Solution Quadrant Mapping – A Map Alternative for Design Sprints

Like many design sprint facilitators, I’ve always had somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the Map. While I understand it’s value in using customer journeys to define a critical point of focus for the all-important first day, there’s always a sense of uncertainty when approaching that Map moment. One of these uncertainties, which I call the “blank page syndrome”, is addressed very effectively with this great Note-n-Map hack from Stephane Cruchon. Another is when I’m not sure that the Map is as relevant, especially when the goal is less about product and more about product marketing.

The Map is all about understanding the big picture of your customer journeys and adding How Might We’s to create a focus for a target moment for the sprint. But what if your goal isn’t product related and your challenge is how to tell the most relevant product story?

Recently when facilitating a series of remote marketing sprints I was working with a team with a well-defined idea of their target and a clear sense of how their B2B messaging could be delivered across the customer journey. The product was extremely complex and the team was made up of product marketers from multiple silos across the organization, each of whom felt that their piece of the product was the most important one. So the question was less about deciding who and when to focus, but what to focus on as the compelling core to telling the product story. What we needed was a map that would inspire the team to connect the goal and how-might-we’s to a focal point that could serve as the start for the diverging, converging and storytelling prototype we would build.

Enter the Solution Quadrant Map or SQM (because everything deserves an acronym). I first saw the SQM as a finished example from a client, but in discussion realized that this could easily apply to the specific problems associated with marketing sprints. The SQM falls into the same position as the Map in the sprint agenda: Ideally following the goal, sprint questions and ask the experts, but before how-might-we voting. The SQM is a simple 2x2 made up of two axis: The first based on the team’s perception of product uniqueness in marketplace and the second on their perception of how customers value their products, services or attributes

For remote or time-limited sprints, it may be worth suggesting a pre-work assignment asking the team to submit a list of products, services or attributes perhaps ranked in order of importance. This will allow you to have some pre-completed post its that you can use to get the discussion going. It may also be very helpful to target some of the questions in “ask the experts” discussion around the SQM. Any information you can get from a sales, customer facing or even customer experts on product and market preference or uniqueness can help support the SQM.

Begin the SQM by drawing the 2x2 and describing each of the axis. Then give the team five to ten minutes to silently note suggestions for relevant products, services or attributes and post them on the top of the board. Once they have completed posting their ideas, follow up with any previously submitted ideas or post these at the beginning to get the activity moving. Give the team time to silently review, arrange the post-its into groupings and eliminate any duplicates.

Solutions Quadrant Map Step 1

Once the post-it’s are on board and arranged it’s time to vote. But instead of the usual voting for winners, with the SQM we use voting as a process of elimination, location and mapping. In the first vote ask the team to vote for the top two or three ideas post-its they feel belong in the lower left quadrant. In other words, we’re asking the team to pick for what they believe are the least valuable and least unique products or services. Over a number of times I’ve found this to be the best way to start the selection process. Somehow it seems that we humans find it easier to agree on what we don’t like instead of what we like. Once this vote is completed move the top two or three vote getters randomly into the lower left quadrant.

For the second vote we go in the completely opposite direction and give the team to vote for the top two or three post-its that belong in the most unique/most valuable quadrant in the upper right. This vote can be tougher, but I’ve generally found that by agreeing on the “worst” helps the team more easily define the “best”. Once this voting is complete move the top vote getters anywhere into the upper right quadrant.

Solutions Quadrant Map 2

Once you’ve made these selections you can move to the other quadrants. Depending on the number of ideas remaining, the team should generally be able as a group to move the remaining ideas into the remaining two quadrants on their own. This can be preferable to voting especially as these ideas are not seen as “winners” or losers and there is generally less tension around their placement. In fact, the conversation around their more precise placement and fit can help the team better define the categories and the relationships between the different ideas on the map. At this point it’s also fine for the team to decide to move one or two of these ideas to the upper right quadrant, but I would recommend not removing previously voted ideas out from that quadrant.

Once this is complete its time to fine tune the ideas in the upper right quadrant. As before this can be done in open discussion. In fact, in many cases I’ve found that the team will make these finer adjustments as they are adjusting the other quadrants. If not, make sure to take the time to review and define the location of these ideas. Finally, give the decider an opportunity to add move or adjust any of the ideas on the quadrant. This will leave you with an agreed upon map as well as alignment on the products, services or attributes your team believes are most unique and important to your customer.

Solutions Quadrant Map 3

At this point you can return to “normal” sprint order and proceed to HMW organization, voting and ranking. Once this is complete bring over the top HMW’s and place them next to the upper right quadrant of the SQM. At this point you will likely see that some HMW’s may have a very direct connection with a specific idea or ideas in the quadrant. “How might we gain customer trust?” could connect to a specific service or “How might we leverage our technology?” can be linked to a unique product or service. As a facilitator you can take this opportunity to draw these specific connections or simply leave them open and available for the next day’s work.

Solutions Quadrant Map four

In either case the SQM can help you and your team develop a solid focal point and foundation for the rest of your sprint. The SQM is not a fix for all mapping woes or blank page syndromes, but if you are working with a diverse and motivated team, and your goals are focused on marketing or messaging it could be the Map alternative you are looking for. I hope you get a chance to try it out and look forward to your feedback.

Why Bricolage?

Mr. Bricolage.jpg

I first came across the term Bricolage years ago when studying Anthropology in college. In his book “The Savage Mind” the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, (no relation to the blue jeans people), used this term to define the complex intellect of tribal peoples and their ability to create, among other things, intricate mythologies about the world around them. He personified this thinking with the “bricoleur”, a French term for a handyman or jack of all trades. A bricoleur makes do with what is at hand, blending existing materials together in different ways to create completely new results. From this came the definition of Bricolage: “A construction made of materials at hand”.

Bricolage has always felt like an appropriate term for my work in digital strategy, design and even photography. When we take a customer-first approach to solving unknown problems, we’re often working with those same available materials. Materials that are often in plain sight, but require a new perspective in order to remix and refine into new possibilities. Design sprints help teams and organizations succeed in creating new products, services and messages by starting with the tools, concepts and ideas that are at hand. The challenge is finding the focus, refining and remixing these ideas to find new opportunities. It’s about helping organizations uncover how much they already know and making it evident in an actionable format.

Bricolage has also become a definition for DIY across much of Europe, and in that sense it’s also an appropriate definition for the application of design sprints and design thinking. In many of the sprints I have facilitated the most powerful outcome is a sense of team empowerment as teams realize that they have the knowledge and ability to make a difference. When teams are motivated to rapidly collaborate, ideate and prototype they learn that they can innovate and grow by themselves by discovering and using the materials they’ve always had at hand.