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Don’t know how to validate your assumptions?

So you want to design something that will generate both revenues and a loyal customer base?

Then we have a great set of validation techniques for you. First of all, you need to know that not all validation techniques are useful during all stages of the design process. At Achilles we cluster our techniques, based on four types of assumptions;

The problem

The first type of assumptions you need to get rid of are the ones about the user problem you want to solve with your design. Before anything else, you need to know if that problem is actually a problem and if it’s big enough for you to spend your resources on solving it. To test problem-related assumptions you have to reach out to potential users and ask open questions about facts rather than opinions. Postpone solution-related research for now because you are still focusing on the problem instead of how to solve it.

The target audience

Secondly, analyse your market well. Before you start building your solution, you need to be sure that enough people are waiting for it. Apart from calculating your market size, you should also find out what characteristics define the people within your target audience. Figure out who’ll benefit most from your solution, how to reach these people and if they can provide you with enough revenue to sustain your business.

The product

By now, you have identified a pain that is large enough for a clearly identified target audience. This is the time to ideate solutions and test if they actually solve the pain. Find ways to validate (part of) your product ideas as quickly and as cheaply as you can. Don’t build expensive prototypes to test the details yet, make quick and dirty prototypes that are just good enough to test the right assumptions – and iterate fast.

The readiness to buy

Now that you know what solution can solve the user pain, you should focus on the viability of your solution by testing out how much revenue you can generate. How many people will want to pay for your solution and how much are they willing to give you? The trick to get better validations here is to not just ask people if they would pay for your solution, but to ask for actual commitment from that person as a way to validate viability. Look for genuine readiness to buy.
How to validate that genuine readiness, and how to validate all other assumptions you may have across the four big stages will all become clear once you get familiar with our free ‘Assumption killers’. This 60-card deck contains the various techniques that you can use to validate the many assumptions you’ll have during each stage.

Have a look at the many validation techniques to pick from.

Download your free card deck
Want us to help you identify and validate the right assumptions across your design process?

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How to come up with creative ideas for your next sustainable solution

Our generation may well be the first to comprehend and experience the almost irreversible damage our species has done to our planet. Blaming our predecessors for that won’t solve it. The responsibility is not theirs anymore, it is ours now, and that responsibility weighs more than it has ever before. If we don’t act now, it will be too late; The earth will soon reach a tipping point and start warming up itself at an exponential pace, resulting in a world we don’t want to (and cannot) live in.  

The ‘Sustainable business ideation deck'

There’s not one golden solution to this wicked problem we face, but every improvement counts. That’s why we want to share one of our latest tools with you. The ‘Sustainable business ideation deck’ is a set of cards that we developed together with OVAM (the Public Waste Agency of Flanders). Every card in this deck describes a principle on sustainable design, with an example on the back of that card. We’ve been using these cards in workshops with our clients to come up with ideas for more sustainable products, services or business models.
We’ve seen proof of how this inspirational card deck, combined with a structured brainstorming session results in actual starting points for the development of innovative and sustainable products, services and business models.

After this fun workshop of 60-90 minutes, you get a selection of ideas that are turned into concepts and that are ready to initiate a sustainable project for your business.

You’re free to use the cards the way you like, but here’s how we use them as an ideation tool in group exercises:

Step 1

Form teams of 5-6 people. Every team gets a card deck and every participant within the group gets 5 cards and 5 minutes to read them individually to get informed and inspired. After this, the first team member picks his/her favourite card and shares it with the team.

Step 2

The team now needs to come up with at least 5 ideas on how to turn their current business/product/service/operations more sustainable, inspired by the card. Every idea gets doodled onto a Post-it and pasted in a row next to the corresponding card.

Step 3

The next team member can now share his/her card with the team and the team performs another brainstorming round to come up with a selection of at least 5 ideas. Repeat this process until all team members have shared their card.

Step 4

Now that your team has at least 25 ideas (5 sets of 5 ideas), the team tries to find creative connections between ideas across the different sets. The goal here is to at least create one idea that is a combination of at least 2 ideas from different sets.

Step 5

The team now formulates a clear idea definition and elaborates on the idea by describing a.o. the impact or expected outcomes, the needed expertise to implement the idea, potential challenges, stakeholders,..

Step 6

Each team gets to pitch their concept to the other teams. Count for 2-3 minutes per pitch.

Now it’s up to you!

Have fun with these cards, print them out and put them on your desk, share them with colleagues and start building a more sustainable business as soon as you can.
Want us to help you through the ideation and development of your next sustainable product, service or business model that fits your innovation strategy?

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The key do’s and don’ts of Design Sprints

A Design Sprint is typically a five-day innovation process, designed to find answers to critical business questions by applying design thinking, prototyping, testing and validating innovation ideas with clients. If organised well, Design Sprints can deliver insightful innovation ideas that can show the direction of more fundamental innovation designs.

1. Experience helps.

Not only do you get better at something by practicing it, you are also typically better at running innovation workshops when you know what it takes to implement innovative ideas. Having gained experience in multiple workshops or sprints, you might also discover hacks and tricks that reduce time and effort and increase effectiveness.

2. The composition of the group is critical.

It is important that the client contributes constructive people with experience but also ambitious newcomers. Next to that, it is typically not promising to have either ‘blockers’ or ‘dreamers’ in the room. A combination of a certain sense of reality as well as ambition is important. Moreover, other sector expertise is valuable in order to reflect on entirely new ideas and to introduce best practices that have not yet broken through in the client’s industry. The kind of expert you invite differs from workshop to workshop. When the theme requires insights from the consumers perspective, it might be interesting to invite a market researcher or sales person, while other workshops might require an engineer or app architect to provide technical insights.
Throughout the years of practice, we have learned a great deal about the do’s and don’ts of facilitating such workshops, and we have learned that there are a number of critically important success factors.

3. A good idea counts for 30% of business success or less.

At least 70% of business success is in the execution, i.e. the design of business processes, and the avoidance of stakeholder pain points – all are actual design challenges, often involving disciplines such as service, digital, and product design. This reality is again part of the necessary expectations-management.

4. Sufficient preparation and post-processing time are key.

The better a facilitator understands how the client organisation ticks, the more promising the outcome. Group dynamics can be very different as well. Some groups need to be triggered by examples; others churn out idea after idea. It is important to understand the key challenges of the sector and the client’s in particular, and it is valuable to have a good idea of cutting-edge innovation and the main trends in the client’s industry. That’s why a good amount of preparation time is important. Don’t underestimate processing time either. Gathering all of the insights, data and ideas produced during the sprint, making sense of them and connecting all the dots is a time-consuming job.

5. Group members should be individually focused on innovation ideas, not just in the group.

Group dynamics can destroy the freedom of idea-sharing. Too dominant people, be it due to their seniority level or their personality, can stop creative people from speaking out freely. It is therefore important to get the best ideas out of everybody before any group dynamic influences ideas into certain directions. Every group member should therefore list a number of ideas before sharing them with the group. One way to do this is through brain writing, where you put each challenge on a large sheet of paper and let each participant brainstorm ideas for a couple of minutes. The paper then gets passed down to the next participant who can build on the ideas of the previous participant and so on. Limitations can also lead to a more creative outcome. E.g. if somebody were to ask you to draw something, you might find it difficult to come up with something. However, if somebody would ask you to draw five different landscapes, it would probably lead to more creative ideas.

6. Frequent market validation cycles quickly reject non-starter ideas.

Market validation is always critical. A business can think of the most innovative ideas; if the market turns out not to value these ideas, the idea is worthless. It is important to quickly run market surveys or to implement quick digital market validation tools to understand how possible customers react to certain ideas. To keep the direction of innovation market-relevant, non-starter ideas should not be further pursued. Market validation should be done in multiple phases of the design process: analysing problems, needs, wishes, verifying larger concepts, selecting specific product or app features, etc.

7. Follow-up and implement.

Many external consultants know how to create a buzz in the client organisation for a handsome fee – but then what? Leaving the client organisation after having created some innovation buzz will often result in business depression rather than business innovation, which is not valuable for the organisation in the long term. After making plans, other consultants are often hired to implement these plans, quickly coming to the conclusion that the plans need substantial rework to be implementable. This is a frustration that is avoidable if you run innovation workshops with the mindset of having to implement the ideas. The reality is that client organisations need guidance and support during the whole process of innovation – from ideation to implementation.
Hence, our mantra: design thinking is not a skill – it is a mindset, and an important sculptor of that mindset is actual design experience.

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A tangible introduction to jobs-to-be-done

Before diving into what user needs are, let’s talk about this clever illusion. Some might see a duck and others might see a rabbit. It has to be brought to our attention that a different interpretation of this image exists. This illustrates the differences in our perception of what we see, hear or sense in any other way.

Now think about the last time your team and you were well on the way of defining a new product or service. When trying to capture what user needs could be addressed, chances are that your team encountered a problem similar to this rabbit-duck illusion.

For example, a team that is tasked with a spatial design might discuss whether the user need is to make a street car free or child friendly. Although they seem similar, they could lead to a vastly different design. But are these interpretations really describing a need? To make matters worse, we also tend to use different languages to describe problems we encounter. Most of the times, there is no real consensus of what a user need is and how to structure or formulate it effectively. This confusion produces a lot of fuzzy buzzwords: delights, fears, pains, gains, desires, motivations, value propositions, benefits, expectations, requirements,...
The result is that teams end up with unclear objectives and even more interpretations for the problem space.
But let’s step back. What is this team actually trying to accomplish by stating “car free” or “child friendly”? Drilling deeper might reveal that the actual goal is avoiding risk by reducing the probability of an accident between a human being and a vehicle. Or improving health by reducing the amount of exposure to harmful exhaust gases. These statements should feel more precise because they express an overarching value (e.g. improved health) that could be met with a change to the current state (“reduce fine dust”). This way of stating challenges is what we call “jobs to be done”.
We don’t randomly use a product, we use it because it helps us accomplish something.
When was the last time you used Waze? Why did you use it? Often, users aren’t using it just to receive directions. Instead, the idea they are sold on is that by using Waze, you’ll always arrive on time. Or stating it differently: we temporarily use it (“hire”) to fulfil a job of helping us get to appointments on time.
If you analysed the features Waze is offering, you would quickly notice that most of its features are fully tailored to fulfilling that goal. Connecting to your agenda to reduce the chance of leaving your location too late. Suggesting new routes to reduce the loss of time on congested roads. Or reducing the risk of picking departure times that are often associated with increased travel time.

Now imagine that you’re on a holiday in the Alps.

It is nice weather and you want to explore the unknown landscape either in your car, your motorcycle, your bike. Would you still “hire” Waze to help you accomplish that? Chances are that you’re not planning to be on time somewhere. You’re probably looking for something that “helps you experience the unique environment”. A product could increase your exposure to a maximal amount of different flora, fauna and landscape elements to do that (e.g. Geocache). Or it could help you do that by increasing the amount of exposure to road dynamics such as height changes, sharp turns (e.g. motorcycle).
This exercise demonstrates that by making that “job” the unit of analysis, we can drastically improve our problem identification and problem solving skills. It is a language teams could use to lift the veil of ambiguity surrounding user needs. The detailed descriptions of the kind of value a user is looking for and how performance could be measured, enable team to work on innovation challenges more effectively.
Want to know more about identifying, constructing and validating these jobs-to-be-done? Stay tuned for our second part.

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