Design Thinking : Making Blockchain Real

At IBM we focus on making Blockchain real for business, cutting through the hype and gobbledygook.  We are a founder member and code contributor to the Linux Foundation Hyperledger Project, because we are convinced that an open governance, open source, open standards approach is best suited to building a new class of Blockchain for closed, premissioned & trusted business networks.

We use an incremental approach to help our customers understand Blockchain and decide if it’s right for them, as shown in Figure 1 below.

Block Eng Model

Figure 1 – Incremental Approach to Blockchain

Choosing the Use Case

At the end of the Blockchain Hands On session, we focus on use cases of interest, prioritising one or two to carry forward to the First Project stage.  In choosing the use cases, we make sure that Blockchain is a good fit for what our customer is trying to do and adds real value as opposed – for example – to something that could equally well be achieved using mature technology, such as a distributed database.  We do this by applying four “acid tests” –

  1. Consensus – is the use case benefiting from agreement across the business network that each transaction is valid?
  2. Provenance – is the maintenance of a complete audit trail important in the use case?
  3. Immutability – is it important that the train of transactions are tamper proof?
  4. Finality – is there a need for an agreed “system of record” across the business network?

Strong alignment of the use case with one or more of these Blockchain attributes is a good indicator that the use case would benefit for deeper exploration, and potentially form the basis for a First Project.  We also recommend that a customer starts with a use case that is organisationally less complex as their first “baby-steps” into exploring the full potential of Blockchain.

Let’s get Designing . . .

Once the use case is clear, we embark on a two day face to face IBM Design Thinking workshop (tailored a bit for Blockchain), following an agenda as shown in Figure 2.  This is a pre-cursor to a number of agile development iterations to make the Blockchain solution real for our customer.

DTW Agenda

Figure 2 – IBM Design Thinking Workshop Structure

In the first main part of the workshop, we look at the use case from the viewpoints of a few key users – analysing their perspectives, wants and needs and how they interact with their current work tasks. We then map out how the users are doing their job now, and through identifying inefficiencies, redundancies, missing steps and disconnects we can start to surface ideas for new solutions.

These inefficiencies inspire our formulation of Hills for the chosen key users. A Hill is an IBM Design Thinking term analogous to a (military) Commander’s Intent.  Hills define WHAT needs to be done, by WHEN but not HOW.   The Hill sets out what will “wow” the user, focusing on his or her business task.   Well-formulated Hills will ensure that we can now focus on candidate solutions after thoroughly understanding the problem from the user’s viewpoint.

We then prioritise or consolidate the Hills, so we can focus on just one (we don’t loose the others!) for the first agile iterations.  We then storyboard the chosen Hill, and move forward into action planning the first development agile sprints.

government services and solutions

Figure 3 – Agile in Action

Figure 3 is a schematic of the agile development process which we use to build the First Project.  Our goal is to make a small part of the chosen use case real for our customer within a couple of weeks.  This is then incrementally improved and extended with the customer business user / sponsor prioritising what’s added next.

It’s early days for Blockchain project delivery, but this approach has proven to be very powerful allowing a small multidisciplinary team (built from IBM and our customer) to make Blockchain real and highlight tangible benefits from the new technology usage.

Agree, disagree, disinterested?  I’d much appreciate an active debate on this topic!  Contact me through leaving a comment, twitter or LinkedIn!


More on Blockchain?

  1. Blockchain for Government
  2. Blockchain for Supply Chain Management
  3. Proving Provenance with Blockchain
  4. Blockchain for Asset Management
  5. Blockchain and Cyber Security

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