XXIII.2 March + April 2016
Page: 58
Digital Citation

The value of casting

Jaakko Lehikoinen, Sami Vihavainen, Ville Tuominen, Andy Sarfas

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The grand challenge of any business is to offer a compelling value proposition and to ensure that the associated experiences are met when the end user interacts with the product or service. For example, if you purchase a ticket to fly from the U.K. to the U.S. with Virgin Atlantic using their Upper Class service, you are collected from your home by a driver who knows your name and flight details. Your driver checks you in to your flight en route and you are met at the airport lounge by a hostess, who greets you by name. The whole experience is designed to fulfill the value proposition of a premium flight experience, often exceeding the end user's expectations. It is of utmost importance for the business to understand how their customers experience their products and to use that understanding to create products and services that produce great experiences.

In a business-to-business (B2B) context, the challenge is that there is a longer chain of stakeholders that need to be taken into account: business (system or solution provider), customer (service provider who needs the solution), and end users (the ones who use the system). In a B2B context, the customers and the end users of the service often have differing viewpoints. The customer buys the service based on the value proposition s/he has gotten from the business. However, the customer is not the one who actually uses the services. It might be that the business is poorly connected to the end users, who are the ones who really assess whether the service fulfills its value proposition or not. Therefore, we argue that the business needs to make sure the value proposition they offer is interesting enough for the customer to buy. However, they also need to understand how the end users perceive the connection between the value proposition and the actual value. Based on our learning, we have developed a service-production approach called casting. It has its origins in user-centered design, service design, and agile software development.

Casting is not an entirely new approach for developing services and solutions. Rather, it is a collection of practices, tools, and methods to manage an approach to innovating, designing, and building services and solutions with engineering accuracy. It has been developed to support and manage multidisciplinary teamwork among different stakeholders and professionals such as business designers, user researchers, and software developers. The casting approach brings together several competencies that are supervised by the "casting master," who also ensures the customer and end-user perspectives are considered at every stage.

back to top  The Casting Triangle—The Cornerstones of Casting

The Casting Triangle presents the higher-level components of casting: value proposition, personas, and solution (a service, system, or product). These components answer the questions of what is built (solution), for whom (personas), and why (value proposition).

It's important to note that all of these components can develop during the casting process; value proposition and persona descriptions might be modified based on validation results and customer feedback. These will have an impact on the solution.

A good value proposition is essential for focused service production. Investopedia explains value proposition as "a business or marketing statement that summarizes why a consumer should buy a product or use a service. This statement should convince a potential consumer that one particular product or service will add more value or better solve a problem than other similar offerings" [1].

Creating or reviewing the value proposition is one of the first tasks in casting. The value proposition is used as a tool to transform the customer and end-user needs, motivations, and problems into high-level promises. A good value proposition steers design and development work by helping to keep customer and end-user needs at the forefront during development.

To develop a value proposition, businesses must know who their paying customers are, what their needs are, and the problems they are solving. The business needs to dig deeply to find out what kind of customer experience they are targeting in order to reveal the most important benefits the solution provides to the customer. This involves developing a holistic understanding of both the practical and emotional benefits of the service. Along with the benefits, the challenges the service may bring to the user also need to be understood. This is because design decisions are always tradeoffs. Understanding the trade-offs in a given context is important so that informed design and business decisions can be made and a convincing value proposition formulated.

In complex industrial systems, where casting is particularly effective, it is critical to formulate a value proposition that communicates the added value the solution offers. This needs to be done in a manner that provides value for every stakeholder. Extensive field studies and the resulting personas help the business to formulate such a value proposition.

However, a value proposition does not guarantee success alone. A company needs to provide a service or solution that fulfills the value proposition. If customers do not experience the benefits the company promises, negative sentiments can arise. This can destroy loyalty and value; therefore, personas are created to connect the value proposition to the customer and end-user needs.

Personas make stakeholders more visible. Personas as a method for IT design and development was first introduced by Alan Cooper in his book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum [2]. It suggests that a persona is a fictitious, specific, and concrete representation of target users. In user experience design, personas are widely used to facilitate communication of user needs and to steer design work. Persona methods have been actively used in both industry and academia, for example, by Jonathan Grudin, and John Pruitt [3] and Lene Nielsen [4].

Personas work as a tool to communicate user needs and to facilitate concept and UI design. In casting, personas are defined as representations of both the customer and end user; value is achieved when they are used in every phase of service production. Personas are created on the basis of in-depth qualitative customer research to provide aspects that are meaningful for each and every role in the service-production process. This ensures that personas represent real customer and end-user needs, motivations, goals, contexts, and pain points.

Building the solution brings the value proposition to life. Having personas defined and the value proposition formulated is a good start for designing and building the solution. Now the team knows what to target and for whom to design. The casting master's role is to keep the goal clear and steer the team by means of personas and value proposition. S/he organizes casting reviews throughout the process, aiming to ensure that design and development work is continuously on the right track. S/he is also responsible for applying knowledge gained during the process.

Concept design and validation. Concept design is a process that combines customer and end-user needs and the value proposition into several solution ideas. Concept descriptions are the first realization of the solution. They may be fairly loosely defined ideas that solve certain problems or more solid presentations of a new version of a solution. The concept is often presented as a consumer journey, storyboards and videos, or lightweight demos.

Validation is a critical part of casting, aiming to ensure that the solution fulfills the value proposition. The concept idea is validated by involving both the customers and end users. After validation, the best ideas are selected for the detailed design and development phase.

Design and development. Design and development are iterative in nature. The process starts by refining the concept descriptions to use cases and test cases. Personas drive both design and development work and help solve the challenges that UI designers, software architects, and developers encounter during the process. Clear understanding of the end-user goals, tasks, and context is required. Having personas visible as posters on the wall or as persona cards ensures that the actual end users and real-life use cases are not forgotten.

Functional and non-functional testing and user experience validation are all integral to the casting process. For functional and non-functional testing, the test cases defined formulate the basis for the test plan. They ensure that the most important aspects and functionalities of the service are tested. For user experience validation, personas work as screening criteria for the participants, and the prioritized use cases are the basis for the validation plan. Based on the test results, the service is fixed to make it more reliable and more convenient to use.

To demonstrate the casting approach, we will use an example from the energy industry. It is a project with ABB to redesign their supervisory control and data-acquisition system user interface (SCADA).

back to top  Using Casting to Design a New User Interface

ABB is a global leader in power and automation technologies. Many groundbreaking technologies, such as ultra-efficient high-voltage direct current power transmission, were developed or commercialized by ABB. Today ABB is the largest provider of generators to the wind industry and the world's largest supplier of industrial motors, drives, and power grids.

In casting, personas are defined as representations of both the customer and end user; value is achieved when they are used in every phase of service production.

This case study describes a project with ABB (the business) working to understand how ABB's customers (the customer) and end users (the end users) perceive ABB's MicroSCADA system in their everyday work context, and how the system fulfills its value proposition.

The starting point of the project was that ABB felt its MicroSCADA Pro did not provide a cutting-edge user experience for all power-automation-related operational tasks. Thus, ABB wanted to rethink and redesign the user interface. The objective was to produce a system that supports all user tasks including controlling the process, team collaboration, fault analysis, and reporting.

The chain of stakeholders in an industrial process can be very long. It was not only the end users we needed to understand, but also the practices and motivations of ABB's own organization and ABB's target customers' organizations. This understanding was required to get a holistic view of the service ecosystem.

Casting the customer and user personas. MicroSCADA Pro's value proposition is to allow their customers to increase efficiency in their operations through improved safety, clarity, and consistency. First, all known user groups and use cases were identified via collaborative workshops including both ABB personnel and customer representatives. Next, extensive onsite user interviews were conducted to identify and define user needs and expectations. This information was used by the casting master and the team to "cast" persona descriptions. Each persona represented one of the system's user groups.

From persona descriptions the team created persona cards that described each persona in real terms, outlining their daily tasks, frustrations, and aspirations. The objective of the persona cards was to give the design and development team a tangible focus and help them view design decisions from the user's point of view—this is central to the casting approach.

These personas became "real people" to the project team—cards and posters constantly reminded them who the real users of MicroSCADA Pro were. The personas were also used to help validate concepts and designs at every stage, ensuring that users were at the very heart of the redesign.

The casting approach played a key role in producing a redesigned interface that is intuitive, practical, and a pleasure to use. Specifically, the casting master ensured that the project team regularly took time out to consider their concepts and prototypes from the viewpoint of each and every user group. The team got into character, critiquing concepts and prototypes from both an operational and emotional point of view. Hence, the resulting redesign not only meets the operational requirements but also presents a system that users enjoy using.

The new MicroSCADA Pro interface increases efficiency and reduces user errors; it will improve safety and clarity across multiple devices, delivering a superior level of service to ABB's globally installed base. The MicroSCADA Pro personas will live on, helping the design and development team maintain customer and user focus as ABB's product offering evolves.

back to top  The Philosophical Point of View of Casting

From a philosophical point of view, casting approaches the challenges of service production from three perspectives: value, creative teamwork, and cumulative knowledge.

Value is also examined from three aspects in the context of casting: business (system, or solution provider), customer (service provider, who needs the solution), and end users (the ones who use the system). In a B2B context, customers and end users of a service are rarely the same, as in the MicroSCADA example. This is why casting is such a valuable tool: It gives a deep insight into the end users and allows the B2B service provider to better understand how their products are used on a daily basis.

It is a widely acknowledged fact that transition from one production phase to another, especially when it requires handovers, has a big risk of losing the original idea. The service concept may have captured the end user and customer needs well, but as it provides only the high-level vision of the system, the agile development team may solve implementation challenges in ways not aligned with the original idea. Casting combines artistic creativity and engineering productivity with business thinking and provides tools to maintain focus and teamwork.

Cumulative knowledge refers to the fact that new information on the customer, end users, and the market is brought to the process of service production in various phases. This happens in discussions with customers, co-creation workshops, validation studies, plus customer feedback after launch. Casting acknowledges that new information might have a significant influence on the service being developed and provides tools for taking new information into account in the design process.

back to top  Why do We Need to Understand the End User?

To conclude, let us examine the decision-making process of purchasing a new version of an ICT system. The process is often multifaceted, involving many players, aspects, and opinions. The manager (the customer) responsible for the final purchase decision listens to experts, who dig deeper into the technical details of the system and its capabilities to fulfill the organization's needs. He also compares competing system specifications, their differences, benefits, and shortcomings.

However, it's not enough for a knowledgeable customer to understand how the system works in theory; s/he wants to make sure the promises are realized in day-to-day operations. This is why s/he requires the opinions of the people who would use the system in their daily work. This information can be gained only by listening to real end users.

To summarize, the customer is seeking a system that provides operational efficiency for their business. In order to be convinced, s/he listens to experts from different fields—technology, business, and end users. However, the final validation of the service and the value proposition is done by the end users, whose daily operational efficiency has the greatest impact on the overall productivity.

It is clear that in order to formulate a value proposition that addresses the right benefits and to build a service that fulfills the value proposition, the business needs to know who the end users are, what their tasks and task flows are, what their needs are, and what drives them. It's not enough to understand the customer's business and goals at a high level. This is why the end users play a significant role in the service-production process and why casting has been developed with the end user at the core.

back to top  References

1. www.investopedia.com/terms/v/valueproposition.asp

2. Cooper, A. The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. Sams, Indianapolis, 2004.

3. Grudin, J. and Pruitt, J. Personas, participatory design and product development: An infrastructure for engagement. Proc. of PDC 2002, 144–152.

4. Nielsen, L. Personas. In The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed. M. Soegaard, and R.F. Dam, eds. The Interaction Design Foundation, Aarhus, Denmark, 2014.

back to top  Authors

Jaakko Lehikoinen is co-founder and partner at Leadin Oy, a service-production agency based in Finland. Previously he led international research and design teams applying customer insights to new service development at Nokia, including executing participatory research among activist groups and initiating a research site in Kenya. jaakko.lehikoinen@leadin.fi

Sami Vihavainen is principal designer at Leadin. He has extensive experience in user-centered design in complex industrial contexts as well as consumer contexts. Vihavainen received his Doctor of Science in Technology degree from Tampere University of Technology. sami.vihavainen@leadin.fi

Ville Tuominen is commercial director at Leadin. He is responsible for leading digital business in global companies and is constantly exploring opportunities to renew business models. He has worked together with a variety of customers, ranging from small start-ups to big global companies. ville.tuominen@leadin.fi

Andy Sarfas is marketing manager at Leadin. He has established the digital marketing departments for large multinational consumer goods companies and trained all levels of staff from CEO to product assistants. andy.sarfas@leadin.co.uk

back to top  Figures

UF1Figure. Persona cards, ABB MicroSCADA Pro.

UF2Figure. The Casting Triangle.

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2016 ACM, Inc.

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