Success & Flop Factors

Based on our experience of coaching Business Design projects, we collect Do's and Don'ts in this article and update them regularly. Learn from our many years of experience and make your project a success.
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Bernhard Doll

Business Design Maverick

Business Design usually doesn't happen in isolation. A couple of factors are absolutely key when introducing Business Design to your organisation. Here are some of them:

Success Factors of Business Design


  • Ask for executive commitment:
    Business Design requires top management attention and commitment - and here we mean the owners of the company and / or the executive level. The reason is simple: Innovation and more specifically the design of new business models is highly connected to the overarching vision and strategy of the company (see "Picture of the Future"). You have to make sure that the key decision-makers for the future strategy are involved in your projects. Otherwise you won't get any decisions, which will slow the process down to zero. How do you know whether an executive manager is really committed?

    1. If he shows up in workshops,

    2. if he has time for regular "sneak previews",

    3. if he is willing to act as a project sponsor,

    4. if he gives his mobile number to the project team and allows to call or text him at (almost) any time.

    Ask for it and you will see what you get.

  • Establish links to business lines:
    Business Design should also be connected to business lines that earn the big money in a company. Leaders of theses divisions should know about the power of Business Design and why it is helpful for them to propel their business to the next level. If Business Design has been implemented into a centralised department (e.g. corporate strategy or innovation management), it may happen that business line managers consider Business Design (or the centralised department) as a threat and loss in independence. Involve them from early on and ask for support from top management if necessary.

  • Follow the Guiding Principles rigorously:
    Never betray the guiding principles of Business Design. You will quickly get in situations, in which people want you to work with unqualified teams, to start a project even without top management attention, to "take it easy" and allow shortcuts (like skipping the Discover Phase), to allow people having parallel meetings during your workshops etc. Overcome those temptations and find your personal style to be as rigorous as necessary but flexible enough to adapt Business Design to the specific needs of a project setup. Your job as a coach is not necessarily to make people happy. Your job is to make them succeed (which is sometimes not the same).

  • Generate quick wins:
    Focus on quick (market) wins and tangible output right from the start. It is easy to get caught in "fake innovation activities", such as ideation workshops, 2-days hackathons, brainstormings, "let's be visual" meetings, fuck-up nights etc. Don't get us wrong: There may be good reasons for some of those events. However, the ultimate success for us Business Designers are happy (end-) customers who bought the new product or services via our intended sales channels and refer the new business to their friends (apart from financial KPIs). The number of  coloured post-its on walls is not a very accurate indicator of your success.

  • Foster high-performance teamwork:
    For you as a coach, it is tremendously important to keep a close eye on the project team and its performance. Observe carefully how Business Design as a methodological approach is applied and also what happens in the team below the surface (see "Iceberg Model"). At the end of the day, it is NOT the method (= Business Design) why projects fail. It is very likely poor teamwork, bad communication habits, no common sense or shared accountability for the project results that let teams perform poorly. Keep that in mind.

You can think of many reasons why innovation projects (with or without Business Design) end up in some kind of a disaster. Even academic research has revealed a lot of great insights here. We don't want to recap all this knowledge but want to highlight a couple of issues we see very often in real-life project setups.


  • Start your project without clear objectives:
    We rarely come across people who tell us that they have no clear objectives. But after digging into the details, we learn very often that the opposite is the case. And the reality is tricky. When would you consider an objective as "clear"? If you can't measure your objectives, the likelihood is high that it is not clear what we are talking about.

  • Start your project without a sponsor:
    A sponsor is an executive manager, who has a pressing business challenge and is committed to support the project. Without him, it will be impossible to bring whatever you build in your project to market. Involve him / her right from the start and establish a direct link to him (no corporate filters in between).

  • Start your project without a clear (and stable) team setup: 
    Business Design requires a handful of experts who work together in workshops and in between. It is impossible to be productive with more than seven people in a team setup. Don't invite anyone to a workshop due to political reasons. We will have dedicated touch points with stakeholders around the team later on (e.g. "Sneak Previews") . It is also a good idea to keep the team setup stable to ensure continuity and commitment.

  • Kick off your project without having team members trained: 
    In simple words: You can't train people while pushing for output at the same time. You either do a training or a project with output ambitions. Never combine both goals in a format. It won't work!

  • Define your project scope very "broadly" / high-level:
    Don't start your project on "let's see what we can do with AI in our business XYZ". This is not a "scope". This is the beginning of chaos. When you define your scope, try to imagine what your Discover Phase may look like. If the picture is more or less clear and doable within the given time frame, then you are on the right track.

  • Mix up R&D and innovation: 
    R&D turns money into knowledge. Innovation is the opposite and aims to turn knowledge back into (more) money. Find more details about the differences here.

  • Don't document your project setup in a written form:
    Please use a Project Charter to outline your "side rails" of your project. Let the sponsor literally sign the Project Charter and don't assume there is an agreement on the basic project setup. Otherwise, you may find yourself in endless discussions on what your project is all about.

  • Set workshop dates on the go:
    People are very busy and need clear dates right from the start of a project. If you schedule meetings / workshops on the go, you won't get them anymore and you have to extend the iteration cycle from 10 weeks to eternity. 

  • Don't keep your sponsor in the loop:
    Sometimes, project teams are too shy to approach the sponsor of a team directly (if they know who that person is). Well, he / she is very often a respected senior manager. Do it anyway. You will be surprised how productive and valuable these conversations can be.

  • Skip the Discover phase: 
    We can't remember how often we have heard this sentence: "No, we don't need customer research. We know what they want." In 9 out of 10 cases, no you don't. Questionnaires on customer satisfaction and focus groups are not the right means to learn what you need to learn in Business Design.

  • Extend a project iteration from 10 weeks to XX weeks:
    If you do it, you destroy the flow and remove the productive pressure from the team. It is not a coincidence why we have set the iteration cycle to 10 weeks: The time frame is long enough to do proper research and create tangible output and short enough to put pressure on the team to kick-start team performance from the first day onwards.

Sometimes, we repeat ourselves for a reason: Handling key stakeholders properly in large organisations is one of the most underestimated tasks of many Business Design project teams. A project team can't win if they don't talk about a project regularly (see Sponsor's Sneak Preview) and create an emotional link between the project and decision-makers.