Design, Strategy and Culture at North Collective

What’s in? What’s out? What’s next

Aug 24, 2020 6 min read

  • Insights
Using Design Thinking to accelerate decision making during turbulent times.

There’s no doubt 2020 will be a year to remember. Everything has changed. Isolation and social distancing restrictions are expected to have a lasting effect on the world as we know it. Or should we say, once knew it.

Things might change for the worse, or just be different. No one really knows, and that’s kind of the point. 

The question is, are we equipped with the correct culture and processes to evaluate and sustain opportunities for change?

…or are we still afraid of it?

So, how does Design Thinking fit in

North is a lean management consultancy specialising in creating and optimising digital experiences.

We combine Design Thinking and Lean Start-up methods to create and optimise digital products and services for our clients. Experience across a broad set of clients and projects allows us to test and evolve our thinking. We draw on different aspects of these methods depending on the problem we are trying to solve, the maturity of the product and the phase of the project.   

Design Thinking is a customer centric approach to problem solving. We use research techniques from ethnography, sociology and psychology to get a better understanding of your target customer(s). Taking these customer needs and aligning them to your business objectives is a great first step in designing a viable business model. 

The Lean Start–up, first developed by Steve Bank, then evolved by Eric Reis, created a movement that transformed how products were created, launched and optimised. In essence, The Lean Start-up, focused on proving product-market fit sooner by prioritising the speed of decision making and getting to a minimum viable product (MVP) through the build-measure-learn feedback loop. We can learn a lot from start-ups that follow this model, especially when considering how to pivot.

Successful start-ups pivot constantly, trialling and testing concepts on scale. While pivoting in the start-up world means to shift to a new strategy, it is often believed to entail drastically changing  the business model or product. Conducting customer research and a proper discovery phase helps reduce risk, get stakeholder buy in, get funding and increases the chance of you achieving product-market fit sooner. Done correctly this can significantly save time, effort and cash in the long-term.

Every product, every feature, every marketing campaign — everything a startup does — is understood to be an experiment designed to achieve validated learning.
Eric Reiss, The Lean Start Up

So what can we learn from others?

We are seeing a range of different challenges in the market. The significance and magnitude of these challenges are dependant on both the industry and how the businesses are choosing to address them. There are always opportunities in every challenge. 

As an insider, it’s often hard to understand what the problem is you are trying to solve, and which problem to address first and why. Remote working and isolation also means that having a collective understanding of all the challenges is difficult and addressing them needs to be done in a correctly designed environment. 

We are definitely hearing common things from our clients:


Budget and resource allocation has shifted and in some cases tightened with teams choosing to pull back on essential services. We are helping our clients prioritise innovation activities to address new market needs, revisit old initiatives, fix legacy systems, or build better processes for future proofing and delivery efficiency.


We are seeing a focus on sales, marketing and repositioning within the current customer base to address a shift in customer behaviour as a way to generate new revenue. We have been working with our client-partners to help them re-evaluate and optimise the customer journey and find opportunities in specific feature sets to address changes in customer sentiment.


Team engagement is a significant struggle as uncertainty is driven by an unclear economic environment. Where we are helping our partners is with a reevaluation of the current market and a focus on the near term, testing and learning as we go. This means prioritising initiatives with immediate impact that are linked to longer strategic business goals.

Examples of businesses innovating during COVID-19:

  • Stagekings’ normally build stages for large events. During COVID-19 they switched to providing standing desks to support people working from home.
  • Bread head’ is a bakery switching to online bread making classes. There is huge demand for it from home cooks and bakers.
  • Emicontrols’ is a producer of ‘artificial snow cannons’ for ski resorts. They have repurposed their technology for fire protection and are now pushing it as super aerosol machines to sanitize big indoor spaces.
  • Ikea’ is doubling down on engaging people straight into their homes using AI and digital tools online and reusing store space to help support medical efforts globally.

The North 5-step P.I.V.O.T

To help businesses address recent macro and micro environmental forces we have developed a method to help better structure and accelerate decision making. We have had great success helping our client-partners with this method, whether that be the portfolio of start-ups we manage, or the larger project based enterprise clients. 

P.I.V.O.T Principles

There are a series of principles that guide our P.I.V.O.T method. These are key to the preparation of the workshop.

  • Focus on one problem, the better it is defined, the better it is solved
  • Clarity comes as you start, create a plan but be prepared to pivot again
  • Pick goals that align with your strategic business vision
  • Define metrics for success, celebrate as you achieve them
  • Listen to your customers, get feedback soon and often
  • Make sure your pivot presents opportunities for growth
  • Test, measure and learn

We have been running remote workshops with our client-partners to help them address a number of key challenges and accelerate decision making. The method has 5 key steps.

1. PROBLEM – Focus on one
Leading up to the workshop we will work closely on the target problem you are trying to solve. It doesn’t matter what it is, just that it’s well defined.

  • Outputs: A problem clearly defined, agreed and understood
  • Activities: P.I.V.O.T. Questionnaire, Scoping canvas 

2. INVESTIGATION – Looking in
We look to your leaders to showcase business objectives, and to guide us on a framework for decision making

  • Outputs: A common understanding of the impacts internally on the organisation
  • Activities: Business Objective Statements, 5 Forces


3. VALIDITY – Looking out
We look at macro and micro impacts, what’s pushing you forward and what’s holding you back. We then evaluate your businesses core capabilities, the opportunities and where they intersect.

  • Outputs: A clear understanding of macro and micro impacts, mapped into a decision making quadrant
  • Activities: Economic Impact Matrix, 5 Forces, Decision Quadrant


4. OPPORTUNITY – Explore the landscape
We consider challenges, issues and constraints as opportunity areas, these are positioned as ‘How might we’s’.

  • Outputs: Challenges and problems framed as opportunities 
  • Activities: HMWs, Affinity Mapping


5. TRANSITION – From survive to thrive
With our custom decision making framework in hand, we address the opportunity areas and help you prioritise actionable outputs into a roadmap for success.

  • Outputs: An understanding of What’s in? What’s out? What’s next?
  • Activities: Horizon Planning and Business Model Canvas, Roadmap Design

To find out more about our P.I.V.O.T Workshop offer click here.

Written by

Chris Abbott

Our client partners

We worked with

Our partners are also our friends. We help them to achieve their goals, and they help us to stay sharp.