Value as a core premise of modern work looms large in business, in both service and product oriented industries. This idea increasingly appears in higher education, especially with respect to the value of a college degree, and often centering simply on return on investment. However, value can have a much large framework that educators should embrace, both for their own work in higher education and to emphasize to students that value appears in critical ways in the marketplace of products and ideas.

In this blog post, I explore a recent workshop accomplished in collaboration with my colleague Dr. Bill Kline, held at Rose-Hulman. Bill is the idea man – his background in industrial engineering and engineering management supported the technical content of our workshop. The two conceptual tools presented here were inspired by KEEN’s 3C’s context, and emerged from collaboration among Rose-Hulman, Rowan, and Bucknell’s KEEN-active faculty. In addition, an alumnus who creates systems engineering models for industry participated in development discussions (Kline et al., 2017). My contributions came from practicing with Bill’s tools and turning the two tools into a workshop experience. Our focus in the workshop was introducing these value-centric tools to faculty and staff for classroom and personal use. We had two additional goals: for faculty to be able to describe a revenue-agnostic conception of value and to defend their unique value to the institution. Given that our primary focus was introducing the tools, we intentionally planned multiple opportunities to test the tools in various ways.

We began our collective exploration by assessing the ways that people already conceptualized value. A wide variety of definitions or concepts emerged, including “meeting a need,” “contribution to the form, function, or fitness of a product, process, place, or person,” and “meaningful or important.” We were surprised and delighted that “monetary value” appeared toward the end of our brainstorming session. This work revealed a core principle we emphasized: value is determined by stakeholders, and is not an inherent property of the product or service and its features (Vargo et al., 2008). Further, we note emphatically that more features of a product or service does not equate to more value. In other words, the value space sits at the intersection of stakeholder needs and desires and the features of the product or service. As my co-presenter, Bill Kline, put it, “if you can afford a Cadillac and don’t drive a Cadillac, it’s because you don’t value the features of a Cadillac.”

Given wide acceptance of the premise that value emerges from features and stakeholders, we introduced our first tool – a matrix mapping the fit between stakeholders and features.

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To use this tool, designers would consider a system of interest – in the case we explored, the system was coffee – and identify various stakeholders in the coffee system. For example, the coffee system has a wide variety of stakeholders: consumers, manufacturers, growers, sales agents like a grocery, sale agents like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, and distributors, for example. Each stakeholder is identified in terms of their relative importance. The coffee system has desirable features for each of these stakeholders. Consumers might want coffee to be fresh, high in caffeine content, and quick to produce or acquire (note the importance of curiosity in developing an understanding of the perspectives of stakeholders). Distributors want stability in supply from producers and long shelf life. Each of these features should be characterized by at least one attribute. For example, the feature “fresh” could be described as “number of days since beans roasted” or “minutes of liquid coffee in storage” or both. Pinpointing an attribute for each feature is a critical step in this process, as ultimately designers will need ways to identify if they have met stakeholder needs and desires, and “fresh” as a goal is indeterminate. Features and attributes are an important mechanism for incorporating societal and individual needs. Consider features like process safety and its relevant attribute “compliance with OSHA temperature guidelines,” or the feature environmentally friendly and the attribute “watts consumed per produced ounce” or “mass of waste product created.” In this way, creating features to populate the first tool emphasizes that value extends well beyond ROI.

Once features and their attributes and a wide variety of stakeholders are identified, the task is to characterize how stakeholders value the various features. We chose a simplified categorization, noting: expected (E), delighters (D), no interest (0), distractors (â), and scaling attributes for which more of the attribute provides more value (1). An important outcome occurs at this stage, when designers realize conflict exists among stakeholders with respect to specific features. Some features are only relevant to low priority stakeholders, and even that different attributes for a given feature can be in conflict. In the case of coffee, coffee drinkers have an interest in “fresh/minutes in liquid coffee storage” while sales agents like Starbuck’s have an interest in “waste reduction/cups lost to age-out.”

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Once the system is captured with respect to features and attributes, and the relevant stakeholders and their priority, design happens. The input from the first tool can support a larger design, comparison, or selection effort. Ultimately, the various mechanisms of meeting the core needs for stakeholders can be developed. This part of the process is well-described in other material. You can click here to view the workshop workbook and matrices. Once various proposed designs exist, they can be compared, again relative to performance on the features of interest. Each design is ranked relative to a benchmark design (artificially determined from among the options, or existing already). To illustrate this premise to our workshop participants, we showed multiple versions of shopping cart for comparison to a standard four-wheeled basket with child seat.

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We then challenged our participants to test the tool using various models of “professor” (noting that other work had centered on students; Navarro-García et al. 2015). We collectively defined features like “publication active/number pubs per year,” “teaching effectiveness/gain score on concept inventory,” and “work engagement/minutes of work per day,” then compared them to several models: 70 percent time or more research faculty, 70 percent time teaching faculty (the baseline we chose, since it was most familiar), 100 percent teaching faculty, and half-time faculty/half-time administration (my model!). We captured performance of these models, and aggregated total “scores” across the features. Given that the relevant features for the right stakeholders have been used, this approach should provide a way to capture value of the different models to that stakeholder group. This specific example was mentioned afterwards as particularly interesting – one participant sent an email stating “[The workshop] sparked a lot of thought about how I can make my work more valuable.”

Overall, this framework and the two tools to explore value appealed to the participants. We performed a quick, not-statistically-valid assessment of the experience. We received fourteen responses to three questions: “The two-step model is easy to use,” “I could teach the two-step model to students,” and “The two-step model illustrates non-monetary value.” Each question garnered at least an average score of 4, on a 5-point Likert agreement scale. The highest response occurred for the non-monetary value question, yielding all 4’s and 5’s, for an average 4.7. With respect to comments, faculty were most intrigued by the idea of considering their own work in this value framework, noting specifically that this aspect of the workshop should be retained and strengthened, perhaps by leveraging strategic planning documents (e.g., how do various typical faculty activities and models of being a faculty member fit the goals of an academic master plan). The participants requested the tools in e-form to use on their own and in their classes. This positive response suggests a felt need for ways to incorporate considerations of value in the design education we offer.

In summary, characterizing value with respect to economic drivers is one important mechanism to consider when creating or comparing products or services. However, this perspective doesn’t recognize a wide variety of societal and individual needs or the perspectives of atypical but important stakeholders, or how stakeholders differentially conceptualize features (Tantalo and Priem, 2014). We advocate for a broader definition of value and believe that the tools provided here emphasize the comprehensive scope that value creation can have.

References

Tantalo, C. & R. L. Priem. 2014. Value creation through stakeholder synergy. Strategic Management Journal 37(2): 314-329.

Navarro-García, A., M. Peris-Ortiz, & C. Rueda-Armengot. 2015. Value co-creation, collaborative learning and competences in higher education. In M. Peris-Ortiz, J.M. Merigó Lindahl (eds.), Sustainable Learning in Higher Education: Developing Competencies for the Global Marketplace. Springer International, Switzerland.

Vargo, S. L., P. P. Maglio, & M. A. Akaka. 2008. On value and value co-creation: a service systems and service logic perspective. European Management Journal 26: 145-152.

Kline, W., W. Schindel, A. Bernal, & M. Simoni. 2017. Development of enhanced value, feature, and stakeholder views for a model-based design approach. American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, Columbus OH.