Focus on the broken engine: a perspective on innovation

Estelle Ricoux

4 minute read

At Friday we love new technology; but we want our work to be rooted in customer needs.

It is through tackling core problems and user pains that we identify opportunities to change how things are done, and to create new sources of value. We talk about innovating ‘from the core’.

A question, asked by one of our clients’ customers a few years ago perfectly summarises our take on innovation. When asked if they were interested in accessing extra marketing content from within their bank’s logged in environment, the customer replied: “What’s the point of adding a roof rack on my car when the engine is broken?” This direct question has stuck with us, because it encapsulates two principles that are key to our practice:

  1. Focus on the core

    It’s more important to have a car that moves than to have one with a roof rack.

  2. Use design to address a problem

    The engine is broken. We can design something peripheral (like a roof rack), but we need to design something to address the core problem.

Our methodology for core innovation: Target Customer Experience mapping

Our methodology enables us to identify and tackle core problems quickly, to create an ambitious vision for the customer experience and to deliver the vision in ‘slices’, creating value at low risk.

In order to identify core problems fast, we always start by talking to people. A combination of primary and secondary research techniques involving customers, stakeholders and frontline staff rapidly gets us to a detailed understanding of the organisations ambition and challenges, and of their end users needs and pains.

We get stakeholders and customers in the same room and sketch a better, digitally enhanced future customer experience together. By starting with the potential, not the constraints, yet maintaining a laser sharp focus on the problem areas, we are able to leap to an ‘ideal experience’, centered on end users needs, projecting the organisation into an innovative future, today. That ideal experience may involve using new technology, or making a better use of what already exists.

This creates a Target Customer Experience that we can slice into feature groups, which we can prioritise, based on customer pain reduction, commercial return, or technological complexity. These slices can then be designed, built and integrated in priority order - and put into customers hands.

This helps us innovate at the core of the organisation to address a clear problem or need - to fix the engine, and not be distracted by roof racks.

A proposal generator for ERM project managers

When ERM, a global environmental consultancy engaged us to help them become a more digitally led organisation, we explored their teams’ current workflow in depth. ERM’s consultants and project managers typically work with spreadsheets and email, which is time consuming, creates an admin overhead and means that data is locked in their inboxes, with no way to re-use it effectively.

Following the methodology described above, we designed a new Target Experience for their project managers and prioritised an innovative piece of functionality upstream in their workflow: a proposal generator.

ERM project managers can work on up to 20 projects at once, and complete thousands every year. For each project, they write a proposal to share with their clients. This is a repetitive, time consuming process that leads to human error and culminates in a fairly dull looking Word proposal - often the first ERM document that clients can hold in their hands.

Yes, we designed a tool that generates Word proposals. It uses a scope-wizard to help project managers make auditable scope choices, pulls data from internal systems automatically (client details, team member details, costs, legal clauses on IP, liability, etc.) and creates a consistent document structure.

The team estimated that the tool saves ERM £10,000 per proposal in consultant hours - so around £3M per year. It is also beautifully laid out and easier to read, which impacts client perceptions of ERM, and their understanding of the proposed scope.

It is innovation at the core.

We get excited about doing core innovation work. We uncover complex problems, we sail through constraints and make things that genuinely improve people’s lives, make jobs easier and deliver tangible results. For us that is deeply satisfying.

Estelle Ricoux

Head of Strategy
View all thinking