by Finance. In order to serve their individual constituents, marketing and sales had independently developed and released their own products, none of which were well-received by the market. By drawing a better picture of our client’s organizational realities, we were able to illustrate how internal misalignments were impeding their ability to serve customers.

2) How did you get to today?

We want to know your origin story. What was the first product or service you launched? Has your business model shifted dramatically since you got started? Have you grown organically or have you bought your way to scale? We find that understanding how a company grows and changes course over time helps us understand why a business looks the way it does and enables us to help make appropriate and potentially transformative design decisions.

One of our large clients in the publishing sector, like many of its peers, is evolving from a paper business to being digital-first. As we develop new digital platforms to support their business, we have encountered several instances where the company’s origins in publishing books has shaped its content strategy in ways that conflict with its new digital products. For example, content that sits within a 300-page volume is considerably different from that which appears in a push notification. Throughout the design process, we find ourselves not just developing product concepts, but also helping our client integrate their content development process into the product development process, knowing that the distinction between the two is shrinking quickly.

3) How do you work?

Your product may be a web application that enables some sort of self-service, but what happens on the back end in order to deliver the desired customer experience? How do you deploy your resources to serve customer requests? Do your internal workflows align with how your clients interact with your product? As product organizations increasingly evolve into service organizations, we have found that studying internal service operations produces not only opportunities to improve customer experience but make our clients more efficient.

A recent project in the aviation sector demonstrates how understanding how clients deliver service behind the scenes can pay dividends in multiple ways. Our client offers self-service flight management tools and was looking for a UX refresh. After observing their operations, we noticed that internal subject matter experts who had been hired for technical skills like meteorology and aviation expertise had been working more like customer service representatives and servicing minor requests manually. By analyzing these service workflows, we discovered a huge opportunity to use automation and machine learning to improve self-service, that will not only improve customer experience, but has the potential to help our client utilize its own people more efficiently.

After all that, it might be natural to ask us if we have launched a new org design or HR consulting practice here at Method. We have not — we are still happily focused on helping our clients grow and transform their businesses by helping them bring rich product and service experiences to market. However, we know that in order to do this job we cannot focus solely on customer needs and market opportunity. We must also look within our clients.

We firmly believe that good design happens when we have a firm grasp on our constraints surrounding products, and the best design happens when clients themselves are able to evolve in order to deliver new, greater value to customers.

As a result, our clients have come to expect more from our process — we don’t just deliver a better “thing,” we take the time to understand their realities, spot opportunities, and help them transform their businesses.