John Ellison

Day 49: Writing & Designing Value Propositions

5 min read

After the Monday morning stand-up on Day 49, I sat down at my computer with four posts that I needed to write on my 90 Day blog to get back up to speed. It had been a rough and hectic couple of weeks for me and my wife and I'd fallen behind on my blog a bit.

The Value of Writing

Halfway into my first post I realized how immensely valuable it is for me to write about my experiences each day. It helps me process what occurred and reflect in a way that gifts me new insights and understandings. I can see things from a different perspective and make new conclusions. I think writing everyday for my 90 Day blog has been one of the most important elements of my time here at Clearleft.

Designing Value Propositions

I started designing the training value propositions that Andy P and I had formed last week. I found working with proposition templates to be relatively difficult because it had quite a high cognitive load. There were so many different ideas, so many different ways to frame a concept, so many variations and it was hard for my mind to hold it all together.

So I decided to step back and design my designing process. This was what I came up with:

my value proposition design exercise

I used blue sticky notes as the template structure and yellow sticky notes as all the possible options for that item. This allowed me to diverge as much as possible and to let all options have their chance on the proposition board. There was less criticism in my head about the exact wording and more about getting the wide range of possibilities onto the table. I didn't want to leave any options out.

I felt free to try new things and put many different variations together. Once I had laid out all the possible options I could think of, I started thinking about how I would actually create individual proposition statements from the massive list of components on my desk.

Sketching Ideas

As I wrote down different options for each section of the proposition I had a range of ideas come into my head and decided to sketch them down and keep them on the table in front of me. While a value proposition does express a certain portion of the product or service, it lacks the mechanics and philosophy which play a huge role in the formation of the idea.

Here were some of the sketches I came up with...

sketch 1sketch 3sketch 2

An Aside: Value Proposition Software

I thought about a piece of software that could help with this process. The software would take a value proposition template like this with many different options for each part of the template and create all possible value propositions as permutations. There would be hundreds of different propositions and you could read through them and select which ones were best. You could also begin removing items from the value proposition template that didn't work and you'd end up with a select number of components and a small number of value proposition variations built from those components.

Okay, the tangent is done. Back to my process.

Creating Individual Propositions From A Massive Range of Options

At first I wanted to use a string with some blue tack to link sticky notes together from left to right to form a sentence, but seeing as I couldn't find any string I opted to use colored markers to indicate which sticky notes went together.

In this step of the process I had far less cognitive load because I could clearly see all the different options for a given component of the proposition. I didn't have to stretch my brain to think "is there something missing?" I was able to focus more about which option expressed the proposition best.

I started from the far left and selected the most appropriate person type from the list with a small colored tick in the bottom corner of the sticky note. I then progressed to the next column and selected the most relevant option for that person type. I ticked that option the same color as well. I went through each column and selected the best option with a colored marker until I was at the very end of my large sprawling proposition template.

I then read through the proposition using only the sticky notes that had a colored marker tick in the corner.

Some of the components didn't work exactly so I scrapped those and chose others. I re-wrote some and added new ones entirely.

In a short amount of time I had my first (somewhat) working proposition.

It then took me about 5 minutes to come up with two others. There were small variances in the propositions but each variance made a big difference.

Ending Up With Three Propositions

At the end of the exercise I had three unique value propositions. I pitched them to several different people in the office and got feedback. They were far from perfect but we were going somewhere.

ending up with three propositions

I was fortunate to grab an hour of Clare Kirkland's time and talk through the propositions in greater detail. She was immensely helpful in clarifying ideas and identifying weak points. There is so much that goes into value proposition design and so many decisions and assumptions which need to be made and declared along the way.

Clare is going to jump onto the project with me this week and hopefully together we can make some real progress. I am super excited to be able to get to work with Clare again on another internal project. It's great to have her in any conversation because she is incredibly analytical, intelligent and professional. Props to Clearleft for having such an awesome PM on the team!

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