David Lanphear
Opportunity Areas flow from Observations to Insights, Opportunity Areas, and then Design Citeria

What are “Opportunity Areas” and How Many do We Pursue?

I got into a debate recently. It wasn’t over climate change, which character is best on Schitt’s Creek, or whether bicyclist’s should obey the rules of the road – though those are equally as compelling. No, this debate centered around what an opportunity area is and how they should be used.

You see, in the classic Design Thinking process (if there even is such a thing), opportunity areas provide a jumping off point to explore new, unique insights. Let’s review the Design Thinking steps:

  1. Frame a Question
  2. Gather Inspiration (from users)
  3. Synthesize for Action. <-We are here
  4. Generate Ideas
  5. Make Ideas Tangible
  6. Test to Learn

Within the “Synthesize for Action” step are two fundamental processes: discovering insights and creating opportunity areas. In prior versions of the IDEO process steps (seen above), these two functions were broken out, but for simplicity of experience they have since been combined. For our purposes, we’ll briefly look at them separately to better understand how they relate.

First – insights. Insights are those “Ah ha!” moments. They can come from people using different methods to solve similar problems, people using similar techniques to solve different problems, or from a single outlier who may not even know that what they are doing is unique. They can also be composed of mental maps, perspectives, values, influences, statistical data, or even market trends. By grouping and categorizing the ‘facts’ you’ve seen in the inspiration stage, you’re creating uniqueness in perspective. You then ask the infamous “why” question of your categories and are well on your way to forming a few carefully crafted insight statements. But now what?

I used design research to plan my wedding. Above is my board. Green post-its are observations. Pink hearts are themes that would eventually become insights (ask ‘why’) and combined into opportunity areas.

Finally, we’re on to opportunities. Traditionally, they’re super simple. Opportunities take 1 – 3 insight statements and turn them into a “How Might We” question (for more info on how might we statements, watch this).

For example, if you hear about a delivery man who drove with his leg out the window in order to reduce pain from a recent injury (true story) and a waitress who is forced back to work 2 weeks after having her first child (also true), you might come up with an insight that “Though legal protections exist for multi-person companies, the independent worker lacks a personal champion for their individual security” (completely made up – but could be true). From there, an opportunity area could be formed: “How might we provide individualized income security to independent contract workers?”

The above example is simplified with a 1 insight to 1 opportunity direct connection, but in reality, this can oftentimes be 1 to 1, 2 to 1, or even 3 to 1. This, I believe, is what can lead to confusion with opportunity areas.

Because no two challenges have the same scope and no two opportunity areas are created in exactly the same manner, it is actually a judgement call with how deep you want to explore opportunities.

Some opportunities, like the above, are broad areas of exploration that may dig deep into the world of individualized benefits, insurance regulations, and market feasibility studies. For opportunity areas such as this, it’s best to hold a stakeholder review and determine if this (or another opportunity area) is truly something that the team should focus on as it will likely take the majority of the teams’ capacity.

However, other opportunities – again, depending on the scope and relation to other insights – may be more ripe for exploration alongside each other. For instance, if in another project the opportunity area was “How might we help people in debt realign their spending to their income?” and another opportunity in the same project asked “How might we help people in debt protect themselves against future financial shocks?” we may choose a different path. In this example, since the user type is the same (or similar) and neither requires extreme specificity (at least not yet), it is my belief that both pathways can be explored simultaneously.

For those acute in-tune readers at home, you may be wondering – but what about all of the OTHER opportunity areas? And that is exactly the debate. How many opportunity areas should be pursued at any one time. In this author’s perspective, you should continue to pursue multiple opportunity areas until you reach an area that requires extreme specificity. This is not to say you pursue every opportunity area, but you select between 1 – 3 based on the pillars of likely desirability (need), feasibility, and viability. You select up to 3 because it allows researchers to explore dependencies between opportunities instead of digging an immediately deep knowledge hole that is ripe for selection bias in your recruitment.

Avoid going too deep too early and allow for quick iterations to help you dictate which opportunity areas provide the most depth for pursuit.

TLDR; Opportunity areas are simply the combination of 1 or more insights into a question on how you may be able to help the user achieve a uniquely positioned, unmet need. How many opportunity areas you pursue is completely up to the team, the scope of the project, and the depth of detail vs relationship it has with other opportunity areas – but should likely be no more than 3.

Attached is a little deck I made up to help frame this discussion.

Ants

What to do When Ants Take Over Your Apartment

Have you ever had to notify your landlord or maintenance crew about bugs in the house? It’s never fun. But when the exterminator still hasn’t come 2 weeks later? Very not fun.

So it’s my belief that for every non-fun situation, there is a way to make it just a bit more enjoyable. Instead of getting angry, try a positive email. Here’s mine that I recently authored after finding ants in my apartment and having nothing done about it for a little while:

As you can see, in an earlier email thread, my landlord reiterated the pets policy. No harm there. But to make things a little more fun, let’s use that to our advantage and tie it all back together! Don’t you love it when things come full circle? It makes me smile. And alas – a happier (hopefully) ending to the story.

Photo Credit: Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash

Turo vs Getaround: A Provider’s Perspective

For the past 6 months I have been leasing out my car on both Getaround and Turo. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these companies, both of them offer the ability for car owners to rent out their vehicles to anyone for a price. You can think of it a lot like AirBNB for your car.

However, both companies take very different approaches to accomplishing this. Which one you consider ‘better’ largely depends on whether you’re the person who is lending or the person being lent the car. Today, I will break down the differences from the provider’s (person lending their car) perspective.

Turo Getaround
Rental Period 1 Day 1 Hour
Car Access Person-to-Person Auto lock/unlock in app
Insurance Liberty Mutual Third Party Administrator of claims on behalf of some carrier you’ve never heard of
Price Set by Owner Set by Algorithm
Miles Set by Owner 200
Tolls Reimbursement Form Auto-deduct by plate
People on Platform Caring & friendly Don’t care
Speed violations Sometimes Excessive

 

But first, some history: Turo has been in this game for much longer than Getaround. They initially started as “RelayRides” with a similar app-based experience as their more recent competitor. Since then, Turo has pivoted their service based on analytics and insights from years in the business. Spoiler: I think this is why Turo is the champion here.

First of all – the people. As a car owner, you typically don’t just let anyone drive your car. But that is precisely what is happening on these platforms. In my roughly 6-months worth of experience interacting with individuals on both platforms , I can honestly and easily say that Turo users are much nicer, caring, and considerate.

Example: on Turo, I have had multiple people return my car cleaner and with more gas than when it was rented. Turo users enjoy the car and fluctuate with its speeds (I rent out a 2014 Chevy Camaro) – but always take care of it and are great communicators. Getaround drivers, by contrast and generalization, return the car dirty and tank empty after driving it well in excess of the speed limit. They rarely communicate and appear to treat the car much like a faceless rental – which is nothing crazy, but without the care that I have come to expect from Turo.

It is no surprise then, that my one accident occurred with a Getaround driver. That accident was 2 weeks ago, and I am still waiting for my car to be returned to me. So let’s talk about the worst case scenario: insurance and the claims experience.

When I was notified that my car had been in an accident I was on the other side of the country in San Francisco. That feeling of dread was more than distracting as I was stuck far away with no control over the situation. Getaround contacted me to let me know what had happened (awesome) and said they would take care of it. The next day, I got an email from another Getaround employee saying that they sent someone out to drive my car to the shop – but that the driver couldn’t drive a stick shift, and therefore couldn’t bring my car in. Remember – my car is listed as a stick shift on their website, so they should know this.

The next day, a new driver came and successfully brought my car to the shop. However, Getaround then informed me that I had gone through a toll (even though I never remove my EZ pass) and needed to pay them, plus a small admin fee. Needless to say, this was not a great experience. To their credit, they realized this mistake and credited my account $10.

A few more days went by and I got home from my trip. After reaching out for an update on the status of my car, I was informed that the shop found additional damage while undergoing repairs. They now needed to wait for the insurance company to come out and inspect the car again. It appears that their insurance setup could use some work as it involves third party services. While not uncommon, this creates additional lag through handoffs and approvals between 3 companies and the shop before work can get done. All of this just adds up to more time before my car comes back.

But, there is a loss-of-use clause!!! As a provider, I am entitled to $25/day while my car is being repaired – but only up to the highest payout over the past 3 months. My highest payout was $200. My payments on the car are $550. It has been 2 weeks. Do the math, and you’ll realize that I am losing money on this deal. So the claims experience – between the miscommunications and many parties – is less than ideal.

So while we’re crunching the numbers, which one really makes sense finically? Again, I would have to roll with Turo – though this may be a personal preference. On Turo, I am able to set my own price OR use their algorithm to adjust based on the market around me. My choice is to set my own price because I value consistency and mentally have a price point at which the hassle of renting out the car is worth a certain cost. You don’t get this with Getaround.

Additionally, Getaround cars can be rented for as short as an hour and can happen immediately. This means that you always have to keep your car clean, filled with gas, and ready to go. You also have to micromanage your schedule to be sure that nobody tries to rent your car while you’re at the grocery store. This can be annoying – for little reward. I have received as little as $5 because someone wanted to rent my car for an hour, while driving ~50 miles during that time. To me, it’s just not worth it – especially when calculating the wear and tear toward the vehicle, the risk, your inability to use it, and need to keep it clean and full constantly.

Turo – on the other hand – gives you advance notice that your car will be rented out and does not allow for rentals any shorter than 1 day. This is fantastic for owners – but is a hassle for users. But from this perspective, I’m okay with that. 🙂

The one point where Getaround shines is with its ability to have renters open and use the car via the app. This allows for a completely hands-off rental experience for the owners. With Turo, there is a key handoff from owner to lessee which means that you should physically be around for the exchange. This can be difficult as oftentimes people want to rent the car while I am at work. This means less rides or clunky workarounds like leaving the keys in a hidden location.

Yet, I have grown to appreciate the key handoff over time. I have gotten to know some of the drivers – many of whom are visitors and travelers – and this helps to build up rapport between us. I truly believe that this is intentionally done by Turo as it directly impacts the amount of care the car is given. Even when hiding the key for a remote pickup, I can tell the car has been well taken care of, as this is truly a human-to-human experience and not an app-based transaction.

After speaking with Turo reps, I understood this decision perfectly. In their original app-unlock model, thieves would look up cars on the platforms, seek them out, break in – and because the keys are inside – they would drive away with the vehicle. This is no good.

So in addition to reducing theft, the key handoff also increased the level of vehicle care.

Overall, while Turo seems much more manual, it is enacted with great purpose. Turo enables the owner to feel as though they maintain control of their vehicle even at times when it is not fully theirs. It is clear that they have done their research and truly aim to create a great experience for the provider. I just hope that the demand side continues to strengthen, even with increased pricing pressure from lesser rivals like Getaround.

Notes and scruples throughout!

Book Review: Change by Design

Change by Design by Tim BrownIt’s at your fingertips. If I had to sum up Change by Design in one phrase, that would be it. Just like a “How Might We” statement can be broken down into its various components, let me break down this phrase into smaller parts to quickly explain Tim Brown’s book.

First is the word “it’s.” This contraction is both an abbreviation and a combination of two thoughts. Tim Brown, in his writing of the book, continues to come back to a common theme of design centered around the combination of people and ideas. For instance, he argues that design is a combination of individuals with various skillsets sharing their unique perspectives. In another chapter, a combination of ideas come together to build upon each other and blossom into one great idea. Yet again, he even speaks to the combination of methodologies – lean, agile, and design thinking in particular – to discuss that their methods all have shared principles of a customer focus and continuous experimentation.

Design thinking is neither art nor science nor religion. It is the capacity, ultimately, for integrative thinking.
-Tim Brown

Abbreviation also shows up frequently, and not in a cost-cutting manner. Rather, abbreviation drives creative constraints that can actually fuel innovation. Given business, cultural, economic, or other constraints, a design thinker must work within their abilities, time, and budget to pursue a solution that addresses the user need.

The next word – “at” – is all about location. Throughout the book, Tim argues a recently unpopular belief that co-creation works best within co-location. Since “there’s no substitute for direct observation” research is done as close to the challenge as possible and always right alongside the people that it affects. Being at the location helps designers to build context,  understanding, and emotional relationships that would otherwise be missed from more traditional strategy execution.

Notes and scruples throughout!Towards the end of the phrase is the word “your.” This word is an imperative that the responsibility to innovate lies within you. An organization that is built to silo innovation or only have a select few partake in these actions is unlikely to succeed. Instead the book urges everyone to participate in innovation whether it be incremental or transformational. Experts are overrated (though occasionally called for) and the people with diverse backgrounds are the teams which come together to create the best change.

Finally, I mention fingertips because they are the parts of your body that create. Tim says in various ways that one of the best metrics of an innovative team is their time to first prototype. With a propensity towards action, teams should always be building to experiment, learn, and birth new ideas. Perfection from the start is a fallacy of the recent past. It’s time to learn by doing, as many of the great creatives from Frank Lloyd Wright to Thomas Edison and Leonardo DiVinci have done before us.

A nimble team of design thinkers will have been prototyping from day one and self-correcting along the way. As we say at IDEO, “Fail early to succeed sooner.”
-Tim Brown

In all, I enjoyed Tim Brown’s book on design and can see how it has become a staple of design thinkers from novices through experts. It inspired me to increase my pace of discovery and allow developers I work with to code at early stages – in order to learn and not to launch.

Tim has many great stories and anecdotes throughout which make for a great light read. But don’t mistake ‘light’ for easy because even though his concepts are intuitive, enacting them in organizations large and small can be quite the challenge. This challenge is not one that we back down from as Tim ultimately attempts to make the case for building a culture of innovation in organizations of all sizes, but ultimately to light the fire inside of each one of us. After all, innovation is at our fingertips.

Creative Out of Office Messages

Work Hack: Have Fun When You’re Away

All too often I read “Out of Office” auto reply messages that look a little something like this:

Thank you for your message. I am out of the office starting on Monday, November 3rd and will return Thursday, November 6th. I will be checking my email periodically during this time, but response times may be slower than usual.

For immediate issues, please contact Sue at Sue.Smith@Company.com.

Zero personality. Zero insight into the reason. Zero separation between work and time off.

So I’ve started a new movement. It’s centered around leaving work, but not leaving your personality at the door with you. Here is my latest Out of Office message I left:

Hello There!

Thanks for reaching out! I’m presently pushing the limits of how many breakfast tacos and BBQ briskets a single man can consume in one Austin, TX vacation. Because of this, my hands are likely to be sticky and therefore my messages will be delayed.

The good news is, I’ll be back and cleaned up on Monday October 30th and will touch base then.

If your situation is life or death, please dial 911. However, if your situation is simply urgent, please shoot me a message at (617) 352-3006. Alternatively, you can contact my fantastically gifted co-worker, Dianne, or the world’s best boss, Beth.

Overall, I’ve had some great responses. People go out of their way to reply back and it fuels further conversation upon return. Of course, if you still want to go ‘standard’ you can – but allow yourself some creativity:

Thank you for your email. I am unable to come to the computer right now, but if you leave your name, email address, and a brief message, I will be sure to reply once I return.

In an ode to the traditional voicemail, I’ve modified it to add some old-school personality to a newer form communication medium.

Messages such as these have started a growing movement. Now others who have received my OOO messages are starting to add some fun into their as well:

I have this Normal Rockwell view of the holiday time that rarely matches reality.  I’m talking about snowy nights inside a cozy house with a fire going, surrounded by friends and family, happily making merriment.  The reality is typically more Jerry Springer than Family Circus. Good thing I’m taking an entire week off to enjoy all this fun.  Trust me, if there’s no skiing, your email sounds pretty good right now.

or how about…

Who has two sticks of deodorant and is moving this week?  This guy!  While you enjoy your office, I’ll be hefting boxes.

The office doesn’t sound so bad after all, does it? Which is the point of all of this – to bring personality and enjoyment back to the work day.

What’s your favorite out of office? Add it below in the comments.

Prototype Showcase: Nap Room

If you haven’t participated in a Design Kit course yet – I highly encourage you to do so. Whether you are super experienced or brand new to the game, it’s always fun to try new things in a low pressure, highly creative context. Design Kit provides you that environment in which to be creative and to improve your skills.

A few colleagues and I enrolled in the prototyping course, and had some fun imagining work time improvements. Below is our end result:

The food coma. The big plans. The long night. There are plenty of reasons people long for a mid-day nap. And science is starting to back it up.

A quick Google search on the effects of napping will give you plenty of reasons to snooze. In fact, multiple studies have shown that napping for even just 15 – 20 minutes during the day is more effective (and better for you) than either 200mg of caffeine or a quick bit of exercise.

With that in mind, my team decided to have some fun and prototype what such a solution could look like in a more conservative work environment.

Originally given the challenge of “How might we improve employees’ health at work?” our ideas ranged from therapy dogs to fruit infused water. We synthesized, paper prototyped some apps, did some quick and dirty research to back up our ideas, and then finally settled on building our next prototype – the nap room.

Just about an hour later, we had our prototype up and running, ready to showcase to the world for inspirational feedback.

So what do you think? Without spending any money -and very little time- do you begin to understand what we are going for? Let’s build on this idea in the comments and let us know what works and what doesn’t work about this prototype.

PS – sorry for the awkward vertical video.

Lean, Agile, and Design Thinking Walk Into a Bar…

They are quickly greeted by the friendly bartender: “What can I get you?” he asks, noticing that they only have enough money for one drink.

“Something to quench my thirst,” Design thinking responds, “As long as we are hydrated, we will enjoy ourselves.”

“A glass of water,” Lean replies “because it follows a very quick and natural process from the source straight to me.”

“I enjoy Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale,” Agile counters, “because it’s gone through many iterative cycles to become something very refined.”

The bartender turns and thinks for a minute, grabs a glass, and returns with a beer that has just the right amount of head.

“What is it?” They ask.

“Left Hand Brewing Company,” the bartender replies. “It’s derived from water and ferments quickly so you can enjoy it even faster at a lower cost. It is developed through an iterative and experimental process that the employee-owned company takes great pride in. And lastly, it is one of the best sellers on tap, and gets my personal recommendation as a refreshing drink.”

“Delicious.” They all proclaim.

——-

The story above is meant to illustrate a simple point: methodologies working together can produce a far more desirable result than those working separately.

Design thinking is all about looking at the broader context of a problem to seek out user insights and develop solutions to the true challenges facing both business and society.

Agile is about taking these challenge solutions forward through continuous experimentation and quickly delivering value directly to customers.

Lean tightens all of this up by focusing on how to operationalize these solutions so they can positively impact the most customers possible using the smallest amount of time and money.

All three have one extremely fundamental similarity: continuously improve whatever it is that you do as long as you have the end user in mind.

The end user mindset is one that is complimentary and contains many more similarities than differences between each. Design Thinking & Lean both encourage the “5 Whys” and “Observations” that bring you to the spot where work/impact occurs. Lean & Agile have an eye towards speed while removing unnecessary obstacles impeding rapid advancement of the user experience. Design Thinking & Agile both favor collaborative building and relationships.

While there are certainly differences between these methodologies, they do not collapse in light of each other. Rather, implementing the shared understanding and mindsets of each will help guide your team through successful product and service experiences that drive impact at all stages of the development lifecycle.

I invite you to explore these shared mindsets. And if you’d like to chat more about how these mesh together, I’d be happy to chat…over a nice Left Hand Brewing Company beer, of course.