The four questions that can radically change your program

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This is a guest post by Jess Dugan of Peer Insight

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to work with the female masterminds behind two of DCSIP’s newest grantees, DC UrbanGreens and Suited for Change. It was both inspiring and humbling to hear about the hard work these passionate entrepreneurs have put into achieving their dreams.

My colleague Natalie Foley and I met up with the grantees to help them stretch their thinking around the customers they serve. At our firm, Peer Insight, we practice a human-centered approach called design thinking, which helps both entrepreneurs, and established business managers, put customer needs first when designing, or improving upon, a business idea.

To help shift our perspective as entrepreneurs, the design thinking process asks four key questions: What is?, What If?, What Wows?, and What Works?. These four questions can be explored in the context of an established business or even an early-stage non-profit.

  • What Is? This question explores the current reality of your customers. What is it that they think, feel, need, and experience in connection with your opportunity area? If we can uncover what they customer really needs, not just what they say they need, then we can design a better product, service or business to solve that issue.
  • What If? Now that you have identified some potential issues, or pain points, in your customers’ lives, this question pushes you to explore possible new solutions, or tweaks to your existing business solution, to best meet these needs. Our exploration during the “What Is?” stage helps ensure that these solutions are firmly grounded in your customers’ reality, not just on your own whim or perception.
  • What Wows? Not, all ideas are good ideas and it’s risky to invest in a new idea without knowing if it’s desired by customers. In the “What Wows?” stage, we engage and co-create with customers to understand if our ideas can hold water. Using simple low-fidelity prototypes, we quickly and cheaply test our solutions with customers, listening to their feedback and iterating on our solution as we learn something new.
  • What Works? Once we’re confident that our solution is something that customer’s will value, we need to understand if it’s viable to stand up as a business. We explore “What Works?” by testing our solution, along with a potential business model, over an extended period of time. This quick and dirty “Alpha” test helps validate or invalidate questions we have around our solution.

During our session with the grantees, we focused exclusively on “What Is?”; digging into the latent needs of the organizations’ customers and understanding how their current solutions were meeting those needs. Our new book, The Designing for Growth Field Book, features a variety of tools and template to help entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs alike navigate the four questions of design thinking.

Have you had experience using one or more of the four questions? I’d love to hear! Message me: @jess_dugan.

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