Strategic Intent and Creating Value in Partnerships

This last summer I was fortunate enough to sit by the Lausanne lakeside with Alexander Osterwalder, and Alan Smith, co-authors of Business Model Generation, and Value Proposition Design, to review my progress on the Partnership Canvas.

The Partnership Canvas has been gradually spreading throughout the world. I’ve been able to make countless observations on how business practitioners use the tool, how they interact, working in teams, and how the canvas helps to structure a process for collaborative innovation. So, it was high time for some reflection.

A question on Strategic Intent
The discussion with the Alex, and Alan was one that lies at the hart of the issue of creating value through partnerships, namely about its connection to strategic intent.

The experienced business tool makers quickly honed in on the Created Value building block of the Partnership Canvas. They pointed out the necessity of emphasising the relation between a defined strategic intent and the created value in a partnership. These need to be aligned for partnerships to contribute to the core strategic priority of the organisation.

Alex, and Alan’s question on the Partnership Canvas was whether strategic intent, and created value were actually the same thing, or if they were different. I could relate this question to behaviour I’ve seen in workshops with regards to the created value building block, where people tend to conflate intent statements with created value from the partnership.

This question made me realise that the distinction, and the relation between strategic intent, and created value in the Partnership Design process is not obvious, and needs to be addressed explicitly to make the Partnership Canvas more intuitive to apply.

Defining Strategic Intent
Strategic intent is defined by two assessments: Firstly there’s the business model SWOT assessment, which takes into account the interaction between the business environment, and the business model: what are the opportunities, and threats that the business model is facing?

Secondly, defining intent involves understanding the vision behind the business model, and assessing whether there is still a fit between that vision and how the business model is currently set up.

The statement of strategic intent flows from these two assessments. The intent statement explains why to change the business model, and in which direction to take that change.

What is the Created Value of a Partnership?
The created value building block of the Partnership Canvas constitutes the output of the collaboration. By combining value inputs from both partners in a collaboration activity, value is transferred between them. This collaboration enables the creation of a new form of value for each partner, which they can apply to their business model.

Putting Strategic Intent, the Partnership’s Created Value, and Business Model Innovation together
The value that a partnership needs to create is consequent to the definition of strategic intent. Whether the value created in the partnership actually succeeds in serving the strategic intent, is determined by the business model.

“Value is created in the partnership, but needs to captured in the business model”

The created value from the partnership could for instance be an expansion, or deepening of a value proposition, or building a channel together with your partner. But it isn’t until this created value is put to work, that you’ll find out whether you’ll actually meet the objectives you set out with.

So, rather than equating created value from a partnership to strategic intent, the created value is actually the bridge between the intent the business model innovation starts out with, and the outcome of that journey.

Intent ——- Created Value ——- Outcome

An example visualising the link between strategic intent, and creating value in a partnership
To demonstrate the logic of linking strategic intent to the created value of a partnership, I’ll give a partnership example below.

This example concerns the partnership between IBM, and Apple, announced in 2014. For IBM, the strategic intent was to improve their users’ experience, by offering their enterprise-grade secured software on a more user-friendly, and better designed device.

IBM’s business clients’ employees were already carrying their own Apple devices into the office setting, because they preferred Apple’s technology over the non-Apple devices that their employer would equip them with. But there was no way to formally support these devices within the office setting, because IBM couldn’t access them. The partnership, however, enabled IBM to deepen their value proposition by getting access to Apple’s superiorly designed hardware, on which they could run their enterprise-grade secured software.

The created value from the IBM-Apple partnership design

For Apple, the intent of the partnership was to get a stronger positioning in the enterprise market for their devices. Essentially Apple is designed to serve a consumer market, which puts the company in a juxtaposition to serving an enterprise market.

Through the partnership with IBM, Apple created the channel they need to sell their computer devices to enterprise customers. This was a breakthrough channel for Apple to the enterprise market, something that might have cost them a decade to build themselves, if they were to achieve it at all.

The question for this partnership does remain how it’s performing up till now. But a peak onto Apple’s website shows that they’ve started engaging with more enterprise partners, expanding the area of application of their devices; an indication that things are moving ahead.

Alex, and Alan’s question on strategic intent in partnerships touched on an issue that I implicitly address when I apply Partnership Design. But having the question on the link between intent, and created value pointed out explicitly, enlightened my thinking on building the strategic argument for partnering, and helping to drive the partnering process towards its intended innovation objective.

The importance of understanding that the created value of a partnership is the bridge between intent, and the business model innovation can’t be overstated. Because being able to get an agreement on a partnership doesn’t imply that you’re also able capture the value that you intended for.

It will always require (repeated) effort to test whether the value from a partnership can actually be captured. The conclusive pass of fail mark for the partnership can only be given after several stints of disciplined business experimentation.

(A great many thanks to Alex, and Alan for the discussion, and taking out the time to dig into the Partnership Canvas!)

Interested to learn more about Partnership Design?

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You can join the Partnership Design Linkedin group!

Further inquiries? Send an email to:

Partnerships: a strategy for the weak?

Check out this graph. It compares Spotify’s paying subscriptions to Apple Music’s. Apple doesn’t play a partnership game with regards to its music. All channels are in its own possession; itunes, the phones, tablets, and computers.

Spotify vs Apple
Spotify, to the contrary, looks to partnerships for every new customer touch point they create: from Uber, to Nike, to Starbucks. And it seems to be keeping Spotify ahead of the tech giant Apple!

Apple Music is another case of partnerships being undervalued in business strategy. Too often businesses opt to go at it alone, when they would actually be better off partnering.

We don’t know enough about how partnerships work, and how to improve in wielding partnership potential. Therefore I’ll be sharing all I know on designing game changing partnerships using the Business Model, and Partnership Canvas, during my upcoming Partnership Design Masterclass in Amsterdam, on September 19th. Do join!

Interested to learn more about Partnership Design?

Check out Training opportunities!


You can join the Partnership Design Linkedin group!

Further inquiries? Send an email to: