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!

How to prototype, and test your partnership, before launching it; Shopify-Uber

Brennan Loh of Shopify, talks about designing the prototype for their partnership with Uber.

This is the way that many successful and innovative partnerships come to be. It’s not about the big idea, and the big name involved, and then having all the rest fall in place.

It’s about performing experiments to find out if:
a) there is really a fit between partners,
b) and if the value created in a partnership will actually have enough impact to each of the partners’ business models for them to remain committed.

Brennan describes how to do it lean. Start with a small project that could reasonably generate a small win. Only after trying a couple of things, and creating a series of small (and growing) wins, a model for collaboration is revealed that has significant impact for both.

The Partnership Canvas is designed to guide you through this particular job of partnership design and experimentation. First, it challenges you to find out whether your partnership idea has a fit with your partner’s perspective. Then, you perform a Value Check, and a Cost Check on your business model to define testable hypotheses to find out whether the benefits outweigh the costs for both partners.

Find out more on the Partnership Design process here.


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