Focus on People & Problem

Text: Who are the people you’re focused on creating value with and for?

Human-centred design is the core of my professional life and has been since the early 90s. For me, this means starting with people. Always.

While I talk about solving problems that matter, I think it’s important that we look at the inherent potential of people, communities, and systems. I encourage you to take a strengths-based approach.

Please never see people as problems to solve. Deficit thinking is harmful to the people involved – and it doesn’t address the real problem and its causes.

We need to approach these problems with humility, empathy, and an understanding of the systems at play.

Skip the preamble… jump me straight to the Dynamic4 People/Problem action!

Life-Centred Design

I’m a fan of life-centred design, which has been emerging over the past few years. I love that it explicitly brings focus to environmental and ethical values and governance. That it includes all life – not just the human experience. A planetary perspective.

I still believe this is through a human lens and value system though. There’s a much longer nuanced conversation here, but for me, being good stewards of all the interdependent living systems we’re part of has always been key to mature human-centred design.

I take a deeply empathic human-centred design and living systems approach. I encourage you not to worry too much about the labels and focus on the practice.

Dynamic4 People/Problem Canvas

Some tools I’ve used for years and love are the Business Model Canvas, the Lean Canvas, and the Value Proposition Canvas.

Business Model Canvas

I love the Business Model Canvas and I’ve been using it since 2010. It’s from the Business Model Generation, which is probably my favourite business book ever. We were lucky to have one of the authors, Michael Wilkens from Strategyzer visit from Denmark and speak at Sydney Design Thinking in February this year.

The Business Model Canvas is a quick and simple way to prototype the nine key building blocks of your business model on a page. I even did a webinar on how to use it in a social enterprise context back in 2015 as part of The Big Issue’s Big Idea competition.

Lean Canvas

The Lean Canvas by Ash Maurya is adapted from The Business Model Canvas. I find the Lean Canvas is generally better suited to early-stage ideas. A key reason for this is it includes blocks for the problem, solution, and key metrics – which is a natural place to include our output and outcome measures from our theory of change.

They’re both great tools that I’ve used for years in many contexts. It’s also a simple way to explain how your idea helps people with the social, environmental, and economic value that you create. It’s a powerful way to bring the key elements of your story together.

Value Proposition Canvas

The right side of Strategyzer’s Value Proposition Canvas has the profile of the ideal customer with the organisation’s value proposition on the left.

Peter J Thomson remixed this canvas in 2013, and I found his rationale compelling for early-stage ideas – the primary context I work with people on. This simplified Value Proposition Canvas brings more focus to building empathy. This has been the main version of the canvas I’ve used since 2014.

The Backstory of the Dynamic4 People/Problem Canvas

All of these great canvases and variants are just tools. I’ve found that all of them are useful, but some are more tailored to certain contexts.

You might be thinking the last thing the world needs is another canvas. I tend to agree. Which is why, when I mashed up the People/Problem Canvas in 2019, I didn’t promote it and just used it in my own practice and with the people I work with.

Why another canvas? For years I used the Lean Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas with most blocks greyed out to focus on just the elements that are important while we’re focused on the problem diamond. It’s where I spend a lot of time nudging people away from jumping into solution mode. The other blocks were a distraction.

Ash Maurya actually published the Leaner Canvas in 2019 for a similar reason.

Another challenge in the early stages is that many people I work with aren’t sure who their customers and customer segments might be yet. Especially with social enterprise ideas, where there’s often a very complex set of stakeholder interactions.

Changing “customer segments” to “people” simplified this conversation, and brought the focus to identifying who the people involved are and the roles they play. Working out who the paying customer might be and different segments flows from there.

In the early stages, we need to be focused on the people and the problem. We have those two blocks from Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas.

To save switching between different canvases, I put the ideal customer circle from Peter Thomson’s Value Proposition Canvas in the centre – and focused it on the early adopters. The Dynamic4 People/Problem Canvas was born.

Dynamic4 People-Problem Canva

Download the free Dynamic4 People/Problem Canvas for as part of the Solve Problems That Matter Worksheets.

All of the worksheets are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

That’s the backstory… but how do you use it? I’ll explain the seven elements quickly.

People

The people and groups you’re focused on helping. These are the recipients of the value that you create – both paying customers and beneficiaries or end users.

Early Adopters

Early adopters are the ideal customers and users you believe you can get to early, where there’s a very high likelihood they’ll adopt your solution. They recognise the problem, and you have evidence they’re ready and able to do something about it. What are the key characteristics of these people? How will you identify early adopters?

Wants (Early Adopters)

What are the emotional drivers for your main group of early adopters? What do they desire? What’s appealing to them? What are the things they actively seek out? We make most of our decisions emotionally, and then find rational reasons to justify them.

I find the SCARF model is really powerful when thinking about this (more on this coming soon). When you successfully identify the wants, it’s compelling for your early adopters and creates demand – they’re more likely to pull your idea towards them.

Needs (Early Adopters)

What are the rational drivers for your main group of early adopters? What are the things they think they need to do? Needs often feel like obligations. We know we should do certain things, that they’re good for us – but we often lack the real drive and motivation to do these things.

With some thought and reframing, you can often find an underlying want or desire for the needs you identify. A way to dig into this is by asking why they feel the need to do certain things.

What are they trying to get done, and why? What’s the expectation they’re responding to? Make a note of the want. If your idea only taps into the rational needs and not the emotional drivers, you’re likely to feel you’re always pushing your idea toward people who aren’t that interested.

Fears (Early Adopters)

What fears might your main group of early adopters have about adopting your idea? Many of these fears are the objections you need to overcome. Common ones include the fear that they’ll damage their reputation, that they’ll get a bad deal, or that it won’t work as expected – the risk of being one of the first people to try something new.

A fear that might trigger people to get involved is the fear of missing out.

Often there are rational reasons given for these fears, but usually there’s an underlying reason related to psychological safety and the SCARF model.

Problem

What are the top three problems your early adopters are experiencing? What goals are they trying to achieve? What jobs are they trying to get done? What triggers this? Describe the problem from their perspective. Don’t confuse this with your organisation’s problems.

Existing Alternatives

How are your early adopters currently solving the problem? This might be a competitor, their own workaround, or maybe they aren’t doing anything about the problem. What about these existing alternatives works well for them? What doesn’t work well for them and is the cause of frustration?

Take Action

The purpose of using the People/Problem Canvas is to focus your thinking on the people involved and the problems as they experience them. To help you start building empathy with the people you hope to create value with and for.

This is a quick and simple way to capture your current understanding of the people and groups you’re focused on helping – and the problems they experience. It will help you identify the key things you need to learn from them during your customer research.

Your People/Problem Canvas

Take 10-15 minutes to identify the people you want to help, the problems they experience, and what you know about your early adopters.

Bullet points are good if you’re working on a screen or notebook. Sticky notes are great if you’re working on a wall, especially with other people.

Start with this sequence, but feel free to jump around as things come to mind. The key is to keep moving, and don’t stop if you feel stuck. Just skip that element and come back to it. Something is better than nothing though, and the intent is for it to give you a clear direction on the research you need to do.

People

  • Who are the people and groups you’re focused on helping?
  • The recipients of the value that you create – both paying customers and beneficiaries or end users.

Early Adopters

  • What are the key characteristics of your early adopters?
  • How will you identify them?

Wants (Early Adopters)

  • What are the emotional drivers for your main group of early adopters?
  • What do they desire? What are the things they actively seek out?
  • What are they trying to get done, and why?
  • What are the expectations they’re responding to?

Needs (Early Adopters)

  • What are the rational drivers for your main group of early adopters?
  • What are the things they think they need to do?

Fears (Early Adopters)

  • What fears might your main group of early adopters have about adopting your idea?

Problem

  • What are the top three problems your early adopters are experiencing?
  • What goals are they trying to achieve? What jobs are they trying to get done?
  • What triggers this?

Existing Alternatives

  • How are your early adopters currently solving the problem?
  • What about these existing alternatives works well for them?
  • What doesn’t work well for them and is the cause of frustration?

Coaching Questions

Here are some coaching questions I often ask when working with people on their People/Problem Canvas

  • What evidence and insight do you have for your early adopters’ wants, needs, and fears?
  • What evidence do you have that your early adopters experience these problems and think they’re a problem?
  • What are the riskiest assumptions that you’ve identified? Why? Have you updated your Assumptions Log?

Solve Problems That Matter

In my book Solve Problems That Matter, I go into a lot more detail on all of the things I’ve covered in this post… and plenty more.

It’s a playbook with actions and worksheets to help you take a human-centred design approach to design, build, and launch your idea. Ideas that customers love, makes money, and does great things for people and our planet… all while increasing wellbeing.

Let’s Collaborate

We specialise in coaching, training, and working alongside leaders.

A key way we do this is by designing and delivering action learning experiences with masterclasses, workshops, innovation sprints, and leadership, design thinking & innovation programs. These sessions build personal, team, and organisational capability to solve problems that matter with more:

  • Clarity on your purpose, goals, and approach to navigate complexity and make progress
  • Momentum to achieve your goals by building the workflows, rhythms, and habits for success
  • Confidence to move forward with more certainty and less risk while increasing your wellbeing


Ready to have fun collaborating to solve problems that matter?

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