Reflections on the d.MBA Program 2021

Reflections on the d.MBA 2021

What the d.MBA is

The d.MBA is an online business education course made specifically for designers. Its goal is to equip designers with fundamental business skills so they can incorporate business thinking into their work and ultimately help companies to be more successful.

How it works

It’s a 6-week online course that blends self-paced learning, working on practical assignments, and peer feedback with a structured schedule and clear deadlines.

Weekly schedule - d.MBA program.png
Weekly schedule of the d.MBA

In practice, this works as follows: Every Monday morning the instructors unlock new video content and the assignment for this week. Everyone can decide for themselves when to look at the new course material and work on the assignment. On Fridays, there’s a weekly call with a cohort of 30 international students to discuss the assignment and ask questions. Submissions are due on Sunday evening. After the deadline, students and mentors give feedback on the assignments and move on to the next module.

In addition, and I especially liked this, there is the #cafeteria channel on Slack. Every other week, the members of the channel are randomly paired and promted to meet each other in a virtual coffee break. This is a great opportunity to meet fellow d.MBAers from all around the globe and get to know them on a more personal level.

My work-life-balance during the course

The d.MBA website states that the program requires a workload of 10-12h per week. I started tracking my time from week two onwards and needed 11-14h (⌀ 12.5h). I put a bit more time into the d.MBA than absolutely necessary because I enjoyed the modules and figured that I’d also learn more. As explained above, the program adheres to a rigid schedule with little free time in between the modules. This can be stressful but at the same time holds everybody accountable and makes sure that everyone moves along at the same pace. Having said that, the d.MBA organizers know that “Life happens” and the course is not the most imporant thing in the world. Therefor every studens has two Wild Cards, which they can use to submit a deliverable later.

Time investment: A bit during the week, a lot on Fridays and Saturdays and a free weekend

For me, it was challenging to make time for the d.MBA during workdays and I didn’t want to spend my entire weekend at the desk. Fortunately, being a freelancer allows me a four-day workweek (which I can highly recommend!). For most modules, I took one or two evenings during the week to look at the provided material, and then worked on the assignment for a few hours on Fridays and Saturdays. I usually tried to submit my work by Saturday afternoon to enjoy a free Sunday, which proofed to be a good work-life-balance for the 6 weeks of the course.

What I learned

Businesses are also designed

In the last few years that I have been working as a UX designer, I have learned that that business decisions shape the user experience of a product or service more than aesthetics, usability or technology ever can. With this in mind, it only makes sense to view a business decision as a design decision. However, I just never thought of it that way. In the d.MBA program I learned that businesses are also designed and that the approach of shaping a business is not too far from the design process. It involves researching, prototyings, testing and iterating. In which market a company competes, the position in the value chain, the business model … these are all design decisions and they need careful consideration and iteration. The understanding of business concepts empowers us, designers, to not only design better products but also help to design better companies, too.

The understanding of business concepts empowers us, designers, to not only design better products but also help to design better companies, too.

There are many tools and methods for business design

The d.MBA follows a common thread from understanding markets and trends on a high level, all the way to coming up with useful metrics to measure success. Similar to the design process there are proven tools and methods for each step along the way.

Some of the tools and methods for business design

For example, we can use the Competitive Arena and competitor research to understand the bigger context that a business is embedded. A value chain analysis helps to understand who else, besides customers, a business is designing for. From there, the Business Strategy Framework supports making strategic decisions on goals, places, and activities to gain a competitive advantage. Of course, most businesses exist to make money and by using the BMI Framework and Ecosystem Map, we can design a structured business model. Similar to the double-diamond design process, it’s key to go wide before going deep. This means, coming up with many different possible business models, identifying the riskiest assumptions, and then designing a series of experiments to find the best model. This is also where numbers and mathematics come into play. We can use model calculations to test the feasibility and viability of our ideas, estimate relevancy for the business, and measure impact. This doesn’t have to be rocket science and a simple spreadsheet with basic arithmetic operations can be sufficient as a prototyping tool. Last but not least, business and design metrics help us to gain quantitative insights, align a team around a common goal and quantify the impact of our decisions. The Metrics Canvas mitigates the risk of over-optimizing for one metric and helps to balance goals while Hypothesis Driven Design turns design into a systematic approach to solve (business) problems.

A clear goal and strategy are key

“You can’t climb two mountains at the same time. If you try to do both, you’ll be stuck in the valley.”

Alan Faljic, Founder of the d.MBA

This quote resonated with me, not only because I love to climb mountains but also because I have seen many projects lack a clear goal. This results in a lot of uncertainty, delays, mediocre results, and above all little value for the users and the business. It’s crucial to set a clear goal and then come up with a corresponding strategy that guides decisions and activities to reach it. As simple as this sounds in theory, it is difficult to put into practice. Business and product strategy requires hard choices and involve trade-offs. Doing one thing means that you can’t do another thing. Climbing one mountain peak means that you’ll miss out on the others – but at least you’re not stuck in the valley!

Successful companies know this and follow a well-thought-out strategy to reach their goal. In one of the two case studies of the d.MBA we looked at the alternative protein market and the different approaches that companies are taking to create alternative meat products. For example, the mission of Impossible Foods is to “turn back the clock on global warming and restore biodiversity by ending the need for animal agriculture”. Their strategy is to target the huge global market of flexitarians and meat lovers (as opposed to the much smaller market of vegetarians and vegans) by offering them an alternative product that they prefer over real meat, but which has a much smaller environmental footprint. As a trade-off, they make a product that is highly processed and unhealthy. They are criticized for doing this but it’s a perfectly valid strategy to reach their goal of minimizing harm to the environment – and besides it’s also a good business.

How I plan to apply my business knowledge

As a freelance UX designer, I’m usually hired by clients to do exactly that: design the user interface and user experience of a digital product. I’ve been doing this for many years and I feel confident to answer “How can we create a great user experience?”. My feeling is that this is true for the entire industry. With many established methods, tools, and best practices the “How?” isn’t such a difficult question anymore. “What should we build?” and more importantly “Why should we build it?” move to the foreground and those questions can’t be answered with personas or wireframes. At the same time, these are the questions that I see especially bigger companies struggling with. While products are designed very thoughtfully, the business context around them often is not.

In my next projects, I want to help design the bussiness context in addition to the product itself. Maybe this means asking lots of difficult questions or using the methods I learned in the d.MBA. As mentioned above, setting a clear goal and designing a corresponding strategy seems the most critical but also applicable to me. This includes coming up with useful metrics to measure the value of a product, feature, or idea against that goal.

Since I don’t know what my next project is going to be, I can’t be more specific than that. However, if you need a business-minded freelance UX designer in your company, you’re welcome to hire me and hold me accountable for what I wrote above!

    Jürgen Röhm

    I'm a UX Freelancer from Munich with 8+ years of experience in designing digital products and services.

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