Manage your project as part of an ecosystem

When you work on a new innovation project, it’s not uncommon to compete for resources, budget, expert inputs and leaders’ attention and decisions. The questions, challenges and resistance you encounter are often related to decision makers not seeing what your project will do different from other projects and, hence, why they should invest in it.

The natural reaction: everyone defends his/her own project business case. 

However …

It is better to do the opposite and to draw other projects in the equation. Think about how your project behaves in-context of the entire “project ecosystem”. Consider the value exhanges, the GIVES and TAKES in relation to other projects and initiatives.

How does this ecosystem approach work?

If I look back on recent and current projects I managed myself or on which I coached others, this is the approach:

First, change the perspective from what you build (functionalities) to what you solve for the client, described clearly from the client’s perspective. 

Consider that to be the guiding star. 

Then take 3 steps:

  1. On a project level: position your project vs. other projects and map what every project contributes to the client. How can you build on other project’s results? What is the best way to respect and to use existing assets? What inputs do you provide to other projects? 
  2. On a people level: seek to understand the people behind the assets. Anticipate what value our project can bring to them: more customers, specific insights, a new product or service than can be sold, a significantly better customer experience, a tool simplifying or improving their work, being able to test a new way of working (pioneering!) …
    Thinking in terms of those gives and takes is important as innovation projects are transversal by nature and you need to convene different departments to collaborate with you without having any hierarchical authority over them.
  3. Once you have got these contributions and value exchanges lined out, build a simple storyline (takes more time that a complex storyline), clarifying what you do but mainly confirming the (new) behaviors on team / individual level. This is where the solution is translated into individual roles.
This example shows the ecosystem of a project, aiming to develop a new service for small business. This mapping shows the project’s final contribution to the client in green, other projects in grey, our project’s TAKES in red, GIVES in blue. Gives and takes can be exchanges with other projects, but also with business as usual delivery.

Why did this approach bring traction?

Treating a project in-context with an ecosystems approach is at the interchange of 3 crucial leverages in innovation management: “strategic, political and cultural lenses on innovation,” as MIT’s refers to them in its “Corporate Ecosystems” course

In brief, strategic stands for: a rational take on what the organization is built for ; the results the machine should deliver. The political lens considers the passions, sensitivities and influence lines that make an organization move forward. The cultural lens helps us connect with the norms and values of the organization and unite around actions we want to become the new routines.

So this approach helps individual project leaders navigate their project through an ecosystem.

Does it also work top-down, when managing or reprioritizing a project portfolio or roadmap. 


We can dedicate multiple posts to this, but basically, you can structure your entire portfolio as described in the example. Map existing projects and possibly add new ones, while reflecting on the following questions:

  • For every project: what will be the value contribution? A good way to make concrete is by applying Agile Scrum’s “user story vocabulary”. For example: (our project A) will make sure that (target group) can (functionality) so that (result, value for them), whereas (difference with the way it works today).
  • How does it fit in the roadmap or the “critical path” ; what are the GIVES and TAKES that will move the teams?
  • When the portfolio is mapped, think of the best way to show and tell the teams the big picture and how their work fits in.

The result:

  • You are able to make clear choices and plan delivery timings based on what matters most: value contributions to the end client.
  • You best way to allocate which resources where and, avoiding fragmentation of efforts and working on the same thing in different corners of the organization.
  • You have an overview that enables you to tell a story from strategy to specific project, incl. what you expect from team members.

#ecosystems #innovation #givesandtakes

Why many organizations find it hard to co-create (with customers)

How do you start a co-creation process? Does it also work for B2B and is there a way to include your distributors or resellers?” Yes (x2). The marketer I met at the conference was convinced of the value of co-creating with customers. However he seemed puzzled on how to put it in place.

Turns out the origin of is concern was his ‘established’ approach on how to get customer insights:

  1. “Asking the customer means market research.” Read: a representative sample, scientifically validated surveys. It often takes 2-3 months from scoping to the communication of the results. That is a whole quarter without seeing results on the field.
  2. “Market research means we ask the customer what he/she wants and what he/she might like in the future.” Lots of market research remains declarative, or rather: it lacks observation.
  3. “After the market research, we develop and crosscheck internally (“the innovation or the R&D pipeline”) and then we launch, supported by a campaign.”

This way of thinking makes most companies nervous for their first date with end users.


In fact, most of us were taught to work like this in (business) schools. However, in customer centric innovation, testing/co-creating and development intertwine as you evolve into a mature and market-ready end solution.

Do you have a first idea of a service? Can you explain (better: show) what it does in a simple way? Then start a first co-creation track with end users on a small scale.

  1. Prepare a set of assumptions you want to check: who are you users really, how do they think/speak/act, which aspects of your service represent value to them (willingness to pay?), how do they evaluate the different interactions with your organisation, what do they expect?
  2. Prepare a concise scenario in which you can simulate the service to customers. Make sure you can observe reactions and ask questions about them.
  3. Then use your internal network and motivate for instance 1 store responsible to participate to a work session, and to invite a handful of local customers. See here this small-scale test takes you. I’m pretty confident that 70-80% of your findings will be confirmed in other tests. This approach generally doesn’t need convincing. Asking “who wants to volunteer to test something new” often does the trick.

By the time you would be starting your innovation funnel in the established approach, you will have a first product/service on the market. With customers willing to pay for it.

About the author – Manuel Bollue loves ‘going on the field’ during innovation projects: “I found the energy of all stakeholders in projects was the highest whenever they could make their ideas tangible and discuss them with end users.”

FC The Unbillables


A few months ago, someone told me: “I’m just working the hours I’m required to work. Nothing more.” What a huge contrast with a project I’ll always remember: we got together to develop an new web survey tool, mostly after a full working day, without getting extra money for it.

In order to avoid frictions at home (“you don’t even get paid for all this extra work”), we told our WAGs we were out to play mini-football.

Where did this team get a drive that you don’t often see, even in billable teams? We had 3 things in common.

First: Louis Van Gaal would say: “We all put our boots in the mud.” Everyone wanted to work and picked up the stuff to do without fussing around about roles and functions. Although I was the project manager I helped out a programmer writing some code myself (the easy bits, but still). We were genuinely interested in each other’s work and we understood the impact of our own actions on the others’ progress.

Second: we were constantly piloting minimum viable products with real clients. The result on the field (even the errors) and the user’s feedback (willingness to pay, liking the product) were constantly used as oxygen for the project. No one ever sat programming or designing anything in his corner, without knowing what the end user thought of it.

Last but not least: we kept on reaffirming the uniqueness of our new tool and the true pioneer spirit we were building it in.

This pioneering spirit was reinforced by our interactions with end users and their experiences.

At one moment in the project, when one of the WAGs discovered we were working late, she ‘forgave us’ and even baked pancakes for FC The Unbillables. I guess pioneering passion is contagious and gives you more credit … in different ways.

P.S. What if someone is not willing to go the extra mile, regardless of pioneering passion and motivation efforts? You know what, his/her work will not even be 80% of what it should be. You can tolerate offdays, but in the interest of passionate team members: you can’t no offday attitude.

Engagement: how you add a Maker-feel to a desk job

Do you have a desk job? The chances are pretty big. Imagine you take a few weeks (or even a few days) off. During that time, you dedicate yourself to renovating a house, building a tree house with your kids, preparing your garden for the next season or any other form of manual labour. When the evening comes, you see the progress you’ve made.



By the time you get back to the office, your batteries are full … yet you are having difficulties to gear yourself up again. In fact, if you could choose, you’d go back to ‘making’.

“Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake. Taking the time you need to do something well, is profoundly stabilizing to individuals,” writes Richard Sennett in The Craftsman.

There are reasons why Making becomes addictive. Some of them are linked to key drivers of internal motivation (cfr. Drive by Dan Pink): becoming more skilled at something (mastery), being able to complete a job on your own (autonomy) and see you have actually created a thing of value for yourself or others (purpose). Hence the Maker movement is the pursuit for Craftification.

There are a number of approaches proper to Making that you can apply to a desk job. These approaches allow you to appeal to your inner craftsman and crank up your engagement and your colleagues’.

  1. Don’t just talk in meetings, but make stuff: timelines, prototypes, overviews, storylines, schedules, processes or journeys. Make sure every meeting has an ‘end product’.
  2. Visualise as much as possible. One of the advantages of a Maker is that he can showcase something tangible. Work together on the flipchart or whiteboard (extra advantage: you’ll be moving, which gives you more energy than sitting down).
  3. Plan Makertime in your agenda: blocks of a few hours in which you can make progress on a deliverable without being interrupted (some call this “prime action hours”).
  4. Make stuff with an end user or a customer in mind: what would (s)he like, how will you solve his/her problem? How will you help or even surprise your (internal) customer today?
  5. Finish your work ! In today’s rat race and still often Taylor-like processes, temptation is high to work on something and then throw it over the wall for the next guy to handle it. Whether you are making code, texts, plans, strategy documents, analysis … take the time to review and polish it and make a finished piece. Try to learn from previous experiences in order to plan realistically when outputs will be ready.

“Make sure you can be satisfied with your work at the moment your ‘time is up’ and you need to hand it over.”

‘Happy to help’: de klant bijstaan zonder iets te doen: zoek de 5 verschillen tussen 2 collega’s

2016-09-01 17.51.48

Twee collega’s in hetzelfde bedrijf en op dezelfde dienst, en toch een totaal verschillende aanpak van een typische klantensituatie: een klant met een last-minute probleem die in de eerste plaats op zijn gemak gesteld wil worden.

Situatie 1, dag 1, 17u15.

Ik sta in het onthaal van mijn garage want ik heb net vastgesteld dat de spiegel en de ruit aan passagierskant blokkeren. Nog geen twee weken voordien heb ik in dezelfde garage een controle laten uitvoeren voor de lange reis. Morgenochtend om 4u starten we een rit van 900 km naar Bordeaux. De garage is open tot 18u.

De medewerker staat voor zijn desk met een collega te praten. Hij hoort mij het probleem uitleggen en schudt direct zijn hoofd. “Er zijn geen techniekers meer, morgen om 8u heb ik er één vrij.” Ik herhaal dat ik dan al 4 uur in de wagen zit en ergens voorbij Parijs. Hij haalt zijn schouders op: “iedereen is weg.” Hij duidelijk ook al, in zijn hoofd.

“Misschien is het gewoon een software update zoals vorige keer,” probeer ik. “Dat kan ik niet zeggen,” schouders omhoog, schouders omlaag. Einde conversatie. Enfin met de klant, niet met zijn collega’s.

Situatie 2, dag+1, 13u25.

We zijn op weg naar Bordeaux en na 400 km is onze GPS uitgevallen. We rijden al een tijd op de kaart, maar besluiten toch de garage te bellen. Ongerust dat er iets niet in de haak is met de elektronica van de wagen: na de rechter deur nu ook de GPS? Als de linker deur ook hapert kunnen we van payage naar payage rijden met een open raam.

De man die ik aan de lijn krijg, luistert geduldig. “En u moet naar Bordeaux zegt u, dan dat is inderdaad vervelend voor u.” Dan bevestigt hij: de haperingen aan rechterruit en –spiegel gaan samen en kunnen beiden worden opgelost met een software-update. Belangrijker: ze hebben niets te maken met de GPS.

Dan stelt hij vragen: heeft u een dakkoffer, want dat kan de ontvangst van de antenne beïnvloeden. “Ja, en in onze dakkoffer zitten een reisbed en een buggy, dus veel ijzer,” besef ik luidop. Ondertussen hoor ik hem tikken. Hij raadt aan bij een volgende stop bed en buggy in de koffer op te bergen en andere bagage bovenaan. Hij herhaalt ten slotte nog eens wat er twee weken geleden allemaal is gecontroleerd (hij ziet dat die controle heeft plaatsgevonden bij mijn klantengegevens). Net voor ik wil afleggen, geeft hij nog mee dat er twee garages zijn in de buurt van Bordeaux, “indien ik de zekerheid wil dat dit opgelost is voor de terugreis.” Na de bagagewissel werkte de GPS opnieuw. Geen verdere problemen.

Medewerker 2 deed wat nodig was:

  1. Openlijk erkennen dat de situatie voor de klant vervelend is – meevoelen.
  2. Angst wegnemen bij de klant (het is slechts een lokaal probleem met elektronica).
  3. De klant helpen het probleem oplossen – meedenken, over het ijzer in de dakkoffer.
  4. De klant juist kaderen wat de garage voor het verlof heeft gecheckt en waarom dit probleem niet tot dat lijstje controlepunten behoort – evidencing, of de waarde van je dienstverlening tonen.
  5. Het gesprek sterk afsluiten (met info over de garages).

Veel bedrijven die hun merkervaring willen versterken met goeie service, verliezen effect in de verschillen tussen medewerkers. In een volgende blog belicht ik hoe je verschillende medewerkers een gelijkaardige dienstervaring laat neerzetten, zonder daarbij robots te worden zonder eigenheid.

P.S. Het gesprek met collega 2 was dan nog via telefoon en niet face-to-face, dus in se moeilijker om een connectie te maken met mij als klant.

Outside-In / Customer First: a small step for man, a giant leap for the ego

“Your feedback as future end users is important to us. Please give us your honest thoughts,” the user experience specialist introduced the test of a first app prototype. “Don’t spare us the negative remarks. We won’t be mad at you, we’re here to learn.” This is a very open and a very vulnerable position at the same time. But still: the right thing to do because we know that, in the long run we are always better off with an ‘end product’ backed by end users.


So why are still so many products, solutions and services being developed with little or even no end user input? Or why do valuable end user inputs fail to find their way to product adaptations?

The Brafman brothers researched what makes us ‘sway’ towards such irrational behaviour. First of all, the further we evolve into a project, the more averse we become to the loss of time, budget, effort and pride. Our ego gets a dent when the end user doesn’t like what we’ve developed for him.

Second: we fear we won’t make it on time. Even if user feedback proves the solution we are building needs rework, our commitment to a goal/a launch/a deadline, makes it hard for us to reconsider the solution.

Loss aversion and commitment are two perfectly human reflexes that make it much safer (for the ego) to push a genius idea through the innovation funnel without too much interference from the end user.

However: end user feedback is the perfect ‘plunger’ in your innovation project.

Next time you get stuck in a project (in analysis, discussion, solution design, implementation), try this: drop whatever you are doing and check your assumptions with a small group of end users. Ask questions, show them a prototype, observe and ask them to react. Don’t focus on possible wasted efforts and confronting feedback on the short term. Learn and take your project one step further.


P.S.: Not convinced: try a budget validation backed with and one without a user test. 😉

Journey mapping: the CSI of customer experience management


Running a performing and client focused company in an ever more complex world is as demanding as a series of CSI episodes in which you always need to crack the perfect case. So, let’s use a CSI-worthy business tool to help us: journey mapping, because it …

  1. allows you to get immersed in the world of your study object (the customer) and to dissect the journey (“the plot”) into a sequence of touchpoints: contacts between your organisation and the customer, through different channels (“weapons of choice”).
  2. brings together an enormously rich set of information in one single view. On the journey you can map, observe and analyse behaviours, thoughts and emotions (“motives!”). It can be fed with both qualitative and quantitative (big!) data (“what makes the customer return to the place of the c.r.i.m.e.*?”).
  3. engages and aligns stakeholders. Journey mapping is an intense and rewarding exercise because it brings out their implicit knowledge and helps them build common insights together.

* c.r.i.m.e.: credible relevant indulging memorable experience

Choose a challenge in your organization. Gather the usual and unusual suspects in order to bring the process in the room and use journey mapping to gain insights.

How you squeeze an entire innovation process in just one weekend

I got to know service design and outside-in thinking on a global service jam. We developed a service in which professionals compensate for a part of their ‘un-learned’ creativity by collaborating with kids.

A service jam is essentially a 48 hrs. building process. The result is a research report, an idea long list, several prototypes, a business model and a service blueprint.

This is possible only if you exclude every(1) corporate reflex:

  • Make use of existing research, listen in on social media, walk around and observe. Avoid weeks/months of surveys and analysis. Instead, directly dip your first insights in the market and evolve. Research continues very time you …
  • confront the client/end user with the very basic first version (“minimum viable service / product”) of your idea. Based on his feedback, make a new version … and another one. Your client is your first validator, not your board(s).
  • Form a team and have its members define their challenge, don’t give them “functions” but let them collaborate and try-out roles while doing so.

(1) I lied: you need a well-oiled and strict process so you can focus all your energy on making and re-making stuff (not on the plan).

#GSJAM – Find a safe space to think with your hands at the Global Service Jam on Feb 26-28.

E.F.E.ctive learning: 3 ways to open the mind in uncertain times

“What is your vision on learning?” a client recently asked. Behind that question lay another one: “Would it be possible to create a type of training that is so appealing that employee request to participate to it?”


Her company, like many others, faces the need to innovate its customer experience while remaining cost-efficient. Jobs at this company will be far more demanding in terms of flexibility: learning new competences, working further from home with new colleagues, servicing new clients. Yet, this manager is (rightfully) determined that one-size-fits-all training programs are not going to motivate employees who carry backpacks full of uncertainty. So what is the solution, how do you create ‘pull-learning’?

Reculer pour mieux sauter.

Imagine the following situation. You are sitting in a room at the start of a training course. Suddenly you doubt whether you have locked your car (your laptop and your wallet are in it and the car is on a public parking lot!). As long as the uncertainty and the fear of losing your belongings are blocking your mind, you won’t learn anything.

In a changing and uncertain environment, before you can even start to accelerate learning and change behaviour, you have to ‘unfreeze’ people. Get them out of their uncertainty zone and re-create a basic openness to new information. As Suzan Jeffers concluded in ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’, the root of all fears is the perception: I can’t handle it. In order to convince people of the opposite, work on esteem, fairness and example. These are 3 preconditions that create openness to learn and self-develop.

  1. E-steem before education

Arnoud Raskin is a product developer who wanted to give street kids a proper education. Since it is difficult to get these kids in the classroom, Raskin built a Mobile School to take education to the streets. With over 300 educative tools packed in a blackboard-on-wheels, his organization really makes a difference to a lot of kids.

During one of his speeches in front of business people, he stressed a very important precondition for learning that is not only valid for street kids, but for all of us. “Before you can teach them anything, you need to restore their self esteem.”

So, don’t bombard your employees with those typical impressive burning platform stories. Too many of them are typically conceived from an organizational point of view, with a mandatory and artificial ‘what’s in it for me’ chapter. It will only alienate employees. So will stories about other organizations that people can’t relate to. Only the guys that made the slides want to ‘be like Apple’.

Instead, show them there is another way, a better way. Inspire them with stories of how certain colleagues (“someone like me”) are already offering the service we want to be known for in the future, with effects on customer loyalty. In every company there are good examples of people leading the way. The purpose of such stories is that employees walk out thinking about how they’ll do things differently with their customers.

  1. F-airness before conviction

People cling to the fear I can’t handle it or they resist certain decisions because they don’t trust the process leading to the decision, regardless of the outcome. Kim and Mauborgne, who have researched procedural fairness related to operational performance, state: “although outcomes are important, if we have not had our voice heard and our point of view considered, we are likely to feel dissatisfied by the outcome – even when this outcome is what we had hoped for.”

According to their research, In order to help employees or stakeholders trust the process, organizations need to provide answers (and proof) to a number of questions. To what degree:

  • Were the decisions based on accurate information?
  • Were decision makers unbiased?
  • Does the decision represent a widespread need?
  • Can the decision still be corrected?
  • Were social and ethical criteria considered in the decision making?
  • Are / were stakeholders involved?
  • Are we able to explain all of the above in a coherent story?

Involve colleagues from all impacted areas of the organisation in the change process. Discuss the future vision, the way to get there, the measures and the follow-up, the (fair) distribution of impacts. Last but not least: show them how their input is used.

fairness summary

As a result, the same research concludes resistance will drop and stakeholders’ sense of citizenship will grow. The more we perceive a decision as a result of a fair process, the more we are willing to go the extra mile.

  1. E-xample before engagement

The leaders play an important part in providing team members and stakeholders with the necessary information. But there is another reason why every customer experience initiative is a leadership initiative. A leader applying the desired behaviour and showing the example is the best guarantee for this desired behaviour to be adopted by his/her team members.

P.S. This article was about creating a ‘pull’ effect in training. Reality shows a push is also needed. Again, leaders can help, with a gentle Nudge (or a Whack on the side of the head in some cases).

Why Organize a Training Session Like a Bachelor Event

In a recent project, we were asked to squeeze an interactive 2-day training into one day. This reminds me of a bachelor event we put together for a soon-to-be-married pal. Before someone accuses me of binge drinking on the training budget, let me clarify this analogy.

The theme of the bachelor event was inspired by Ocean’s Eleven (and later in the evening: Twelve and Thirteen). At first, this theme had inspired us to stuff 24 hours with as many exiting activities as we could possibly think of. I’m glad we were so clever to leave out half. This freed up the time for a decent build-up of every activity. For the same reason, I’m glad we didn’t stuff 16 hours of training into 8.

We often think of a training session as a one-way transfer of knowledge. The agenda is composed of content blocks. In order to facilitate successful learning, we need to think of the learning dynamics too. The more content we want to ‘process’, the more dynamics are likely to be pushed out.


Here are 5 common ‘shortcuts’, but what they cut most is your learning experience:

  1. “Skip the warm-up, it’s not a team building.” Before they are receptive for new content, people need to disconnect from their day-to-day jobs, to commit to the learning group and be prepared to have an open mind. Without the open mind, we are likely to block new insights and for instance perceive an empathy exercise as “nothing new from a closing-the-deal training” we’ve attended previously.
    Don’t start without a decent warm-up. A warm-up doesn’t have to be a game or something silly. There are enough warm-ups that you can link to the actual content of the training. (I’ll dedicate another blog to that soon)
  2. “Shorten the intro, they’ve read the invite.” If you have 15 participants, you have 15 different ‘why we are here’s’ and 15 different sets of expectations. Plus, it would not be the first time participants have not been decently briefed on the actual training content. Because of this, some participants will sit out an entire training, only to evaluate it against the ‘wrong’ expectations.
    So first, frame the reason for the training and make it clear what they can expect. Also take 5’ to agree on learning or collaboration rules. Then, let’s talk content.
  3. “Don’t share the experience after each exercise, they know what they did.” I agree when sharing means repeating everything you just did. But the purpose is to share what you discovered when you applied a new technique or skill. In a role-play exercise, how dit you experience the impacts on others (and how did they)? How did the relationship alter between ‘an employee’ and ‘a client’? Sharing is needed to make observations explicit and to gain a maximum of different insights from everyone in the group.
  4. “They can reflect in the car during the ride back home.” Reflection is not a gadget in a gift bag. Reflections in between exercises or blocks of content help insights ‘sink in’ (thank you #hyperisland). Introverts, still one third to half of the population, need this time to process. Or to put your mind to rest (‘a whitespace moment’). Extraverts are welcome to exchange in duos if the silence is killing them.
  5. “One more thing… While you put on your coats, tell me how you will apply all this.” Key to the success of a training session is its training transfer: how acquired skills or knowledge can be put into practice. This starts with the simple perception that the transfer is possible (hence the need to debrief and reflect). You need to think of concrete situations and conversations in which you’ll apply what you’ve learned. Think of a way to measure and talk it through with a coaching buddy. Training transfer starts in the training.

Next time you organize a training, build it around half of the topics you initially intended to.

P.S. Should you feel tempted to squeeze in more, think of a XL guy in a L shirt: it’s too tight to be comfortable and it’s hard to breathe in.