The application of design thinking involves the creation of solutions in the meeting of an objective. Unlike a purely analytical approach, it begins with the solution and utilizes resources from across the enterprise to bring about its creation. The purely analytical approach breaks down the problem into its subsequent parts in order to rebuild it anew. Design thinking is solution focused while the analytical method is preoccupied with the problem.
The truly effective finance business partner must utilise both mind-sets. They start by framing the problem but also visualising possible solutions. They strive to break down the issues into manageable concerns, to understand the constraints, possible barriers and bottlenecks. They brainstorm the benefits of various ideal solutions, branch out across functional silos and test their early ideas to gain rapid feedback from concerned stakeholders.
A suite of tools which can empower the finance business partner to adopt this type of concurrent thinking is mapping techniques.
Mapping can be used as a tool to facilitate analysis and synthesis. They can be used to understand the varying levels within a hierarchy, the possible consequences of key strategic decisions and the sequential steps in a complex process. They can be solution and objective led, leading from the final output to reveal a series of interconnected relationships. They can be problem led in which each is listed and connected via a series of steps used to reveal how each could be solved or overcome.
Finance business partners have been using mapping techniques unaware that they are inherently a design-led process. Practitioners are creating possible outcomes when they use these techniques. They can be used to build and test a vast array of possible solutions in a rapid and simple manner enabling the finance business partner to visualise solutions at a vastly more rapid rate and allowing them test and reject more options and therefore iterate rapidly to a better solution.
This is design thinking.
The following are examples of mapping techniques which enable the finance business partner to occupy the creative and analytical thinking domains in their search for the best solutions.
Value mapping is used to visualise how organisational resources can be utilised to create value. They are used to understand how value is created, captured and transferred into the organisation.
They are a simple alteration of Porter’s value chain in that it recognises that value creation is neither linear nor restricted to a single path but can be cyclical and involve reciprocal relationships.
Where the focus is internal the user starts with existing resources. The map flows outwards identify at each stage how existing resources can be utilised to maximise value creation, capture and transfer.
How can existing resources be more effectively utilised to identify products or services which the customer values most highly?
Identify and target those customers whose needs the organisation can best meet.
How can existing resources be used to more effectively and efficiently to build value into those products which customers most desire?
Build products or services in the most economic manner which meets the needs, satisfies the desires or removes the most acute pains of the most profitable and able customers.
How can existing resources be more efficiently utilised to ensure the greatest level of value is transferred into the organisation and realised as retained profit?
Deliver the product or service in the most cost-efficient way at the lowest cost without any loss of effectiveness.
Process maps are an established tool in business and change management. Business process re-engineering requires the creation of the as-is state where the current process with all its imperfections and quirks is fully mapped out. They enable practitioners to identify existing bottlenecks and process inefficiencies such as redundant feedback loops and duplication. This approach is highly analytical.
Strategy and benefits mapping
Through the mapping tools described above the finance business partner will gain a detailed and thorough understanding of the levers of value creation and the internal processes involved in the capture and transfer of that value into the organisation. However, the constraints and inefficiencies of the current design will also become clearly visible enabling the finance business partner to visualise the current strengths, weaknesses, along with the possible opportunities and threats acting on their organisations. This will enable them to build a detailed SWOT analysis.
Benefit maps can be used to visualise the impact of potential change and are an established part of change management. They are used to understand the possible benefits and dis-benefit of a proposed solution. They begin with the objectives and work backwards to map the high-level benefits that would arise when those objectives are realised. This continues to a point where the intermediate benefits can be realised by an immediate action or output. This technique allows the user to rapidly audit any given solution by focusing on the impact of any given change. It focuses on the end user and places their needs at the forefront of the thinking process.
To-be or not to-be
The mapping tools above focus on creating and understand the current, as-is design by providing an analytical view of existing resources and the internal processes. The creation of the strategy and benefits map involves building into it outputs of change. In order to realise any strategic advantage from change an organisation must alter how it creates value, how this value is then captured and then transferred into the organisation and realised as retained earnings. This will involve the creation of to-be value and process maps which reflect the end game of change and which will enable the realisation of the strategy map.
It is in the creation and design of the to-be maps that design thinking is utilised. However, before the to-be state can be realised either in physical reality or in the various maps the finance business partner must gain a thorough understanding of the needs of the stakeholders affected by the change, their concerns over how any change will impact them and how the change will affect or alter their role within the organisation. In short, the to-be maps must be designed to meet the needs of the organisation as well as the full range of stakeholders and not simply a revamped and tidied up version of the old. There must be an appreciation of the need to iterate towards the final solution with the desire to engage affected stakeholders throughout the design, build and implementation of the new maps.
How an organisation creates, captures and transfers value does not remain static. It depends on people for continuous maintenance. By engaging stakeholders early during the design phase and rapidly iterating through design and testing, mapping tools can be used to ensure that such on-going maintenance is minimal.
The use of mapping tools and the creation of to-be states can be used to anticipate change, enable more effective contingency planning and therefore reduce the risk of uncertainty. In an environment of extreme uncertainty, it is vital that organisation do not become paralysed by it but embrace the need to remain agile to change, action focused and future led. Success in this environment favours those that are able to create their own futures via a creative and design led approach but which is grounded in sound financial and business sense.