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Business Analyst Tip: Using the Business Objectives Model to Survive “The Shark Tank”

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In software requirements, the Business Objectives Model is key to delivering value for the business. This software requirements model traces the connection between key problems a business faces and the eventual product they produce. Creating this model is arguably the first and most important step we take here at Seilevel before defining a solution, and it will help your product survive “The Shark Tank.”
If you haven’t had a chance to check out the TV show “The Shark Tank”, you’ve been missing out. For three seasons now, a celebrity panel of five angel investors (the sharks) fillet entrepreneurs who are hoping to launch America’s next hot, successful product. The products that end up getting the best deals are the ones who most clearly describe why they need the investment in the first place, and this is where the Business Objectives Model comes in.

The Business Objectives Model is so important, there is an entire chapter on it in Joy Beatty and Anthony Chen’s Visual Models for Software Requirements. To understand the concepts behind the model more clearly, let’s use an example of a product that was so clearly realized, it had the sharks chomping at each others’ dorsal fins for a chance to make the deal.

EZ VIP is a reservation service that allows online users to book tables and pre-pay admission at the type of elite night clubs that typically sport a velvet rope.

The first ingredient to the Business Objectives Model is the Business Problem: “Night Club Attendees can’t get into clubs because of lengthy ‘velvet rope’ queues.” More than simply problems, these business problems are opportunities to realize value through the creation of a product or service. The all-important Business Objectives are the strategies or goals that will solve that problem. In this case, it’s “Provide an online payment and reservation tool.”

The previous Problem/Objective chain gives us the context we need to dig deeper to discover the essential problem EZ VIP has to overcome to be successful: “Lack of name recognition.” To solve this problem, the second objective presented itself: “Secure high profile investors and sponsor.”

This objective aligns perfectly with “The Shark Tank,” where the flashy Mark Cuban and FUBU-founder Daymond John, good friends of the Pop Artist Pitbull, are all potential investors. These objectives lead seamlessly into a Product Concept that practically sells itself to the sharks: “Online Reservations, Pre-Payment, Sponsored by High-Profile Investors.” As a result, the entrepreneur in “The Shark Tank” has his pick of potential investors, all ready to sign on with him.

But the show wouldn’t be called “The Shark Tank” if every entrepreneur was able to secure a great deal. Let’s have a look at a product whose Business Objectives were not well-aligned with the Product Concept.

AirBedz, founded by Jim Pittman, is an inflatable mattress tailor-made to fit into the back of any pickup truck. This product features rugged construction and a built-in battery-powered air pump.

As you can see from the Business Objectives Model, everything seems to check out as we transition from Business Problem 1: “There are no air mattresses designed specifically for truck beds” to Business Objective 1: “Create AirBedz, an inflatable mattress that is tailor-made for truck beds.”

It’s only when the second and third Business Problems appear that the sharks start to get suspicious. With 400,000 mattresses sitting in storage and limited sales growth in mattresses, it became immediately clear that Mr. Pittman is having a lot of trouble selling his product. When confronted with this information, Mr. Pittman stumbles, revealing that he is seeking the investment in order to purchase a sales team and strategy, that he had none in place. After an attempt to buy him out of 100% of his business, Mr. Pittman left with nothing.

What’s clear from a brief scan of the AirBedz Business Objective Model is there is no connection between the second and third Business Problems and the Product Concept. Without a clear connection made explicitly between the objective and the concept, it’s hard to justify any investment in the product, and that’s why this model is such a powerful tool; in an instant, these inconsistencies become clear.

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