Nov 12 2013

Walking around it to find a problem’s shape

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maze-walk-medium_4309560642Working together and staying in touch over more than ten years, Sean Murphy and I have tried a lot of different ways of learning together, from each other and from others.   We kept at it and learned from our experience, and we’ve been able to help clients learn. We’ve even helped clients learn to learn.  We’ve focused on the development of a “minimum viable product or process or “platform” or practice,” the idea being that there’s a lot about a new offering that you can’t learn until you are actually offering it.  Recently we decided to explore our practice this further with people in public, on a regular basis.  Essentially we are exploring our own  MVP in a series of webinars.   Here is what we came up for our initial invitation:

  • If you are planning a new service offering, involving technologies and social interactions between customers, this clinic on minimum viable service can help you learn your way out of conflicting assumptions, lack of relevant data, difficulty understanding service value, and resource constraints. This is especially the case if you need to get adoption by a newly forming or an existing community, that may be contained within one firm or span many.  Drawing on their experience in new product introduction and communities of practice, Sean Murphy of SKMurphy and John David Smith of Learning Alliances, will demonstrate the value of a “walking around the problem” technique for early service design that they have developed individually and together over many years.

Terry Frazier and Dixie Griffin Good were the panelists for our first effort and we posted a recording and our meeting notes on Sean’s Blog.  In making plans for future sessions, I found some notes describing what we were trying to do.  I’ve edited them here as an overview of our process:

Or download directly from

When “walking around a problem” we work to:

  • Deliberately avoid “jumping to conclusions” too soon
  • Enlarge the scope of solution-finding by getting to know more about what the problem looks like from as many sides as we can
  • Create a safe and non-confrontational inquiry process that doesn’t inadvertently close off aspects of a problem or potential solutions
  • Use informal tools that are the electronic equivalent of a shared napkin so that we create a resource that people can come back to
  • Acknowledge time boundaries by identifying experiments or sources of information that could make the problem and its solution clearer

Experimentation is now a standard business process for market exploration and customer discovery. When designing experiments (or identifying new sources of information) that support leveraging a minimum viable product or process, we seek to identify:

  • Real world interactions with real people who could be real customers
  • Blind spots that can hide possible experiments from consideration
  • The lowest investment & highest yield

When taking notes in real time as we explore an issue

  • Balance expansive conversation with retention (notes can be referred to later)
  • Notice many more possibilities than could possibly be explored in the short term
  • Everybody is involved in taking or editing the notes to make corrections and add references
  • We try to follow-up with a summary that highlights follow-up actions (including things to avoid).
If you would like to be a panelist, contact me or Sean.

We have planned three more MVP Clinics for Social/Community Applications

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

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