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Narrowing on Bold Solutions to Delight Customers

IntuitLife, Innovation Design for Delight: Narrowing with employees usign a whiteboard

Design for Delight (D4D) is our secret sauce for how we innovate at Intuit. The approach comprises three principles — Deep Customer Empathy, Go Broad to Go Narrow, and Rapid Experimentation.

We apply D4D to uncover bold new ideas, as well as our daily work, continuously delighting our customers as a result. Our goal is to fall in love with the customer’s problem, not a solution. We connect directly with our customers to gain empathy, focus on bold solutions that provide real benefits, and then quickly test the best solutions. That’s innovation, and that’s what we do each and every day at Intuit for our customers.

In the first blog in this series of three, we explored the first D4D principle, Deep Customer Empathy. Through this principle, we create shared understanding, insights, and motivation to improve the lives of our customers by observing them as they experience pains or problems. In this installment, we’ll explore the second D4D principle: Go Broad to Go Narrow. Going Broad to Go Narrow focuses on what is most important. We “go broad” by using our creativity to explore a variety of potential solutions. We “go narrow” by focusing on bold solutions most likely to delight our customers.

This approach is different from traditional problem solving, where people tend to fall in love with either the first solution or their own solution. Instead, we focus on the customer and their specific problem, which allows teams to more easily get on the same page and work together to solve it. This grounds us on tenets like empathy, objectivity and humility to anchor our vision and actions on a cause greater than all employees, our customers.

How do we Go Broad to Go Narrow? There are five steps:

1. Brainstorming

The process begins by throwing out multiple ideas, or by going broad, with a robust brainstorming session. An ideal group size for brainstorming is 4-6 people. For larger groups, simply break into smaller sub groups. It’s important that the team is facilitated by someone who pushes boundaries, won’t accept mediocrity, and strives to ensure that diverse voices, perspectives, communication styles and personalities are expressed equally. Remember, great ideas come in teams where there is trust and psychological safety. Small interactions matter, so listen with intent, actively explore to clarify others ideas, and stay off of your phone.

  • Choose a topic on which to brainstorm. Refer to your topics as “how might we” statements or Ideal States, and remind participants of the ground rules — e.g., defer judgment, encourage wild ideas, be visual, go for quantity, etc.
  • Warm up. Start with a quick 1-2-minute practice exercise
  • Begin brainstorming! If participants encounter slumps, encourage them to push through by using prompts and constraints such as, “What if we had no money?” or “What if we had to build it in 24 hours,” etc.

2. 7 to get to 1

The 7-1 method is a great way to explore truly different ideas without getting locked into our first ideas. This is an area that our teams really need to push on, go broad, REALLY broad. Be comfortable becoming uncomfortable, embracing the unconventional, the diverse perspectives and democratize the voices and reinforce ALL ideas. Spend about 10-15 minutes on this step.

  • Brainstorm as individuals. Each team member spends 1-2 minutes silently writing down or sketching their “best idea” on a sticky note or card.
  • Collaborate as a team. Quickly share your ideas with the rest of the team, brainstorming and writing down and sketching additional ideas that emerge as you go. Try your best to be bold, and consider very different ideas. Include crazy ideas!
  • Continue sharing as you remix, rebuild, cross-pollinate and generate new ideas. Keep going until each person on the team has at least seven distinctly different ideas. Strive for each idea to be very different, repeating the process using the boldest ideas as the starting point if necessary
  • Once the team has identified a minimum of seven ideas, select the boldest idea to move forward. You can also use your bold idea to start the process all over again to keep the creative juices flowing.

3. 2×2 Narrowing

Narrowing is about making decisions with intention. It’s not about reaching consensus on the easiest idea to implement or voting for your favorite. One of the most effective tools for narrowing is a 2×2 matrix — a simple square divided into four equal quadrants where each of the two axes represents a decision criterion.

  • Be intentional. Placing ideas on the 2×2 relative to each other fosters productive debate and intentional decisions about which ideas the team will pursue.
  • Make sure your criteria are customer-backed and strive to create real tension between your criteria. E.g., one criterion could be “requires new capabilities” (horizontal axis) and the other “Impact on customer benefit” (vertical axis).

The top-right quadrant doesn’t always win, but there is a tendency to have a “traffic jam” in the upper right, so monitor this closely. A 2×2 can help you map the whole landscape of options and make decisions. You might choose to pursue the lower-right quadrant, and the 2×2 will have helped you make that decision with intention. 

4. 100 Point Narrowing

In addition to 2×2 Narrowing, after going broad, you may find you have too many options — e.g., too many customer types or situations, too many customer problems, too many features, etc. Use the “100 points” method to quickly narrow. Spend 15-20 minutes on this step.

  • Organize your ideas. Put the ideas generated from your brainstorm on a white board, table, or somewhere else all team members can view them. Remove duplicate ideas.
  • Allocate points to favorite ideas. Allocate 100 points to each person in your group, then ask each person to allocate their individual points to each idea, based on a specific criteria (such as “Which idea provides the biggest customer benefit?” or “Which idea solves the biggest customer problem?”). Write the points next to each idea, or on the sticky note for each idea.
  • Identify where the team has the most passion. Calculate your Once allocated, tally the points for each idea and write down the total points received for each idea.
  • Focus on the idea that received the most total points. Usually, one is the clear point winner, but it’s OK if there’s a close 1 and 2 (remember, you can experiment with more than one idea).

5. Storyboards

Once you have narrowed to a specific idea, creating a simple storyboard helps make the idea tangible so you can communicate it to others. The storyboard can help you answer key questions, such as: How does your idea work in the real world? How do customers engage with your idea? How does it work technically? What are the key moments in the experience? Spend 15-20 minutes on this step.

  • Fold a piece of paper into six squares (or use six sticky notes, cards, etc.), then draw a picture of the following steps in each of the six boxes, along with a brief description. Focus on the key moments in this journey (usually no more than six), then draw 
each moment with a quick description. Be clear and concise, so someone else can understand you.
  • Box 1 – The customer experiencing their problem in context.
  • Box 2 – How the customer discovers the proposed solution idea.
  • Boxes 3, 4, and 5 – The “steps” or sequence of events the customer experiences to achieve their goal.
  • Box 6 – The end result, where the customer benefit is delivered.
  • Share your storyboard with someone who is not familiar with your concept and check to see if they understand your idea. Use their feedback to improve or clarify the storyboard as needed.
  • Update your storyboard based on your feedback. Be sure to include more “steps” and more detail as you learn what works and what does not, and to help foster a conversation on your team.

Done and done! Now that you’re familiar with the five steps for Going Broad to Go Narrow, next week we’ll be moving on to testing with the third principle of D4D — Rapid Experimentation.

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