Need help? Talk to a Digital or AI Coach today

Tell me about your Big Cat?


If I say to you “Big Cat”, you might think of a tiger, and I might imagine my fat overweight domestic cat lying in the sun on my couch at home. And while we are not collaborating or working together that’s fine. You imagine what you imagine, and I imagine what I imagine. But as soon as we decide to collaborate or work together it becomes a problem that you are thinking tiger and I am thinking domestic cat. 

Say I ask you if you “could pick up some cat food on the way home”, you are off to the zoo to get a side of zebra and I am expecting a can of jelly meat. Not only is there a mis-match in what is actually delivered, and while I don’t know how much a side of zebra costs, it would cost a whole lot more than a can of jelly meat!

I tell this story a lot and I encourage teams to explore if there are elements of what we are talking about that perhaps are a “Big Cat”.  A culture where it’s ok to clarify is a culture moving forward together.  I work with a number of cross-functional teams and stakeholders and see a variety of cats imagined from the same statement of intent.

So that great and all but where do we start? In this post I want to share two techniques I use a lot, the Value Onion and the Value Map and Customer Profile

Value Onion

The first I call a “Value Onion”. How it works is I draw a set of nested circles, similar to the circles you see on half an onion. The inner most circle I label “IN”, the outer most circle I label “OUT”, and the middle circle/s I label “FENCE”. This exercise works well with an individual or a group. Contributors write on post-it notes an element/feature of the project and they are placed as appropriate on the onion. I use post-its as this allows logical groupings and for them to be moved by agreement. The FENCE ring(s) provides a holding spot so that we don’t get caught up in a long discussion. It enables a starting point for discussion to be created in a reasonable time box. This technique helps with backlog planning as we can start with the items that everyone agrees are IN. Items in the IN circle are also often the higher priority.   

In this exercise I encourage open “Big Cat” discussion. Items like “fix technical debt” or “user testing” might have different imagined content and value depending on the participants’ context.  The resulting artifact is often the first iteration of wider discussion, it often ends up on the wall and/or used for high level budgeting. It provides a high level view to people outside the core team of what we are, are not, and are considering including in our scope. This has resulted in valuable input into dependencies, constraints and timeline considerations that the core team did not identify. 

Value Map and Customer Profile

The Value Map and Customer Profile from Strategizer has two parts, the Value Map, and the customer profile. 

The Value Map is represented in a landscape rectangle divided into three segments. 

1.      Product/Service Description

Defines the product/services that relate to the customer segment you are focusing on. 

2.      Gain creators

A list of the ways your product/services currently help customers create expected or designed outcomes and benefits. 

3.       Pain relievers

A list of the ways your product/services currently help customers alleviate pains by eliminating undesired outcomes, obstacles or risks. 

The Customer Profile is represented in a circle divided into three segments. 

1.      Customer Tasks/Jobs

A list of the jobs the customer is trying to complete and/or the needs they are tying to meet. 

2.      Customer Gains

A list of the concrete benefits customers are seeking. These could include functional, utility and social gains, positive emotions or cost savings.

3.      Customer Pains

A list of anything that annoys the customer before, during and after trying to get a job done or simply prevents them from getting a job done. 

Depending on the group and where they are in their product/service development pathway I sometimes start with the Value Map and other times I start with completing the Customer profile. I am a fan of time boxing and iterating and getting feedback.   Typically with a team of 6 it will take around two hours to do the first iteration of the Value Map and Customer profile. I encourage post-it notes to be used as this allows theming, and the movement of items by agreement.  When completing the Customer profile it is also useful to capture the priority, frequency and severity of pains, gains and tasks. This helps give priority and direction to your backlog and helps create impact and value.

The Customer Profile helps the team visualise what matters to our customers by connecting items from the gain creators to the customer gains and pain relievers to customer pains. You can also visualise the gaps in your backlog and prioritise. 

When analysing the Product/Service Fit I find the following three categories useful:

1.      Problem Fit (How well it connects with the Customer pain points)

2.      Product market fit (will it get traction in the market)

3.      Business Model fit (will it be profitable and scaleable)

At the end of the focus session the team can describe the value propositions as:

Our {product/service} helps {customer profile} who wants to {job tasks} by reducing/avoiding {customer pains} and increasing/enabling {customer gains} unlike {competitors value map}

For more on how to create products and services customers want check out Value Proposition Design book. You can also download trigger questions for completing the Value Map and Customer Profile from the Strategizer website.

I have found these two techniques valuable and I have used them many times. The deliverables are easy to create, understand and maintain. They provide a time efficient way to get people on the same page and moving in the same direction with a united understanding. I find that if a team cannot answer:

1.       What am I doing?

2.      Why and I doing it?

3.      And how will I know when I am done?

Then we are carrying risks to value delivery, staff retention, not spending time on the right things and not delivering measurable value.

I share these techniques in the hope that they are useful to you, If you have others that work for you I would love to hear about them (merridy@value32.co.nz).   Lets build a culture where we understand that taking the time to understand other perspectives is essential, asking questions is the norm and its ok to talk about cats. Meow or Roar!

If you would like to find out more about how to help your team create strong value propositions, drop us a line our team is keen to help.  contact@value32.co.nz

This post was created by Merridy Marshall.