Co-creating in partnerships

We already published an article about co-creation and last week we discussed 4 reasons why you should co-create. Co-creation is buzz today and the term is used and certainly misused in many different ways. Co-creating with end-users and stakeholders has always been and will always be used in Human Centered Design business. Co-creating is a wonderful method to gain deep understanding, genuine insights, and a lot of inspiration out of the ‘creations’ of the different stakeholders. These workshops — used for ideation, prototyping, … are a very intense way to involve the people whom you are designing for. They are the experts in real life, so in these workshops they become the designers of their future work tools.

Human Centered Design on the other hand is a creative approach to problem solving. It also starts with the people you are designing for and ends with a new solution that is tailor-made to suit their needs. This process includes building deep empathy, generating ideas, building prototypes, testing prototypes and launching your solution. It unleashes the creativity of the HCD-designers.

I went to a workshop at Flanders DC and learned about the co-creation game (by Régis Lemmens, author of ‘From selling to co-creating’) which is co-creation within a partnership between 2 companies in order to sell a co-designed solution to that partner. Today I’ll discuss what I’ve learned there and include some Human Centered Design techniques to enrich the process. Because in my opinion that’s the way towards a successful partnership.

This co-creation model consists of 6 steps divided over 3 phases but your actions are based on where everyone stands within this process. Make sure everyone is on the same page and leave no-one behind. This is important if you want to have more buy-in for your project and if you want to make it a success.

Co-design phase

Goal in this phase: The goal of the co-design phase is to get the project started by creating awareness and developing a vision in order to ultimately commit to the project.

From a Human Centered Design point of view, I would personally first examine the needs of the stakeholders, map their hopes and behavior and hear what the partner has to say about his customers and involve those customers into the whole design process. The main focus has to be the desirability, ‘what do people exactly want?’.
This is the inspiration phase where you’ll learn directly from the people you’re designing for as you immerse yourself in their lives and come to deeply understand their needs.

Step 1 — Create awareness: A partnership is a possibility that occurs when company X knocks on your door with a problem they want to solve with your help or vice versa. To sell yourself as the ideal partner you should inspire them and discuss each other’s capabilities and clearly state what’s in it for them. Try to create a sense of urgency so that they definitely know you are the preferred partner for this project. Go in dialogue with your partner and drive the coalition.

In this step it can also be helpful to use different Human Centered Design techniques in order to dig deeper and reveal the underlying problems which is useful when trying to frame the problem in a wider picture. Try to really capture the essence of the problem. Make a stakeholder map and try to understand what they really need, make some problem statements.

Not every partnership starts without any problems, sometimes your stakeholders aren’t on the same page. It’s important to resolve these early issues quickly. In the awareness phase stakeholders can react in 4 different ways.

  1. One being ‘Great! I’m In! Start and I’ll follow!’ This reaction is great, everyone is enthusiastic and on the same page. But most likely this is an utopia.
  2. There will always be people who react more like ‘I don’t understand it! I don’t see the point of this.’ This is a rational issue which you can easily resolve by having a meeting with them and go over all the concerns they have.
  3. More concerning is the situation when the opposition reacts like ‘I don’t trust this project, it’s not good for our company or my job!’ This is a more emotional issue you can resolve by pinpointing your goals and clearly state what’s in it for them.
  4. The worst reaction you can have is ‘I don’t trust you as a person!’ This is a serious emotional issue with the credibility of the project leader.

Step 2 — Create a vision: Collaborate in a brainstorm session to unravel the gaps between your offerings and the market. Benchmark this project against other running projects, make a SWOT-analysis based on these findings and overlap it with the SWOT-analysis of your partner. Try to figure out what the needs, barriers and constraints are in relationship to this project. Develop a vision of how together you will solve this problem. Map the methodology and state what you are going to do and what you’re trying to reach.

In this step it can also be helpful to interact with all the stakeholders and map their working process so that you get a better understanding of how they work.

In these two steps it’s important to have a dominant leader, one who will set the record straight and try to get this project started.

Step 3 — Gain commitment: Be a leader and involve your stakeholders, communicate with them for more buy-in. Sign a nondisclosure agreement. This step is a transitional step from the co-design to the co-develop phase. After we’ve created awareness and developed a vision we know what our partner wants and we can start committing to the project and develop our approach. In this case you better adopt a democratic leadership style to make sure everyone is on the same page.

In this step it can be helpful to make a timeline and the steps you need to take to fulfill each phase. Seek for opportunities to make this a success based upon the previous SWOT-analysis you’ve made with your partner.

Now that everyone is on the same page and knows what the goal is, you can start taking action. This is the beginning of the next phase, the co-develop phase.

Co-develop phase

Goal in this phase: the commitment step is the start of this phase where you’ll be focusing on the action taking. The enrolment of the project. You’ve been the leader in the previous phase and involved all the stakeholders, you’ve communicated with them to gain more buy-in. Now it’s time to take action and manage the whole process by empowering your partner.

From a Human Centered Design point of view this is called the ideation phase where you’ll make sense of what you’ve learned, identify opportunities for the design and prototype possible solutions.

Step 4 — Take action and gather test results: Manage the whole process by empowering others. Take action, start creating your solution and engage commitment of your partner. Go back and forth to keep everyone on the same page.

In this step it could be helpful to organize a workshop with your partner and discuss every aspect of your solution, test it out, prototype, retest, … . Observe his end-user using the solution and when needed go back to the drawing board.

Step 5 — Implement the project: When you’re sure about your solution and checked everything with your partner, you’re ready to start developing the solution. This is a transitional step towards the co-sell phase. Coach your team members and imply short term gains and consolidate those. This is the roll-out of your project. In this step it’s best to use a coaching leadership style.

Co-sell phase

Goal in this phase: After implementing your product or solution you can focus on the learnings and try to ultimately sell your solution to your partner.

Step 6 — Discuss learnings: Try to build a strong long lasting partnership and anchor the culture of both companies.

In this step you can learn how your partner or his end-user interacts with the product and respond accordingly.

Be a pacesetter in this phase and focus on an everlasting relationship with your partner so that you can start the whole process once again.


Building bridges

When working in a partnership with your buyer or vice versa, it’s important to apply the ‘diamond model’ instead of the ‘bow tie model’. This implies that everyone has been in contact with one another or as we say, building bridges. By building bridges, you make the co-creation even stronger. By mapping these interactions in a matrix, you can easily detect which relationships need a boost.

In this example 0 means that we don’t even know each other, 5 on the contrary is a very good relationship. Sadly this is an utopia. People in partnerships who don’t know each other form a weak link within the team. If key persons fail to contribute, the collaboration will cease to exist.

Strong teams = strong projects

If you want to learn more about the co-creation game, please visit the website of Régis Lemmens: