Spider Web

Goal: Understand Product Relationships

Spider WebAll products and services coexist within a larger context of an ecosystem of related, complementary, and even competitive products and services. Unfortunately, product designers often fail to recognize and leverage the relationships within this ecosystem. This often means they miss innovative opportunities to create happier customers and capture more revenue. The Spider Web game helps you understand how your customer sees the relationships between your product and service and other products and services. You can then use this information to capture more revenue by creating innovations around these relationships.

One kind of innovation occurs when you realize that you can do more with your current product. This discovery often leads you to change your product’s boundary, or the demarcation between your product and other products, or between recommended and actual usage. Of course, the creator of the product or service is not usually the person who discovers the new usage. I don’t think that Proctor and Gamble intended for Bounce Fabric Softener Sheets to be used for dissolving soap scum from shower doors or for wiping up sawdust from a woodworking shop, but these are common alternative uses for Bounce.

Another kind of innovation occurs when financial-services firm might partner with an estate-planning firm to create a better total solution for families with young children. A yogurt maker might partner with a cereal manufacturer to create a healthy new snack that leverages both brands. A human resources software vendor might integrate its application with a payroll provider to eliminate errors that occur through redundant data entry.

The Game

Put the name of your product or service in the center of a circle. Ask your customers to draw other products and services that they think are related to your product. As they draw these products and services, ask them to tell you when, how, and why these are used. Ask them to draw lines between the different products and services. Encourage them to use different colors, weights, or styles to capture important relationships (for example, important relationships can be drawn with a thicker line or a different color pen). The Spider Web game works well with the Start Your Day game. After your customers review when and where they use your offering, you can explore in a subsequent session the various relationships that exist between the different products and services that they use throughout the day.

Why It Works

Although you may think you have a solid understanding of how your product or service relates to other products and services, chances are your customers have a different point of view. By helping you understand these relationships from their perspective, Spider Web helps you capture more revenue by showing you webs of potentially unknown relationships.

Spider Web is partially inspired by a requirements-analysis technique called context diagramming. Context diagramming was originally created to show the data that flows between a given software system and other entities with which this system communicates. These entities can be people, other software systems, physical devices, electro- mechanical devices, other sensors, and so forth. Context diagrams are a useful tool, usually created by business analysts trained to interpret the perceptions of a customer and who usually manage to make their context diagrams look very neat and tidy.

Skilled professionals who create context diagrams often face special challenges when working directly with customers. One challenge is that customers tend to create pretty messy diagrams, especially when working in groups, and the messiness can make business analysts uneasy. Another challenge is that because business analysts have often studied the problem domain before working directly with customers, they bring their own expectations of how the diagrams should look to the game. The worst situation is when business analysts attempt to guide customers into creating diagrams that match their expectations (“Don’t you think your car should be drawn with a connection to your portable music player?”). The best approach in this situation is to include your business analysts as observers and empower your facilitator to keep them quiet during the game.

Spider Web, on the other hand, encourages customers to directly draw their view of the relationships. And because the real world isn’t a neat and tidy place, customer-generated diagrams tend to get messy. Wonderfully messy. Realistically messy. Messy in a way that helps you understand the real opportunities for genuine innovation.

Spider Web in Action

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