This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of Chris Risdon and Patrick Quattlebaum’s new book Orchestrating Experiences: Collaborative Design for Complexity. 2018, Rosenfeld Media.
Chapter 9: Crafting a Tangible Vision
When you work in a small business, such as a startup, you can get everyone to play off the same sheet of music more easily. The larger your organization, however, the greater the challenge of understanding the end-to-end experiences you want to enable and why. Hierarchy, functional silos, and distributed teams create communication and collaboration barriers. Strategy is distributed in slides with terse bullet points that get interpreted in multiple ways. The vision for the end-to-end experience is lost in a sea of business objectives, channel priorities, and operational requirements. The result: painful dissonance when the dream was a beautifully orchestrated experience.
This chapter is about working with others to craft a tangible vision for your product or service—a North Star. These approaches will help your organization embrace a shared destiny and collaboratively create the conditions for better end-to-end experiences.
The Importance of Intent
The use of the word intent has increased dramatically in the halls of most large corporations. You may have intent owners or leaders in your organization or intent statements as part of your strategy and execution process. Intent is an important concept to understand and align with to get things done, especially with the complexity inherent to orchestrating end-to-end experiences.
Strategic Intent and Lean Management
In the late 1980s, management consultants Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad studied the reasons Japanese companies were eclipsing their Western competitors in innovation and business outcomes. They coined the term strategic intent to codify how these organizations focused their employees on the same target. Instead of a generic mission statement, there was a simple, inspiring rallying cry. Yearly strategic planning was replaced with pairing near-term goals with the freedom for employees to determine the steps to achieve them.  Hamel and Prahalad argued that these practices motivated employees to find inventive ways of creating great outcomes despite relatively scarce resources.
In the decades since, many corporations have begun to embrace the concepts of strategic intent, as well as its close sibling, lean management. If you work in a medium- to large-sized organization, you likely see the tentacles of lean making their way into every nook and cranny—small, cross-functional teams, kanban boards, value stream mapping, SMART goals, and so on. The uniting philosophy behind these tactics is to empower small teams to deliver upon strategic intent through extreme focus and collaboration, as well as to streamline or remove processes that don’t directly result in customer value. In this way, lean management is one of the primary means to drive to the destination evoked in the strategic intent.
Commander’s Intent and Agile
Another strain of intent common in organizations derives from the military: commander’s intent. In this context, intent is a commander’s concise statement for the purpose and desired end state of a military operation. Well-crafted intent “must be understood two echelons below the issuing commander” and “focus subordinates on what has to be accomplished in order to achieve success.”  While this sounds top down, commander’s intent sets the context for a dialogue between those responsible for conceptual approaches and those crafting detailed execution plans. Figure 9.1 shows the relationship between intent and execution, from the U.S. Army’s The Operations Process (ADRP 5-0) field guide. 
As a philosophy, commander’s intent reflects a move away from command and control toward crafting a clear vision and empowering semi-autonomous action. It’s no surprise that this type of intent would inspire other organizations grappling with increased complexities and rapid change. You see these dynamics in the adoption of agile approaches in more established organizations. In agile development, for example, a product owner provides the commander’s intent to support agile teams, who then have the latitude to determine how best to define and sequence tasks to reach the objective.
Ambiguous Intent and Experience Design
Organizations should strive to inspire employees to stretch while providing them with more agency to achieve important strategic objectives. Teams should look for ways to work smartly and flexibly, not follow rigid, unchangeable operating procedures. These approaches, on paper, embrace human ingenuity and the complexity of the problems that they are trying to solve.
In practice, however, intent applied within the context of product and service definition runs into many issues if your objective is to have effective end-to-end experiences. These include the following:
Words are ambiguous—Intent is communicated through words, often in just a few concise points. People across the organization may read or hear the same thing, but each may envision a slightly or dramatically different solution or experience to each the business objectives.
Just the facts—Success is defined as business results—more customers, greater profits, or increased NPS—and a list of features—mobile check-in, personalized
recommendations, or self-service help—without a vision for the customer experience and the role of different channels and touchpoints.
Incomplete value—The benefits to the business are clear, but the value to customers and other stakeholders is absent or uninformed.
Cascading communication—Even in relatively at organizations, communication from leadership to employees or from strategy to execution loses important nuances as the vision is filtered through the lens of functional leaders and managers operating in organizational silos.
Domains of control—In most organizations, no one owns the end-to-end experience; they own the brand, channels, touchpoints, processes, and technologies. These leaders are measured on the performance of their piece puzzle, not higher-order metrics for the quality of customer journeys. In this context, ambiguous visions are easy to ignore, pay lip service to, or deprioritize.
Fire and forget—Drafting an intent statement or a strategy document, no matter how well communicated, is just the beginning of steering an organization toward better end-to-end experiences. Increasing your chance for success requires ongoing communication and collaboration, as well as adaptability, because execution reveals deficiencies in even the best of strategies.
Overcoming these deficiencies requires augmenting intent with a clear articulation of future customer experiences. In other words, intent needs a tangible vision.
Defining Your Vision
A tangible vision communicates examples of desired product or service experiences, as well as how the organization might achieve this end state over time. Unlike intent statements and requirements, it shows—largely from the customer’s perspective—how a well-designed and orchestrated system of touchpoints can create better outcomes. As a process and a set of artifacts, it helps you and colleagues do the following:
Clearly frame what value will be created for customers, your business, and other stakeholders through better orchestrating of end-to-end experiences.
Help each functional group look outside of their functional sphere and see how they fit in the greater whole.
Show where channels, features, touchpoints, capabilities, and moments must integrate to result in holistic experiences.
Maintain empathy for customers as teams across the organization make critical decisions in designing the channels and touchpoints for which they are directly responsible.
Act as a reference point for future action, guiding decisions that should align with intended experiential outcomes for customers.
In keeping with the spirit of intent, help unite and empower internal stakeholders to play their role in making the future a reality.
A handy analogy for a tangible vision is the North Star, Polaris. Also known as the lodestar—or guiding star in Old English—the North Star is used in celestial navigation because it lies nearly in a direct line with the North Pole, and thus, being at the top of the Earth’s rotation, appears fixed as other stars appear to rotate around it. It’s important to note that the North Star is not a destination; it’s used as a constant against which to navigate toward a destination.
As with intent, defining a North Star for product and service experiences doesn’t mean figuring out every detail. Your North Star should guide—not prescribe—methods of execution. It must frame for the organization qualitatively the types of experiences that will meet customer needs moment by moment, channel by channel, and journey by journey. A North Star provides enough detail to inform and align downstream channel and touchpoint design, but not so much detail that others feel they are simply painting within predefined lines.
It is important to continue to collaborate with others across the organization as you formalize your strategy and hang your North Star in the sky for others to follow. Hopefully, you have been working with and communicating to a diverse, cross-disciplinary team all along. Why? You are instigating a paradigm change that many organizations desire but struggle to make happen.
Previously, a call center worried just about the experience that customers had when calling. It was relatively easy with that function to rally around an operating model based on customer service principles. Similarly, the web team focused on the website experience, the mobile group on mobile, and on and on. Since it is unlikely one person owns an entire journey or end-to-end experience, buy-in from leaders and their teams across the organization is critical for your North Star to cut through the corporate din of competing visions and objectives.
Your tangible vision is an important bridge, from what is to what could be. It sets the table for intentional orchestration of the customer experience and invites the organization to take their seat. The planks of this bridge are:
stories from the future—Future-state customer narratives communicated with enough clarity to socialize and be understood across an organization.
service blueprints—A prototype of how key customer pathways could be delivered operationally in alignment with your experience principles.
capability descriptions and future-state touchpoint inventory—Details of discrete capabilities (aka features) that are critical for delivering upon the value proposition in and across key customer moments, as well as a framework defining touchpoints in all channels envisioned to support the customer experience.
Your experience principles, opportunity maps, and other outputs from your strategy work will also help people understand and buy into your vision. As you will see, they and the overall value proposition should be woven into your vision. Let’s now look at these three planks in detail.
Stories from the Future
You have probably noticed that narrative plays an important role in orchestrating experiences. Finding patterns in the stories you collected from customers uncovers the gap between your current product or service experience and what your customers need. Repeating and sharing those stories builds empathy in cross-functional teams. Storytelling and improvisation provide a customer-centered form to generate and create new ideas.
Therefore, it should be no surprise that stories are an effective vehicle for recommending what customers should experience in the future. First-person narratives, told from the perspective of your customers, show the interactions and outcomes that your organization should rally behind. These stories illustrate the specific roles channels and touchpoints should play moment by moment. They also provide a tangible example of how your product or service will fit in your customer’s context. This holistic storytelling is critical to ensure that colleagues understand your vision and its efficacy. As executive coach Harrison Monarth put best, “A story can go where quantitative analysis cannot: our hearts.” 
How does one create and communicate these narratives—these stories from the future? The approaches described in Chapter 8, “Generating and Evaluating Ideas,” apply here: show the experience from the customer’s perspective; visualize, don’t describe; explore the experience from different vantage points; and reinforce context.
In terms of form, storyboards work well to communicate your stories from the future—and are relatively low effort to produce. Other formats—such as videos, posters, and narrated storyboards—are also very effective. Often, combinations of these forms work well for communicating to various audiences and in different contexts. Regardless, what you decide to place into your stories should be traceable back to the insights and experience principles.
BUILDING ALIGNMENT THROUGH STORYTELLING
Stories are an important tool to build alignment and focus. I’ve often seen how even low-fidelity sketches of customer narratives get across important points of functional coordination that requirements or program plans never do. Stories are also easily repeated and socialized, which helps spread and maintain customer empathy.
Consider the following guidelines in order to create compelling and effectives stories from the future.
Cocreate your stories. As mentioned earlier, define your stories as a cross-functional team. (This should flow out of your idea prioritization.) Your goal is to show how an experience harmonizes across channels and touchpoints, so it’s critical to keep collaboration strong and get the buy-in of their relative functions. As Figure 9.2 shows, creating stories from the future collaboratively builds organizational trust and buy-in for your intent. You should also put these stories in front of your customers to get feedback and improve your conceptual stories.
Provide a range of stories. In addition to showing future experiences from a customer’s perspective, make sure that you share stories of different kinds of people in different situations. However, your goal is not to create dozens of potential scenarios. Instead, include a set of stories that establishes a good understanding of the range of key experiences, as well as the flexibility that will be necessary to be built into channels and touchpoints to accommodate the varying needs and contexts of your customers.
Emphasize emotion. Your stories should not merely focus on future actions and interactions, but also the emotional context. They must communicate the human dimension of your vision and reflect how future experiences will foster customer emotions. Your stories must also depict the critical moments and interactions in which your product or service will have a positive emotional impact.
Be specific, but focus detail where it matters most. You want others to believe your stories from the future. Use the stories and insights from your design research to bring richness and realism to them. However, avoid granular details that paint too fine a picture of features and touchpoints. Remember, you want to leave plenty of room for others to design these details while adhering to the greater system conveyed in your tangible vision.
Show different solutions working in tandem. Focus your storytelling on showing how a system of touchpoints can create the pathways that customers will follow in the future. Communicate how consistent, continuous experiences will result in greater value to both customers and the business. In this sense, you are like an astronomer unveiling the connections that will transform individual stars into a more powerful constellation. As Figure 9.3 shows, rather than to have a North Star for each major channel or touchpoint, your objective is to show the constellations that unite them in service to the journeys of customers.
Mind your time horizon. Each story should paint a picture of how intent manifests as valuable experiences in the future. How far into the future? It depends upon your context. You may be helping others understand experiences that will result from optimization work over the next six months, or your stories may put a stake in the ground for customer stories that may play two to three years into the future. In the latter case, you can create stories that show the evolution of the experience at different points to inform near-term to mid-term work. (See “Determining Your Evolutionary Path” later in this chapter.)
Show clear connections to what and why. Include additional details and annotations to help others understand why these stories are important and what it will take to bring them to life. Effective approaches include noting your experience principles, showing which opportunities are being addressed by moment, and listing the capabilities required to enable each moment to happen. The example shown in Figure 9.4 shows how opportunities and experience principles correlate with each key moment of a retail journey. Also, consider explicitly calling out the value created for different stakeholders by story or by moment.
Image source: Richland Library
Image source: Adaptive Path
Airbnb Frames Its Intent Through Story
Airbnb is one of the most public examples of a business using stories to focus its strategic intent and execution. Inspired by Walt Disney, Brian Chesky, a cofounder and formally educated designer, hired illustrator Nick Sung to produce storyboards depicting the key moments of three Airbnb journeys: the guest, the host, and new employees. Each panel is about the context and human emotions in which Airbnb can play a role now or in the future. They aren’t just pretty, inspirational art; they are tools.
Why make storyboards? Chesky wanted his quickly growing company to understand the organization’s intent—create great end-to-end travel experiences for both hosts and guests.  This decision, it appears, was an important one for the young startup. CTO Nate Blecharczyk, put it this way:
“The storyboard was a galvanizing event in the company. We all now know what frames of the customer experience we are working to better serve. Everyone from customer service to our executive team gets shown the storyboard when they first join, and it’s integral to how we make product and organizational decisions. Whenever there’s a question about what should be a priority, we ask ourselves which frame will this product or idea serve. It’s a litmus test for all the possible opportunities and a focusing mechanism for the company.” 
Discount for UXmatters Readers—Buy Orchestrating Experiences online from Rosenfeld Media, using the discount code UXMATTERS, and save 20% off the retail price.
 Hamel, G., and C. K. Prahalad. Competing for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996.
 U.S. Army, The Operations Process, ADRP 5-0 (PDF). Washington DC: Army Publishing Directorate, 2012. Retrieved July 22, 2018.
Currently, Chris is Director of Design for the peer-to-peer car-sharing service Getaround. Previously, he was Head of Design at Capital One Labs and a Design Director at Adaptive Path, the pioneering experience-design consultancy. Chris has introduced and advanced new methods in design, teaching thousands of design professionals and students. He holds an MFA in design from the Savannah College of Art and Design and is an adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts, teaching interaction design and service design to the next generation of designers. He is coauthor of the Rosenfeld Media book Orchestrating Experiences. Read More
Founder, Designer, and Management Consultant at studioPQ
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
At studioPQ, Patrick helps organizations experiment with and adopt collaborative approaches to designing service experiences and the operations that support them. He has held multiple design leadership positions, including Managing Director at Adaptive Path and Head of Service Design at Capital One. Patrick is also a passionate design instructor and has taught thousands of UX professionals in North America and Europe. He holds an MS in Information Design and Technology from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Patrick is coauthor of the Rosenfeld Media book Orchestrating Experiences. Read More