Design as a strategic outcome: the power of the PoC

By Ed Walker

Digital and Customer Experience teams are increasingly under pressure to deliver measurable and meaningful improvement to their Customer Experience. They are required to do this at speed and scale whilst delivering a significant return on investment (ROI). We’ve found one technique invaluable in creating the conditions for success in this area: the Proof of Concept.

A Proof of Concept (PoC) can:

  1. Create a vision: A PoC fleshes out customer requirements and opportunities for competitive advantage early in the process whilst changes are still cheap.
  2. Align stakeholders: PoCs can help gain buy-in, create alignment, and establish advocacy across your organisation.
  3. Generate momentum: A PoC stops projects getting bogged down in strategy and move into “doing”.

By combining strategy and design in the form of a PoC you can represent what the vision for the new customer experience feels and acts like. This can serve as the ‘North Star’ for design teams, guiding the design, development, and implementation of changes to your product and service. 

Proof of Concept: A definition

The best analogy for our definition of the PoC, is the architects model, be it a 3D model in card, or a 3D CAD model.

The architect uses the model to present a vision for the overarching size, shape and aesthetic of the building to their client. It shows how the various rooms and areas of the building connect spatially and visually to form the overall feel of the building.

From the get-go it is tangible, shareable, and explainable, whilst highlighting the magnitude of the programme and encouraging people to consider the wider logistics early on. 

A digital PoC performs the same role. It is something that physically looks and feels like the end vision, you can touch it and play with it. It will bring to life in a tangible way the core of the desired future experience. PoCs are most commonly HTML or mobile prototypes, but they can be a bespoke model or set of detailed sketches.

The power of the PoC is in turning strategy into execution

The right business or digital strategy doesn’t necessarily translate into the right execution. However, it is often in the execution itself that the catalyst for genuine strategic change can be found. 

Our clients all recognise the need to create better experiences for their customers. However, in many of the teams we work with, there is a lack of alignment around what the ideal experience looks, feels, or acts like.

Stakeholders from different parts of businesses have differing priorities and objectives and look at different metrics when measuring success. It is no surprise that these stakeholders all have a slightly different view of ‘What good looks like’ for their customers.

By creating a future experience vision, underpinned by design principles and benchmarked against desired customer outcomes, the PoC forces teams to take the first steps on the road to that vision. By moving through a process of ideal customer journey mapping and design concepts we move towards the more concrete, tangible digital artefact which brings the experience vison to life.

But PoCs are the start, not the end of the process

Undeniably, PoCs are an excellent tool to gain buy in and establish alignment in an organisation. However, they are not a one size fits all and cannot be deployed in every instance. Here’s some helpful things to remember. 

  • They are not an article of fact

As our architect’s model example illustrates, POCs are great aspirational tools but do not break down design in full, nor consider its technical feasibility. They are a piece to help stimulate imagination as opposed to a complete article which could be handed over to a development team. 

  • Fundamentally, they are a proposition 

They offer a direction, but they need substantiating and developing over time and to be brought back into the realm of the possible. A strategic roadmap has to be created, and aligned to, off the back of the definition of a PoC.

  • Governance is crucial 

What a PoC is, needs to be clearly defined right from the start. As such, expectations need to be managed. No, a PoC isn’t going to come to life in 3 months but they can define your strategic direction over a 5-year plan. It serves as a point of aspiration as opposed to immediate execution. 

Our approach to creating PoCs 

While the trusty PowerPoint deck is the work horse of many an experience strategy debrief, it is the turning of thinking into execution where we can create real impact.

A PoC which manifests the vision for the future experience is a set of core journeys brought to life in a way that customers would expect to engage with your brand in the future. It makes the design team think about what the new product or service will feel like to a user, how it will guide them, support them, and inspire them.

By locating the pain points in the existing experience, new opportunities to surprise and delight emerge. By focussing on core journeys, the investment of time and effort is minimised, yet the experience has enough depth and breadth to feel real to potential customers and users.

This video illustrates the PoC we created for Suzuki Cars and compares it with the front-end reality we designed, developed, and implemented. Read more about our work with Suzuki here.

The outcome 

The power of the PoC is in the testing and the business case making. When working through PoCs with clients we’ve seen previously opposed groups of stakeholders align around a singular vision, with individuals stepping forward to own a specific customer outcome. 

The PoC forms part of the business case, presented to a board, it can be passed around the board room table and experienced by all. Its power lies in its accessibility – its ability to translate strategic documentation into a design outcome that you can throw rocks at, knock down, and build back up.

Why you should invest in a PoC

Of the PoCs we delivered last year, 75% of clients went on to secure funding from their boards to implement the new experience. In all cases the PoC was integral to creating the investment case - seeing is believing. 

In these projects, the PoC brought the experience strategy to life through something physical which could be touched and felt. The PoC was the bridge between strategy and reality, proving the strategy was right and providing an experience which could be tested.

With each of these projects, the PoC provided strong foundations, allowing the projects to sprint out of the blocks, as the teams had formed, normed and stormed already, so they could focus on performing their way to project success.

Want to discuss the benefits a PoC can bring to your organisation? 

Reach out to me today: ed.walker@foolproof.co.uk

Ed Walker

I joined Foolproof back in 2013 as Business Development Director and in a nutshell – my role is to shape the company's business development strategy, identify the brands we would like to work with and subsequently encourage those brands to open a dialogue with us.

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