We’ve written to you recently about the value of communication and how to use communication design practices to create an innovation machine. But what about using design to help decide which initiatives and projects to pursue? How do you prioritize your organization’s ideas?
We have facilitated countless sessions for companies and departments who need help selecting and prioritizing initiatives. What are the most common problems our clients deal with? Trying to get a handle on their in-flight and proposed initiatives, and evaluating them in a consistent and structured way. In our sessions, we employ design process exercises to alleviate roadblocks, prioritize ideas effectively, and ensure a smooth planning process.
The Boston Box
We often help clients see their spectrum of initiatives by using a Boston Box. Boston Boxes plot one variable on each axis, and divide the entire chart into quadrants to help narrow the field. Originally, Boston Consulting Group used this exercise to plot market share to growth for assessing a company’s position relative to others in terms of product range.
Use this exercise to evaluate any set of ideas against two criteria. For instance, if you plot cost—low to high on the x-axis—and plot value—low to high on the y-axis—then the projects or initiatives that fall in the upper-left quadrant are the high value, low cost ones. It is a very simple tool, but can help everyone see the playing field quickly.
Of course, you can play around with the axis labels as well. You might be looking for ideas that are disruptive, but low cost. Find ideas that can be implemented quickly with few competitors. Don’t be afraid to add devices, such as color-coding, to align to strategic priorities or customer segments, different sized dots for duration or number of people affected, or notations for impacted departments or partners.
The most important part of this exercise isn’t the plotting: it is the discussion that ensues.
Sometimes, teams we work with get very hung up on quantitative versus qualitative data for plotting their initiatives. Of course, for some teams and some kinds of work, quantitative data is crucial. But, for most of the teams we work with, it seems like best guesses are often just as informative. So, before you spend weeks calculating the exact cost of all of your initiatives, try looking at them just as “small,” “medium,” or “large.”
The most important part of this exercise isn’t the plotting: it is the discussion that ensues. So, don’t do this exercise in isolation. Instead, gather the relevant decision makers, have them place each initiative on the spectrum, and then explain why they placed it where they did. Everyone is sure to learn a lot in completing the exercise and will have more opportunity to build consensus and a solid plan for moving forward.
Next up: “Digital transformation strategy: action to insight”