Using the Double Diamond for product strategy and development

Joining strategy together with the execution of the right solution challenges most teams today. It’s difficult for many reasons. Defining a strategy is not a static exercise. Predicting the future is difficult, full of uncertainty, and new information is always being discovered. Complicating things further, teams often divide responsibility for strategy and execution. This makes it harder to adapt to new information. Teams often focus on the delivery of a thing, instead of its business impact. This happens when we define success by short timeframes, and performance relates to output. We also tend to rely on our intuition or acumen, without seeking any validation. Even with years of experience in a domain, intuition can be flawed by our biases. Left unchecked, we define and pursue solutions before fully understanding the opportunity space.

Creating successful products requires the skills, expertise and craft of many people. Engineers, specialists, analysts, strategists, designers, researchers, architects and marketers work together. We define a desired future state, before executing upon that vision as one. With such a group of people come diverse personal characteristics - analytical, creative, strategic, pragmatic. And many approaches to working  - structured, unstructured, empirical, theoretical. Orchestrating such an effort calls for ways of working together toward common goals. A way of thinking that is flexible enough for different circumstances - not a prescriptive book of rules. We need something that guides us to define adaptive plans that respond well to new information. A model that helps us to work together to achieve real outcomes together.

The Model

The ‘Double Diamond’ process maps the divergent and convergent stages of a design process. Created by The British Design Council, it describes modes of thinking that designers use. The Council's origin is Industrial Design - which is about creating tangible objects. As such, the model seems like a linear process. It describes significant up-front design, before going on to produce a final solution. Working this way means that solutions are generally perfected before public release. That's because it's expensive to change a physical product after it has shipped. Another effect is that a lot of time passes before knowing it's efficacy in a real market.

For software products or services, we take advantage of the malleable nature of what we create. Software is easier to change, so we don’t need to perfect the entire solution up front. Instead, we create smaller packages of value for release. Then we respond to what is learnt in a real market to refine and adapt the architecture of the product. When we do this, the initial solution informs the future, and our strategy adapts.

See below the modified Double Diamond model, adjusted for software products and services.

The Double Diamond - modified for software development


The journey begins with a trigger. This could be an idea, some insight, a change  in the market, a macro economic change. Before responding to the trigger with a vision or plan, we first seek to understand the current condition. This phase is divergent and exploratory - it’s a search for new questions. Through observation and enquiry we reveal customer behaviour and business drivers. Opportunities are identified for further consideration.


From a place of some understanding, we begin to synthesise knowledge into insight. This focuses on the most compelling opportunities to pursue. It's about converging on a vision and defining the first expression of our plans to occupy a future position. We assess the viability and impact of our plans, and determine how to measure success.

This initial strategy guides the execution of a solution, but strategy is never complete. A strategy should adapt when we make new discoveries. It doesn't need to define all details of a solution. Instead, the focus should be on the desired outcomes or impact to achieve.


With a vision in place, it’s time to explore the best potential solutions. We know what to achieve, and by exploring and validating options, we find the best ways to succeed. This is a divergent and iterative activity. Details and requirements have not been defined - instead, the right solution is discovered.


As we gain confidence in the solution, exploration gives way to engineering. Now we're creating and optimising working software. The opportunity here is two-fold. First, a working solution delivered to market. Second, we gather real market feedback. As a result, our understanding deepens, and new discoveries influence an ever-changing strategy. Software engineering is not merely execution of a plan, it also defines strategy.

The Double Diamond is not a linear process

Understanding the phases of the Double Diamond and how they interrelate is important. It helps decide the right methods and activities for pursuing a problem or opportunity. The model scales well to accommodates many situations. Optimising an existing business model using continuous improvement is different to new product development. These call for their own tools and methods. Enterprise innovation - where integrated strategies define a full programme of work - is different again. Yet, for each example, we can apply the Double Diamond to help frame strategy and execution of the solution.

Next, we’ll explore each phase in more detail looking at tools and methods. Helping you apply the Double Diamond on your next project.



Pragmatic Product Strategy - Presented at XConf 2014

This talk explores new ways of framing the work we do in order to create effective software products. A super-pragmatic model of thinking and doing that promises to bring together technologists, designers and business folks alike, across the entire software delivery lifecycle. Watch the video at

An alternative to features and showcases. Introducing Hills and Playbacks

Recently, I attended an Adaptive Path conference called Managing Experience.It was brilliant, and here's a writeup if you want to know more about that.

I was lucky to spend a bunch of time with Todd Wilkins in a workshop about IBM's Design Thinking Framework.

There's lots to like, but in particular, two out of three principles resonated strongly.

  • Hills (instead of epics/features/stories)
  • Playbacks (instead of showcases)

They're similar to epics/features and showcases, but different, in important ways.

Here are two provocative generalisation:

  • Teams often get blinded by features to build instead of problems to solve.
  • Stakeholders get bored at showcases because giving a demo of a completed feature is largely not very exciting.

Hills and Playbacks try to solve those two problems, with an added side-benefit of helping to focus and empower teams to solve problems (instead of build features).

Sounds pretty good, right?

So what's a Hill? and, what's a Playback?

First, read the short version of the IBM Design Thinking Framework. Here's that link again.

A Hill is simply a way of framing the intended outcome of the work being carried out, from the point-of-view of the user and/or business stakeholder.

Experience designers would recognise these as design challenges, where the phrase "how might we..." is often used to start exploring ways of solving the challenge.

A Playback is a demonstration of the outcome, generally told as narrative, from the point-of-view of the person who's problem is being solved (which is typically the 'customer' and 'the business' simultaneously)

How doe's this empower teams, exactly?

Well, alone, Hills and Playbacks won't do that - after all, it's only slightly different language and metaphor to what we're used to from agile development practices.

But with the right team culture, and some other guidelines (e.g. what number of hills for a given project?), framing the work this way allows freedom to act, because teams are empowered to create an outcome, not just build the next feature in the list. It's inherently more collaborative too, because challenges are less likely to be 'pre-solved' by another team (analysts, designers... whomever) .

In essence, Hills describe The Commander's Intent*

For the purposes of this discussion, that basically means, setting a shared direction/vision, then leaving capable, well trained professionals to execute the solution.

*I like the Harvard Business Review description from the article above:

"The key to successful Commander’s/CEO Intent is trained, confident, and engaged military personnel/employees. Employees must understand the plan and when they have to deviate to ensure the Commander’s Intent is accomplished. Military personnel have to employ a “Spectrum of Improvisation” when they execute Commander’s Intent."

A final note

Yes. I know the differences here are pretty nuanced. I can hear your inner monologue too: 'We already do that'... (If so, then great!) Reflecting upon my entire professional experience, it's not something I've seen often, if ever.

I think there's lots of potential, and I'm looking forward to road-testing it on a project soon.


Managing Experience 2014 by Adaptive Path

Managing Experience is a 2 day conference hosted by Adaptive Path. Here’s the emergent themes from the last four years of the conference: 2011: Business 2012: Strategy 2013: Change 2014: Leadership & The Organization

The big draw-card for me this year was Todd Wilkens, Design Principal at IBM. He delivered a talk ‘Scaling Design Beyond Designers’ with a corresponding 1/2 day workshop on IBM Design Thinking approach.

As with any conference, some talks were better than others. Here's a summary of all the talks, including links to slides and videos.

Bill Scott | PayPal

Keynote: Bringing Change to Life

Bill spoke with gravitas and directness about what is required to influence change from inside-out with large organisations. Two themes were Persistence and Improvisation. The crux of the talk was a playbook of sorts, describing his battle-proven approach to bringing change. Ostensibly, it’s expressed a little plainly - as a ‘7 steps’ guide, but the stories that Bill delivered with it were brilliant.

His 7 steps include:

  • Believe something deeply
  • Understand the culture
  • Fix the pain points
  • Rally the troops
  • Prototype the change
  • Tell a story
  • Keep iterating

Livia Labate | Marriott International Digital Governance: Getting Your Act Together & Keeping It That Way

Digital Governance didn’t sound like something interesting, until it is defined like this: 'Governance is a way to distribute decision-making authority for strategy, policy and standards throughout an organisation’. What does that mean for ‘digital’? Well, it’s inevitably way broader than just digital, and that’s really what this talk is about. Making the complex clear, and figuring out how best to work across silos to make life better for customers and the people behind the scenes responsible for those experiences.

Leah Buley | Intuit The Marriage of Corporate & UX Strategy: A Case Study

Gold. Leah explored the intersection of UX strategy and corporate strategy and most importantly, how to work together complimentarily to achieve great outcomes for business and customers. She talked about explicit strengths/weaknesses from each camp, and the mutual benefit of working together. For years, experience design has begged for a seat at ‘the big table’. Leah gives us a guide of how to approach the task once we get there.

Michael Kim | Habit Design by Kairos Labs Designing Sustainable Behavior-Change with Habit Design

This was a nice adjacent (to design/product) talk. Referenced some pop psychology like operant conditioning, reward loops, and neuroscience and talked at a fairly high level about how these ideas can be applied to design.

Lesley Mottla | Zipcar The “How” & “Why” of Building Customer Experience-Focused Teams & Organizations

A very eye-opening walk through on how customer experience happens at Zipcar. All the way from team structure and configuration, approaches to design, to how experience is measured and organisational maturity models for being customer focussed. A very dense and rich talk from an absolute powerhouse woman. This will be my go-to deck next time I need to articulate what an ‘experience strategy’ might look and feel like for a larger enterprise client.

Kerry Bodine | Author Brand, Marketing, & Customer Experience

This was a terrific talk, mostly about the difference between promising great experiences and delivering great experiences. Promises are easy, delivering on the promise is not. As with any great talk, after framing the problem, Kerry walks through a variety of approaches and tools for making better of the situation. One tool in particular caught my attention. It’s a derivative of Dave Gray’s culture mapping technique called CX/brand mapping  but specifically explores the implicit and explicit brand promises and contrasts this with 'brand reality’ and/or evidence of the promise in the true customer journey. Potent stuff, particularly if done in conjunction with experience mapping. Kerry is a formidable communicator. Keep eyes out for the video, there’s some great stories and narrative in her delivery that really help make it stick.

Todd Wilkens | IBM Scaling Design Beyond Designers

There is so much to love about this talk, and the companion workshop was relevant and inspiring too. Todd’s mission is to bake in UX strategy into product management. At IBM. Who have 400,000 employees and 3,000 active product teams. Todd speaks convincingly about what design is, ways to do it well, and how to scale it to very-very-large organisations. Much of what he presented seems incredibly familiar, easy to think ‘we already do that’, but there are important nuances in the approach that I think can enable empowered teams to solve problems instead of merely build features.

Peter Merholz | Adaptive Path Organisation models for design (slides coming...)

This talk overlapped a little with Todd Wilkens (IBM Design) on common organisational models for design teams. Peter contrasts the pros and cons of Internal Services Firm vs. Decentralised & Embedded teams and then introduces a hybrid model called Centralised Partnership Model which aims to deliver the best of both worlds. The main takeaway being about how to use this team structure with the double-diamond methodology (originally from British Design Council) to become proactive and ‘push good things into an organisation’ as opposed to being reactive where you merely respond to the immediate needs of an organisation.

Wendy Lea | Get Satisfaction The Customer Experience Obsession

'Customer experience is the last bastion of competitive advantage’.

Nice stats on overall profitability of leaders and laggards and some pretty compelling discussion on how to be leader, not a laggard.

Brandon Schauer | Adaptive Path The MX Outlook: Becoming & Leading

A look to the recent past and future ahead for the discipline of experience design. Neatly summarised in this playbook for managing and leading experiences.

I can highly recommend the conference. Very well run, great speakers and content, terrific attendees too. Adaptive Path have an iPad App too, where the videos from the event will eventually get uploaded. Seems like a great - and free! - way to consume the fantastic content.


Thoughts on behavioural economics, emotional design and customer engagement

This week, I've been discussing with friends and colleagues what 'customer engagement' could or should mean. There's a cadence to the change in vernacular of design. 'Customer engagement', we think, is ripe for a meaningful redefinition. My colleague puts it like this

In many ways Customer Engagement has become old hat.  Omnichannel has become trite ... and many of the other ideas, like real time offers, lack practical insights into how they would become reality.  HCI is already familiar (if not adopted) by almost everyone with a working brain.

Now my thoughts on how emotional design and behavioural economics may enrich the discourse on 'customer engagement'

Emotional design

There's been a natural progression from Don Norman's seminal book of the same name. There's some basic psychology that folks like Aaron Walter have explored, best summed up in this diagram. Getting 'pleasurable' right, I believe, is a big part of differentiation in a saturated and competitive market. It's about customer engagement, but not in the ways that you've listed above, which I agree have become overused.


A riff on Aaron Walter's remap of Maslow's hierarchy of needs

That works for the west, but what does customer engagement look like in the Global South? Nag and I recently posited that in the GS, it's the base of the pyramid that is usually most important - see Thinking differently (frugal innovation in the Global South).

Behavioural economics

I think we miss a few tricks when we look just at individual interactions and the usual qualitative research methods that ostensibly reveal to us the how and why of human behaviour. I mean, it does, but only for the 'consciously aware' decisions or behaviours. Economists have known for a while that so much of human behaviour is unconsciously irrational. Dan Ariely, Daniel Kahneman etc. How might we change the way we approach idea validation and general product development to reveal products and services that people do actually use, regardless of the individual product's design* merit (*where 'design' refers to the physical quality of the product - slickness, feel, aesthetic - not necessarily how well it solves a given problem).

Again, this ties in with the 'frugal innovation' discourse and the redefinition of what 'design' means - moving more toward 'a solution to a problem within set constraints'. We've come a long way - via movements like service design, but I think the market is generally still pretty reductive when talking about design - it's often still regarded as a veneer, an aesthetic layer, and the remit of 'creative' types. We'd do well to get our heads out of our arses and look at some of the models and systems that economists uses to make decisions that affect entire nations. Surely, there is a lot to learn from how they do things, and surely, 'big data' plays a part here too!