We had a planned power outage at our place yesterday, so I thought I’d use that as an opportunity to get out of the details of projects and do a day of longer-term strategy and planning.
In the days prior, I decided to investigate frameworks that might help to get me into a bigger-picture and/or lateral-thinking mindset. I’d already set aside three books from my bookshelf and thought that Google might have some other great ideas. Turns out that 8 out of the top 10 results that Google returned were of no help at all. The other 2 gave a couple of insights but still weren’t going to help with any Elon Musk level big-picture thinking.
Somewhat disappointed, I thought I’d have a crack at creating my own. Or more to the point, just articulating the approach that I’ve just intuitively used over the years of OSS/BSS implementing and consulting.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that most OSS/BSS practitioners are unbelievably clever. However, I’ve also noticed that most (randomly plucks 95% out of the air) are focused on doing an awesome job of getting their next project or product or feature or project phase or deliverable done so they can move on quickly to the next set of challenges. They’re the 95% at step 1 in the Think Bigger Pyramid below that bring their brainpower to solving the myriad of detailed challenges that it takes to make OSS/BSS projects fly.
1. The Think-Bigger Pyramid (Frames of Reference)
That’s our first frame of reference. The details of product and project (and BAU operations). The questions asked here relate to solve the fundamental and often intensely challenging, implementation problems that await every OSS/BSS.
But over the years, I’ve observed that there’s a special cohort that have a bigger impact on their projects and their teams. They’re what I refer to as Valuable Tripods. These are the people that see the technical and see the detail, but also understand the business imperative. They know that the OSS/BSS is just the means to an end. And that’s where the higher frames of reference come in.
The tripods understand that they need to put themselves in the shoes of the business unit and/or project sponsors. They understand that these people have a different set of objectives and challenges. They have a different set of questions that they ask (more on that later), but they take the perspective of how the OSS/BSS will add value to their business unit and sponsors.
Next up the stack are those who consider who the OSS/BSS will add value to their company / organisation, knowing that a well-implemented OSS/BSS stack can contribute significant competitive advantage to their organisation (the opposite can just as drastically deliver competitive DISadvantage). This takes an understanding of what represents a rcompetitive advantage to each organisation. This invariably elates to time-to-market, operational efficiency, customer experience, product desireability and more. You can already see there’s a mindset shift between layer 1 and midway here at layer 3. But even here at layer 3, we’re still inward facing. We’re considering the internal the needs / objectives of the organisation we represent and have the blinkers on that relate to our little part of the world.
Layer 4 is the first to take the blinkers off and consider the broader ramifications of OSS/BSS, beyond the cause of what we’re directly contributing to. This begins to take the mindset of the more generic needs / benefits / objectives of the industry at large. As a collective of immense brainpower, initiative and effort, the OSS/BSS industry has achieved so much for the people and customers we serve. But I’m a firm believer that there’s still an enormous amount to still achieve, to still do better, as discussed in our Call for Innovation. The global network service provider industry has proven to be so essential to our modern way of life, but they’re currently battling with a structural decline in profitability. This reference layer still really sits within the telco vertical.
And finally we get to the consumers of communications services. You could consider this to be the users of your communications services, but I’m thinking more of the global users of all communications services and what their needs / objectives / challenges are. This goes beyond the network service operator domain and also encapsulates communications services from over-the-top (OTT) delivery models. But this is also the first layer that goes beyond the telco vertical because it now starts to ask questions about why all comms service users need the services that OSS/BSS help to deliver. It delves into personal comms, corporate comms, machine-to-machine comms and across every single industry vertical (Is there a vertical that doesn’t leverage communications services in some way??).
I should also mention that I feel the best-of-the-best OSS/BSS practitioners have a rare ability to zoom in and out of these frames of reference. They can dive down into the details and comprehend them, but then zoom back out and understand how all the pieces fit together. They need to know the big picture and all the gnarly details if they are to de-risk a project and make it slot in amongst other existing or in-flight projects. They need to understand the resources required across each frame of reference to make things happen. They can also communicate with others across each layer of reference, invariably communicating in different ways to different audiences, communicating the big picture to the upper layers of the pyramid and the specifics at the lower layers.
Now, that covers the frames of reference. But there’s more required.
2. Walking in their shoes (Understanding Personas and their Problems)
We now need to take ourselves out of our own world and into the minds of the stakeholders that represent the five frames of reference. For example, if we look at the third layer of reference – Company – then the stakeholders might be the CEO, the CTO, the CMO, etc. Have you ever stopped to think about how our OSS/BSS might add significant value to a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer – or perhaps the collective term of the chief marketing office and all the marketing team within it)? We can either hypothesise about what their needs are, or we can ask them, or we can research their problems, objectives, etc, understanding the exact phraseology of what each stakeholder talks about. This is the process of understanding the personas that represent each frame of reference and the specifics of what’s important to them. [BTW. Send us a message if you’d like to find out about our persona mapping methodology that we use to map personas to key workflows and benchmarks to help evaluate best-fit OSS/BSS solutions for your needs].
3. Idea Generation Questions
Next, ask yourself some questions about those personas and the challenges they face. Questions such as:
- Can I solve their problem more naively (ie take the perspective of a 7 year old, removing all the constraints an expert would know, and solve the problem in a naive and less complex way than the status-quo)
- How can the problem be decoupled from dependency problems or constraints (eg remove dependencies that contribute to the problem)
- How would a counsel of heroes (eg Einstein, Roosevelt, etc) tackle this problem
- Is there a different path that bypasses the problem entirely
- Have I removed all assumptions
- What unique perspectives / skills / traits can you bring to solving the problem that others just won’t have had
- What other hat could I wear (ie take an artist’s perspective to solving the problem if you normally apply an engineer’s thinking)
- What would a complete weirdo do (taking out any risk of ridicule or loss of face from your thinking)
- Is there a latent opportunity that could be captured by doing this in a whole different way
- The industry has been doing it this way for twenty years. When it was originally designed, we were constrained. If we were to design it from scratch using modern technology / frameworks / principles, would it look different
- Is there a Venn Diagram I can apply to this
- What does the world / company / business-unit need
- I’m sure you can think of so many more
4. Next Steps
By now, you’ve hopefully generated some great idea seeds. The next step is to identify goals (you may like to try Google’s OKR model), actions and projects (or products / services). Your challenge (and mine) is to turn the seeds into something much bigger. From little things, big things grow (hopefully). I have some additional product and project frameworks that I’m now going to apply the idea seeds to.
Oh, and BTW, do you have a go-to technique that you use to stimulate big-picture thinking? I’m completely open-minded to trying something better. Leave us a comment below.