The business world is becoming increasingly complex. Studies in business complexity show that leaders are unable to cope: they are pulled in different directions and unable to focus [1, 2]. Conflicting priorities, competing business units, and an inability to find attractive markets are some of the top issues that contribute to this modern condition.
As a result, many companies lack coherence. Part of the problem is that there are too many pieces to puzzle. Globalization, digitization, automatization, outsourcing, crowd sourcing: navigating the possibilities business have at their disposal these days is a wicked problem.
We then see these companies pass this complexity on to consumers. Customers get bounced from service provider to service provider or from department to department. No one takes control or, worse, they blame each other.
Designers try to reduce this complexity for users of the products and services they create. We’re naturally good at empathizing with customers, understanding their motiviations and needs, and translating this into a concept for an offering. One important tool designers rely on frequently are diagrams: flowcharts, concept maps, interaction models and the like. Often these are for design purposes, but used to describe business contexts, they can take on a new role.
While no silver bullet, diagrams can help provide insight into complex situations. Visualizing all of the components of a process or system provides both a compactness of information and an immediacy of understanding. Maps help us see relationships and connect the dots. It’s this big picture that is often missing in business thinking.
Enterprise Business Motivation Model (EBMM) is a techique to identify and visualize the disparate elements of a business. It’s a big picture view of an organization. It includes a variety of elements, and mapping out in more details is surely a task in and of itself.
Here a picture of the highest-level of the EBMM. (Click for full view–opens in new window)
(Unfortunately, there is no identification of Design as a core business function)
Based on my presentation at the Euro IA conference in Paris in 2010, Paul Kahn and I wrote about alignment diagrams in a longer article (See”Locating Value with Alignment Diagrams“). The EBMM is NOT an alignment diagram by our definition of the phrase because it doesn’t account for any customer behavior. However, elements from the EBMM could be used to describe the business portion of an alignment diagram. For instance, if your alignment diagram has horizontal “swimlanes” of information that are visually aligned in the map, aspects like “Business Unit,” “Business Process,” “Data Object,” and “Initiatives” could be separate rows.
The interesting part of this to me is that I believe people in design disciplines have the necessary skills to do this kind of work–to map out businesses and interactions. We’re good at investigating and uncovering complex problems that may be otherwise not “visible” and making these tangible. I’d like to see more of this kind of work and thinking come from the design community. We can use our design thinking skills to help solve business problems.
As Luke Wroblewski’s commented on his blog years ago:
The same communication skills that help designers create effective visual and interaction designs for products can also play a significant role elsewhere in the product development process especially during early strategic work. …
… Especially early on in the product development process, design artifacts are able to create buy-in for a product vision, provide market context, or illuminate data, processes, goals, and the impact of decisions.
…designers have the skills needed to communicate and persuade but few of them utilize these skills for business visualization. Especially early on in the product development process, design artifacts are able to create buy-in for a product vision, provide market context, or illuminate data, processes, goals, and the impact of decisions.
I won’t be talking about EBMMs in my upcoming workshop at the Euro IA Conference in Prague on alignment diagrams, but I will be discussing some of the points I just mentioned in more detail. We’ll also look at some of the mechanics of creating alignment diagrams. Registration for the workshop is still open and there are spots left.
BTW, the early bird price for the conference itself has been extended until Sept 4. Sign up! Luke Wroblewski is our keynote speaker–you won’t want to miss that!
 IBM, “Capitalizing on Complexity,” (2010). [http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/ceo/ceostudy2010/]
 Booz & Co, “Executives Say They’re Pulled in Too Many Directions and That Their Company’s Capabilities Don’t Support Their Strategy,” (Feb 2011). [http://www.booz.com/global/home/press/article/49007867]