A Process Diagram for Partnership Design

Where do strategic partnerships come into play when working on an innovation? To get some bearings , I’ve worked on a Partnership Design diagram, with the talented Emma Heijerman of JAM Visual Thinking. (see the visual below, and download it from slideshare for free!).

This diagram breaks down the Partnership Design process into 9 different steps. The visual aims to help in positioning your own partnership projects, and getting an overview of what steps come before partnership enters the innovation discussion, and which steps will follow.

In this blog post, we’ll go through each of these steps, and provide some references to support material to help get you underway to design game-changing partnerships!

Step 1. Challenge
It all begins with understanding the current challenge to the business, by examining 3 facets of the innovation. One is the business model at hand. The second facet is the business environment. The third is the vision for the business. By understanding these three facets, you can analyse what the current challenges, and opportunities are for your business model.

You can apply the following tools in this step:

1. Use the Business Model Canvas to map the business model.
2. You can use Strategyzer’s business environment map, to create an overview of the context in which the business model operates.
3. For defining a practical vision you can use the 5 Bold Steps template.

By combining the business environment map , and the vision statement, you can now perform a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, linking specific insights from the environment, and the vision, to the business model building blocks. The output is a solid argumentation of why you would need to change your business model in the first place.

Step 2. Ideation
Once you understand why you need to change, the next steps is to figure out how you could set in a course for change. There are many tools available to stimulate creativity in solving business challenges. Amongst those most used there are:

a. Napkin sketching for generating, and explaining ideas
b. The Four Actions Framework for making full use of the innovation spectrum, from eliminating, to reducing, raising, and creating new business model elements.
c. Option cards for getting a sense of the big questions that underly each potential business model direction

Use these exercises to generate ideas, and come to a selection that you would want to pursue.

Step 3. Partnership Intent
After you’ve chosen to run with a particular idea, the next step is to determine whether a partnership could help you in realising it. For this you can use the Partnership Intent Puzzle. This tool scans your own organisation to determine if you are fully equipped to execute on realising the innovation, or whether you’re missing a component, for which you might need a partner. The Partnership Intent Puzzle helps you discover whether partnerships are an optional route to realising your innovation.

Step 4. Partnership Canvas
If partnering is an option to pursue, the question is then what the partnership needs to look like. The Partnership Canvas provides a framework for designing partnership options, by bringing together the essential partnership building blocks. Use this tool to define how you intend to turn partnerships into a strategic fit for your business model.

Step 5. Shortlisting Partners
Now that you have an idea for the partnership, you need to start looking for potential partners who can fulfil the role. The Desired Value building block turns into a filter for selecting partners to work with. Look for the particular qualities you want to leverage from a partner, and create a list of companies that match those qualities.

Step 6. Engaging with Partners
Once you have the list, you can reach out to partners, and share your journey with them: why you need to change, why partnering is an option for you, and why you think that they area an interesting candidate for you to partner with. Encourage that partner to go through the same process. Guide them if they’re not there yet. Use this dialogue to create mutual understanding of the context for partnering. Once you share this understanding, you are ready for the next step.

Step 7. Partnership Design
The main objective of Partnership Design is to see if you and the partner have a matching perspective on the partnership. Is your partner willing to offer what you would desire to obtain from them, and vice versa? Do you have the same idea on how value will be transferred in your collaboration? And will that create the new asset you need for your business model?

Step 8. Hypotheses
So far you have been able to create a joint narrative for the partnership. This now needs to be put to the test! By creating an overview of the partnership, with the business model, and partnership canvas combined, you can derive the critical assumptions for the collaboration that apply to both partners.

By making clear what needs to be tested for each partner, you both understand what needs to be true before you are able to actually implement the partnership. For example: will joint branding with our partner lead to a larger reach, and will our partner benefit from our contribution to their value proposition?

Step 9. Experimentation
Having readied the hypotheses, you can start experimenting! A great tool for creating experiments is the Strategyzer Test Card. It helps you to structure your experiments, and document your learnings. Doing this together with your partner provides transparency on both ends on what each is doing to demystify the luring potential of the collaboration.

And lastly…
It is important to continue testing your critical hypotheses, until both partners are certain they’ve covered the biggest risks. The Partnership Design process and visual business design tool set is designed to provide guidance to realise this as quickly, and effectively as possible.

Jointly the Business Model, and Partnership canvas support better communication, and getting to concrete execution. As the former head of hardware partnerships at Spotify said to me about his rule of thumb for avoiding over-investment in creating partnerships:

“If we can’t get going with the partnership within a month, it’s likely not to work at all” – Pascal de Mul, Head of Partnerships at Deezer., former head of Hardware Partnerships at Spotify


Interested in a learn more about Partnership Design?
If you want to learn more about using the partnership canvas, then check out our Partnership Design training options, and other ways we could support you and your team.

You can also join the Partnership Design Linkedin group!

Field notes from user research on Partnership Design

Over the course of developing the partnership canvas, I’ve talked to partnership professionals to hear from them about how they work, and what their experience is in forging business collaborations.

In this post, I would like to share some of the insights from my research, and show how they have lead me to develop the key features for the Partnership Canvas, and the partnership design process. I’ll use the Value Proposition Canvas to visually depict how the Partnership Canvas as a product provides value to people working in the profession.

At the end of the post, I will share a special offer with you to learn more about Partnership Design, and using the Partnership Canvas tool.

The partnerships professional
Partnership managers are a unique species of people. They’re involved in company strategy, as well as in operations of the divisions. Partnership professionals help sales, marketing, product development teams to achieve their goals for growth through collaborations, rather than creating it themselves entirely. They are not formally part of any of these teams/divisions, but they do work closely with them. The partnership professional is thus a business all-rounder.

To find out what some of the key aspects of the profession are, I’ve interviewed a couple of dozen partnership professionals, who I’ve gotten to learn through this blog, and partnership workshops.

Below you will find a summary of my key findings thus far. I’ve focused the presentation of my results on describing the key outcomes partnership professionals are looking to achieve in their work (the Jobs), and their most significant experiences in the process of achieving them (Pains, and Gains). Secondly, I look at the Partnership Canvas as a solution that partnership professionals can utilize, and how it addresses their most important jobs, pains, and gains.

The partnership professional’s profile

Jobs
The higher-level goal of partnership professionals is to create new growth opportunities for their organization, through cooperating with other companies. They are looking to achieve the following outcomes to accomplish this growth goal:

  • Understanding the priorities of all the key people in the organization.
  • Getting involvement from key people in the organization, and maintaining their involvement.
  • Doing research on industries, and specific companies to partner with
  • Talking to everyone in those industries.
  • Creating collaboration opportunities, and facilitating deals.

Gains
The following gains, are the positive experiences that come from working to the desired outcomes:

  • Knowing whom to talk to within the partner’s organization
  • On-going momentum in partnership conversations
  • Face time and trust in negotiations; keeping out legal until there is a clear narrative for the partnership
  • Getting into a flow of sculpting the deal together
  • Understanding what they get, and what you get.
  • Seeing the needle move on key metrics for the partnership
  • The satisfaction that comes from building out networks, and finding out intricate industry insights.

Pains
Lastly, partnership professionals experience the following pains in their jobs:

  • Convincing needed to get buy-in on the vision for the partnership, both externally, and internally
  • Not having enough space to explore a potential collaboration with partners.
  • Mobilizing people internally takes a long time. Lots of long talks, iterating along the ranks.
  • Changing internal priorities and people changing positions.
  • Hard to keep it simple: Every stakeholder adds on a layer of complexity for executing on the partnership

The figure below, visualizes these jobs, pains, and gains, and shows how they connect through color-coding.

The Partnership Professional
The Partnership Professional

The solution
Lets now look at the Partnership Canvas as a product, and some of pain relievers, and gain creators that it and the Partnership Design process provides to help partnership professionals succeed at their game.

Product
The Partnership Canvas is a visual business tool that captures the essential design elements of a partnership deal. Together with the Partnership Design process, it creates a method for understanding, designing, and testing business model partnerships.

Gain creators
The Partnership Canvas is an add-on to the Business Model Canvas. This enables it to tap into the power of the Business Model Canvas to understand, and design businesses. As such the tool  can be used for research on other business models, and partnership in an industry.  The connection with the Business Model Canvas also creates linkages with Lean Startup methodology, turning partnerships into testable business model experiments.

The partnership tool is also a simple, easy to understand visual tool. It asks for all the relevant insights, which are needed to create a complete understanding of a partnership.

Pain relievers

  • The Partnership Canvas is an agile tool, which facilitates quick communication, and decision making around business options.
  • The Partnership Design steps start with exploration of partnering options, before moving into experimentation and implementation.
  • The tool brings focus to partnership discussions. This also helps people with different (non-business) backgrounds, and disciplines to quickly understand and decide what is needed to build a productive partnership.
Partnership Design as a solution for the partnership professional
Partnership Design as a solution for the partnership professional

This is still an ongoing research project, and I haven’t covered the full depth of partnership professionals’ field of work yet. I keep learning from every new conversation I enter. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the profile I’ve compiled so far, and also about other tools, and methods that you use yourself to design partnerships. Do comment, or send me an email to info@partnersipcanvas.com if you’d like to talk further!

Interested to learn more about using the Partnership Canvas for transformative business collaboration?
Check out our upcoming Partnership Design Masterclasses