The History of Customer Scenario® Design

Co-Designed and Evolved with Customers

March 23, 2006

Our Customer Scenario® Mapping methodology was a long-term result of our first outside-in design session with customers, almost 20 years ago. Here is a brief history of how this methodology evolved from that customer co-design event.


Many clients and prospective clients ask us about the research and academic underpinnings of the customer co-design techniques we use and teach.

For almost a decade, the Patricia Seybold Group has been using Customer Scenario Design in our consulting work with clients. For the past five years, we have been teaching clients how to run their own customer co-design sessions.

How did we come up with our methodology for Customer Scenario® Mapping? Our customers co-designed it with us. The forerunner of the current methodology was a learn-by-doing public seminar format that was co-designed with our lead customers. Then, we took the principles of that collaboratively-designed, but time-intensive, process and refined it into a technique that could be used in a half day (with some preparation), rather than over a three- or four-day period.

The original outcome our customers wanted back in the late 80s, early 90s, was an interactive business/technology conference in which they could learn by doing, share insights, and apply those insights in the real world. Over the years, our clients’ needs changed. By the late 1990s, they wanted help streamlining customer-impacting processes in their own organizations. Today, they want to be able to lead their own customer co-design sessions themselves--to redesign their organizations from the outside in--from their customers’ point of view. That’s how this technique is being used today.

Engaging Customers in Co-Designing Stimulating, Not-to-Be-Missed Conferences

We led our first customer co-design session almost 20 years ago. We invited our top customers to work with us on redesigning our then-annual

Seybold Executive Forum event. Although these conferences had been successful, they weren’t growing, and the bloom was off the rose. Customers all claimed to enjoy the content and to get a lot out of attending, but there was little excitement, no electricity in the air.

As we started planning the next year’s event, we realized we were no longer enjoying these conferences. We were becoming bored by them. Although the speakers were insightful and the topics were timely, there’s only so much input people can take. And, as we started debating what topics might be hot and what speakers might be available for the next year, it suddenly hit us: why don’t we ask the customers what they want? “But we do,” insisted our then marketing director. “We have the feedback forms from the last event, and we’re sending out surveys.”

“No,” we explained. “Let’s not ask them what content they want, let’s have them help design a brand new format for tackling their issues.” You see, we figured, if we were bored, they must be too. And we were eager to find a way to “learn by doing, rather than by listening.” Our hunch was that this was something our customers would really enjoy. But rather than just put our ideas out there and have the customers validate them, we wanted to pull ideas from the customers to create something brand new, exciting, and for which they would take ownership.

We knew if the Forum was designed from the customers’ point of view, they couldn’t help but love it and remain loyal, and vocal, fans.

Involving Lead Customers. We invited a dozen of our lead customers--the most insightful folks who represented the target customers for this event--to a one-day co-design session in our offices. They were delighted to come. They even paid their own way!

What our customers co-designed with our small company that day was a hands-on workshop in which teams of people from different companies would work together to redesign volunteer (guinea pig) companies’ customer-impacting business processes.

The redesign work was to be “blue sky,” meaning that, although current reality might be acknowledged, these teams of volunteers from other organizations should bring fresh thinking to what seemed like intractable problems. They would bring fresh perspectives and come up with their ideal solutions, without bowing to current constraints or to the way things have “always been done.” The ideal business processes should be explored from the end user’s or customer’s point of view, everyone agreed. The company’s constraints should only be considered after the ideal customer process was mapped. And then the team could suggest the best ways to close the gap between their ideal and the current situation.

Since our customers were involved in both business and technology management in their firms, they assumed that the redesigned business processes would take full advantage of the latest technology innovations.

We held the first of these new seminars at a conference facility on Long Island in 1989. There were 150 people in attendance, including the core team of customers who had come up with the idea and helped to design the event.

Customers Wanted to Learn by Doing: To Co-Design Solutions for Each Others’ Tough Business and Technology Problems

For the early instantiations of this newly-defined seminar format, multiple organizations volunteered to air their laundry to a group of interested business and technology executives from dozens of companies, who paid for the privilege of spending four days solving someone else’s problems.

Why did these clients value this interactive experience? They wanted to learn more about advances in technology and how other companies were thinking about implementing new solutions. By working on other companies’ challenges, they were able to gain new ideas and perspectives on their own. This new seminar format was popular and profitable for seven years (until our clients no longer had the luxury to spend three or four days at a conference).


I Want to Learn to Redesign My Business to Take Full Advantage of Technology Advances.

Business Problems Addressed. The first “case providers” were organizations as varied as Young and Rubicam (an advertising agency), the American Institute of Physics (a scholarly publisher), Mitre Labs (a government research organization), and Clorox (a consumer products company). Representatives from each company presented a pressing challenge they were facing. Y&R had recently acquired a number of complementary businesses. Nick Rudd, then-CIO, wanted help designing a knowledge-sharing infrastructure that would enable Y&R to operate globally as a single firm aligned around its global clients’ issues.

Tim Ingoldsby at the American Institute of Physics wanted help making it easier for physicists around the world to review and publish their research. Henry Bayard at Mitre Labs wanted help creating ad hoc crisis management systems that could be deployed and used by disparate government agencies to coordinate activities in the event of an emergency like a flood or an earthquake. Judith Altman at Clorox was wrestling with how to streamline the production and maintenance of safety and technical standards for the company’s far-flung manufacturing facilities.

Working on a Team to Create a Business and Technology Strategy. Participants from other companies chose which problem they wanted to work on. Each team was asked to create a business and technology strategy that could be sold back at the homefront--the strategy had to address change management and organizational issues, as well as technology solutions and implementation guidelines.

The working premise was that the teams should acknowledge current reality, but that the proposed solutions should be revolutionary, not evolutionary. What worked best on these teams was having all these outsiders asking what we called the six-year-old question. “But why do you do it this way?” All existing assumptions and preconceived notions were challenged, gently.

The resulting business and technology solutions the teams came up with were several generations ahead of what the case providers were working on back at the ranch.

Many of the participants who worked on these companies’ initiatives stayed in touch with the companies they helped, acting as advisors and cheerleaders.

Tackling Multiple Intersecting Business and Technology Initiatives for a Large Organization

For the first few years, we stuck with the multiple live case study format. The advantage was that clients gained exposure to many different kinds of businesses and issues from which they could learn by doing.

Then, as the Executive Forum evolved, we (our clients and ourselves) realized that a key component to achieving breakthrough results was being able to tackle complex, interrelated issues, across functional boundaries within a single large organization--particularly cross-boundary issues that negatively impacted end customers and employees. So, rather than attempting to solve a single problem for a number of different companies, we switched to working with a single organization as case provider, addressing three to four different customer-impacting issues. We recruited participants from other organizations who wanted to learn by doing, as well as relevant technology providers and consultants who could support the group’s activities by building models and prototypes.

The case provider brought 30 to 40 people from the different functional areas in their organization. We worked with them ahead of time, leading group interviews with people across the organization to describe what their issues were and what their collective vision was. The case provider’s representatives kicked off the conference with presentations outlining each of the initiatives for which they were soliciting input and ideas. Each initiative became the fodder for a mixed team of employees and external participants to work on, around the clock for four days, until the culminating final presentations.

By wrapping their minds around a single complex organization (such as the national American Cancer Society which is made up of semi-autonomous regional societies), or the Health and Human Services agencies (Health and Welfare, Medicare, Child Services, Public Health, Department of Mental Retardation) of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the customer teams felt they were dealing with complexities that mirrored their real-world situations.

Yet, as outsiders, looking in, these external teams of professionals and executives were able to come up with innovative solutions (each complete with business plans, implementation plans, and prototypes) and to coordinate and prioritize the activities needed to implement these intersecting solutions (e.g., will the newly-defined database of volunteers work with the prototype for planning and executing a fundraising event like the Society’s Daffodil Days?).

Including the Customers on Teams. By this time, we weren’t just putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes; we made sure that actual end customers of the case provider participated, playing on the teams, and providing their first-hand input.

Early Mapping: Patty’s Paper Dolls. It was during this instantiation of the workshop that we first started mapping out the processes (affectionately called Patty’s Paper Dolls for the low-tech, hands-on nature of putting sticky notes representing people and actions on a large sheet of butcher paper to represent the process). First, the teams would quickly map out the current process. Then, after much brainstorming about who the user or customer was, what their context was, and what the ultimate goal was (what constituted success), they would map the vision of the new process.

We quickly learned that mapping current reality was not only a waste of time, but very depressing! Why put so much energy into something that’s broken? Mapping the vision was very powerful and energized the teams to work harder on their prototypes. I loved how members of the team working on the American Cancer Society’s marketing issues lamented strongly that “we hate paper dolls” immediately after mapping the current process. Two days later, after leading the other teams through an explanation of their vision map, these same team members linked arms and skipped around in a circle, chanting, “We love paper dolls, we love paper dolls.”

In fact, the mapping of customers’ ideal scenarios, with the associated brainstorming, was the most successful part of the workshop. And, as we went forward, we evolved this methodology based on customer input and customer needs. Just as the whole thing began with customer co-design, it has continued to evolve with the help, guidance, and innovation of our customers.

As the participant teams each worked on their ideal Customer Scenarios, additional teams of forum participants documented and integrated the world across teams. They built business process models and business object models. They developed rapid prototypes for user-facing applications. Other teams worked on organizational and change management issues, while another group worked on business plans and budgeting. The amount of value these customers--our paying seminar clients--contributed to each of these organizations was huge! Each group came away, after four days, with a major jumpstart on an entirely new way to design and approach their business issues. Their own cross-functional team members had bonded as a result of being part of this bootcamp-like experience.


By the mid-1990s, our clients made it clear that they were no longer willing to invest four days of their time to work on someone else’s issues. But they were interested in having us help them with the design of their own business and technology strategies--using many of the principles we had co-created together...

Sign in to download the full article


Be the first one to comment.

You must be a member to comment. Sign in or create a free account.