Customer Scenario® Design: An Approach for Outside Innovation

Co-Designing Your Business with Your Customers

March 23, 2006

We’ve spent 20 years working with companies and their customers to co-design business processes from the outside in using our Customer Scenario Mapping (CSM) Methodology. Here is a brief introduction to the fundamentals of CSM.


How do you figure out what customers really want, need, and will pay for? This is the foundational question for any business. It’s also a question to which many business theorists and practitioners have devoted a lot of thought (and ink). We were delighted to discover that Clayton Christensen, the author of two well-regarded business books--The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution--has discovered and documented a basic business truth that we’ve been practicing for almost 20 years. You design products and services to help customers accomplish their desired outcomes. We call these Customer Scenario. Clayton refers to them as “the jobs that customers need to get done.”

“…Customers--people and companies--have ‘jobs’ that arise regularly and need to get done. When customers become aware of a job that they need to get done in their lives, they look around for a product or service that they can ‘hire’ to get the job done. This is how customers experience life. Their thought processes originate with an awareness of needing to get something done, and then they set out to hire something or someone to do the job as effectively, conveniently and inexpensively as possible. The functional, emotional, and social dimension of the jobs that customers need to get done constitute the circumstances in which they buy.

In other words, the jobs that customers are trying to get done or the outcomes that they are trying to achieve constitute a circumstance-based categorization of ‘markets.’ Companies that target their products at the circumstances in which customers find themselves, rather than at the customers themselves, are those that can launch predictably successful products. Put another way, the critical unit of analysis is the circumstance and not the customer.”[1]

We believe that what Clay Christensen groups together under the rubric “circumstances” actually includes several distinct concepts: the customers’ context, the “job” they need to do (our Customer Scenario), their desired outcomes, and their constraints (what we refer to as “conditions of satisfaction.”[2])

How is this concept of “jobs that customers need to do” or Customer Scenarios different from traditional customer segmentation and needs analysis? It’s subtly different. But that subtlety is important. It’s not enough to identify a group of customers who have certain things in common for whom you are going to develop a solution; you also need to know what scenarios these customers actually care about accomplishing. What outcomes are they trying to achieve?


For almost 20 years, we have been working with our clients helping them figure out their customers’ desired outcomes. Our Customer Scenario approach is designed to identify what your company can do to support your customers in achieving these goals in the way that works best for them. And how do we know what customers want to do and how to do it? We ask them! Customer involvement is a key component of Customer Scenario Ž Design--an outside-in approach to innovation.

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the basic principles of customer co-design using our Customer Scenario Mapping approach. Typical sessions involve up to 24 customers who map out four ideal scenarios, take a half-day, and yield dramatic results.

Customer Scenario Design Principles

The core design elements of customer scenario design and mapping include:

  • Design from the end customers’ point of view--from the outside in!
  • Involve multiple stakeholders to provide context and to build a shared mental model. Whenever possible, include your customers and your partners, as well as representatives from sales, support, IT, operations, and product groups.
  • Map out the ideal state--the vision! Don’t get bogged down in current reality. Feel free to innovate.
  • Capture context, content elements, and technology services in a single session.
  • Identify the metrics that are crucial to your customers--what are their conditions of satisfaction and how do they measure them?
  • Convey the results by telling the story of the map. The power of storytelling will “sell” the customers’ vision to all who hear it.

What’s a Customer Scenario?

Basically, a customer scenario is the process that a customer would ideally like to do in order to achieve a desired outcome (not how they do it today!).

Examples of Scenarios. Consumers’ scenarios might include the following:

* I want to replace my non-functioning car

* I want to buy and learn to use a digital camera

* I want to invest money, earn a great return, and enjoy a great lifestyle

* I want my child to have stimulating, loving, safe, and affordable daycare

Business-to-business customer scenarios might be:

* I want my users successfully migrated to the next version of software

* I want my software licenses and maintenance agreements to co-terminate at the end of my fiscal year.

* I want to design a new blockbuster product

Customer Scenario Terminology

Let’s look at an example, a product designer’s scenario--I want to design a blockbuster product!

Who Is the Customer? In Customer Scenario Mapping, teams of customers define their own representative “persona”--the customer who represents the “I” in the “I want.” Because the persona is defined by the customers themselves, it includes many of the values and beliefs they hold in common. Customers give their persona a name, a role, and a context. For example, “Donna is a busy product designer at a housewares manufacturer who is charged with coming up with a new product for the spring line.” Customers will add relevant context and details that are representative of their collective context, concerns, and situations.

Desired Outcomes. Beyond designing a blockbuster product for the line, what does Donna really want? How does she want to feel about her product? How does she want to feel about the process of designing the product? Her desired outcome might well be: “I want my product to sell 20 percent more than other products of its type, for it to win a coveted innovation award, and for me to get a promotion and a big raise!”

Conditions of Satisfaction. Surrounding the desired outcome are a number of conditions of satisfaction. For example, Donna’s design must “meet regulatory standards, be able to be manufactured within a set budget and a set timeframe, and be supported by a well-tuned marketing campaign.”

Moments of Truth and Metrics. Although there are many tasks that Donna must take to design this blockbuster product, including gathering customer input, competitive research, design approval, and prototype development and testing, there are usually two or three activities that are most critical to her ability and desire to complete the scenario. These “moments of truth” are the show stoppers. If the customer can’t easily do these few things, he or she will give up and abandon the scenario. Examples of moments of truth would be: “I can’t find what I need,” or “It’s too expensive,” or “It takes too long.” Each moment of truth is quantified whenever possible. For the above moments of truth, metrics can be applied such as: “There are at least three good material options that meet my need. It costs less than $1.50 to manufacture,” and “The prototype is complete within a week of specification.”


Innovation occurs naturally as a result of...

1) “The Innovator’s Solution,” Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor. (2003). Harvard Business School Press.

2) The term “conditions of satisfaction” is borrowed from Fernando Flores’ ontology. Fernando Flores described a very powerful canonical model for capturing all business interactions. This was documented in his seminal book, “Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design.” (1986). Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA. The Flores model describes interactions as a four-step, closed-loop process. As applied in business, the first step is when the customer makes a request of a performer (I want…) or the performer makes an offer to a customer (Do you want…?). The second step is where the customer and performer negotiate until they read an agreement about the work to be done and clearly define the conditions of satisfaction. The third step is when the performer fulfills the agreement and reports completion. The final step is when the customer evaluates the work and either declares satisfaction or points out what remains to be done to fulfill the agreement.

3) Author’s conversation with Robert Fritz, February, 2005

4) “The Path of Least Resistance for Managers,” Robert Fritz. (1999). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. I studied the creative process with Robert Fritz for several years and taught both his basic and his advanced courses to dozens of students.

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