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Case study - Voice of the Customer (VoC) Alignment

Case Study VoC

This case study has been updated and is now in the form as submitted to the preceedings of the TRIZ Future Conference 2018.

The result: The use of Southbeach Notation helped a team to reach the understanding and consensus necessary to create and submit a complex bid that won them a major new contract (total contract value $2B). The client, a Fortune 500 company, stated that the aligned solution proposed by the bid team represented 65% of the reason that they awarded the contract to the supplier.

The problem

In response to an extensive Request for Proposal (RFP) a bid team of twenty had been working relentlessly for several weeks, answering hundreds of detailed questions raised by the client during the formal bid process. As the final response date for bid submission drew near, it became obvious to the bid manager that key members of the team disagreed fundamentally over many different aspects of emphasis within the proposal. There was disagreement both on ‘win themes’, the solution elements they related to and how these should best be presented in the submitted proposal. This uncertainty among the team, and the attendant time pressure, was complicating the work of finalising the proposal materials and, specifically, the writing and crafting of a compelling executive summary. In effect, the bid team were running out of time to complete the work.

The problem was exasperated by the team’s awareness that their proposal would be subject to critical review by many different client representatives, each working in diverse areas of the client's business that would be affected by the supplier’s solution if they were to win the contract and if the solution were to be implemented. It was not clear to the bid team how the client would make the final decision nor who the key decision makers were.

A method had to be found to align the team around the explicit and implicit requirements of the client organization. In this carefully regulated contractual negotiation, there was little opportunity to speak openly and directly with the client executives involved. The bid was overseen by the client’s procurement specialists against a strict set of competition rules.

Moreover, the supplier had worked with this client in the past. Many different supplier-customer relationships had been established between the two organisations, both personal relationships and business relationships. The bid team therefore had, in effect, a lot of knowledge of the client’s organisation and needs. However, they did not know who had decision making authority for the new contract. At the same time, some members of the client organization were expressing disappointments with the supplier's existing services. The bid team therefore knew that they had to 'up' their game and demonstrate a new and deeper level of understanding of the client's overall requirements. Clearly, that clarity could never be expressed in the proposal if key members of the bid team continued to disagree about the core themes to present in the executive summary and how best to structure the proposal response around these.

The solution

Each member of the bid team was individually interviewed by a Southbeach/Triz consultant in order to indirectly capture the client’s requirements and perspectives on 1) the proposed solution, 2) the ‘win themes’ the bid were developing and 3) the client’s requirements. The output of each of these interviews was a Southbeach visual model. A typical interview lasted around ninety minutes. The bid manager had to make a case to the bid team for them to agree to cooperate with these interviews, given the time pressures under which they were working. Some bid team members later stated that they were intrigued by how their views had been clarified, purely as a result of the synthesis possible in developing a visual model of their perspective.

At the end of the interviews the Southbeach/Triz consultant had over twenty detailed visual models to work from. They reflected the diverse views of the bid team. The entire bid team were then brought together in a workshop, facilitated by the Southbeach/Triz consultant, who then shared all the models with the whole team. Their reactions were revealing. For the first time they were able to see clearly each other’s perspective and their disagreements were laid bare. This generated a lot of discussion among the team and the team agreed to run a second workshop, as soon as possible, to try to align their views. The consultant explained that he had a process by which multiple models could be combined to a single agreed model and he offered to facilitate the work. The bid team agreed to this.

The second workshop lasted a complete day. The bid team worked together intensely to develop a single integrated Southbeach model that everyone could sign up to and which captured all the viewpoints among the team members and their perceptions of the client’s requirements. The process which the Southbeach/Triz consultant took them through included:

At the end of this day the team already had a significantly improved understanding of how to complete the bid work. But the Southbeach/Triz consultant convinced them that a further stop would add even more value. Working alone, the Southbeach/Triz consultant generated an extensive set of ‘directions’ for solution improvement from the integrated single model of the bid. In effect, the model was ‘pointing the way’ to an improved description of the bid team’s proposed client solution. The voluminous set of suggestions generated by the model became working materials for the bid team. From it, they were able to select ideas which they later included in the description of their solution. This substantially improved and expanded the description of their solution in the proposal.

As the bid manager and technical leads on the bid started to read these suggestions and ideas, a picture started to emerge. It turned out that many of the issues in the current supplier-client relationship were caused by a lack of information sharing between the two organisations. While this might seem obvious, it was not obvious at the time. The Southbeach visual model had revealed it. A bid team member then suggested that they should, as part of their proposal, suggest building a repository of such knowledge for the client. This became a significant ‘win theme’ in the bid work.

Moreover, when the lead architect on the bid read through the ideas generated by the Southbeach model, it immediately suggested to him a ‘best in class’ technology product that could be used as the basis of such a knowledge repository. This product was included in the supplier’s proposal as a central component of the entire solution, around which all other elements were integrated. It became the major win theme that unified and clarified the proposal and around which all bid team members could describe and write about their component of the solution. The fact that the proposed repository was based on a commercial off the shelf (COTS) technology, with support by the vendor (who became a partner to the supplier in the bid) added credibility to the supplier's proposal. The testimonials of other clients using the same technology also added credibility to the proposal.

The outcome

The proposal was accepted by the client, a Fortune 500 company. The total contract value (TCV) was $2B. In a debrief given by the client after the proposal had been submitted and the winner announced, the client decision maker, a senior executive, stated that the Continuous Knowledge Management System (CKMS) proposed was 65% of the reason why they had chosen to give the contract to the supplier.

The client was never aware of the role that Southbeach/Triz had played in the both the alignment of the bid team and the suggested identification of the repository as the unifying element of the solution proposed.

The value of a shared visual space

During the facilitated Southbeach/Triz workshops described above, an additional benefit of using Southbeach emerged. By projecting the Southbeach models onto a large screen, the workshop attendees had a 'shared space' in which to work. They began to focus on improving the model, rather than talking in circles around the individual issues preventing their progress. The model became the team’s focus of attention and development. Since Southbeach Notation semantics allows for the inclusion of different perspectives, needs and roles, everyone was able to add their knowledge of the client’s requirements to the model without disrupting the model development. There was rarely any need to 're-draw' the model as new information came to light. The model became a single integrated view of the voice of the customer (VoC) expressed indirectly based on the knowledge of each bid team member.

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