The Power of Scenarios for Digital Transformation



This article is for business leaders to help you really learn how to drive Digital Transformation with skill.

I think of Business Scenarios as the building blocks for Digital Transformation.

They are the chunks of change that you will implement as you transform your business.

They are your tools for envisioning the future and driving continuous Digital Innovation.

You can use Business Scenarios to chunk up changes, to create business cases, to drive adoption and change, to connect business and IT, and to build a shared vocabulary around your Digital Transformation efforts.

Business Scenarios are even a way to evaluate your Digital Maturity (more on that another time.)

Use Business Scenarios to Drive Digital Transformation the Agile Way

Yes, Business Scenarios are a simple, but powerful tool for driving Digital Transformation the Agile way.

But the problem is, too many people have over-engineered Business Scenarios and turned them into complex creations.

They’ve been abstracted, they’ve been depersonalized, they’ve been generalized, they’ve been turned into complex information models.

Let’s fix that.

Right here, right now, let’s learn how to create better Business Scenarios for Digital Transformation.  We’re going to create simpler, better Business Scenarios that you can use to chunk up your business transformation and, at the same time, connect business and IT.

If you remember nothing else, keep this in mind:
If your Business Scenario doesn’t look like a simple flash card or a simple “Story Card”, you’re doing it wrong.

Your Business Scenarios will be the key to driving digital transformation the Agile way.

Business Scenarios are Like User Stories in Agile

A better way to think about a business scenario is to treat it like a “user story” in Agile.

It’s a unit of change for the business (a “chunk of change”).

A business scenario, simply put, is a story from the business leader’s point of view that explains their situation and what they want to achieve.

Let’s just dive into an example so that you can see exactly what I’m talking about.

For this example, we will capture a business scenario for a VP of Product Development that knows they need to change their business to keep up with the market.

Example Scenario for Product Innovation

Title Product Innovation
Persona VP of Product Development
Current State

Competitive products and services are gaining market share.

Our cycles for developing products are slow, and ideation is limited to small groups of developers and designers.

Customers have only sluggish influence into the products, services, or features offered by the business.

Desired Future State

We now keep our product pipeline filled with great ideas.

We are responsive to employee, partner, and customer ideas, and promote our engagement with all contributors through social media channels both internal and external.

We have a central virtual brainstorming hub with experts from across geographies, organizations, departments, and roles contributing to product development.

Key Attributes of a Better Business Scenario

Notice a few key things here:

  1. The better business scenario is written in the “Voice-of-the-Business Leader”.  It’s not generalized.  It’s not abstracted.  It’s specific
  2. The Current State is simply a story of the business leader’s pain and needs.  The better the story of pain is, the more empathy there will be.  And because it’s a specific problem that the business leader has and cares about, they will want to support or fund a solution.
  3. The Desired Future State is simply a story of a desired outcome or an aspiration.  There is no technology mentioned here.  It’s an “implementation free” description of a future picture of the business.

Some people think this is too easy.

Keep it Simple (and Fight to Keep it Focused)

But you want this part to be easy.  And even though it looks easy, it’s not.

You will have people that will want it to include the kitchen sink.  You will have people that will want to throw technology in there.  You will have people that will want to generalize it and abstract it from a particular business leader.

And that’s how you break it.


If you do this one part well, you will now have a simple “flash card of the future.”  You will have a very simple story to shop around of the business change you want to create.

Stop – Really Master the Art of the Business Scenario First!

Just take a quick pause here to reflect on what just happened.

You just learned the secret of how to chunk down any business transformation into bite-sized chunks.  And how to to actually drive business results the Agile way.

There will be so many things you can do with your Business Scenarios.  But first, make sure you really get how to actually capture and share a Business Scenario.

Really get everybody speaking in terms of Business Scenarios.  (Seriously, I’d appreciate it.)

Keep it simple and if you do, a whole new world of Digital Transformation possibilities will open up to you.

Turn Your Business Scenario into an Elevator Pitch

Here is an example of a 1-line description of the Product Innovation Business Scenario above:

“Idea generation and thinking processes are streamlined. Contributions are more widely solicited, more richly developed, and less hindered by geographic issues.”

I’m a fan of being able to tell and sell an idea in an Idea Virus kind of way.  You need something pithy and precise that you can pitch in the hallway and make it stick.

And you know it’s working when you hear other people sharing and spreading your scenario in the halls.  (and I’ll just note for now that if you want your Business Scenario to be sticky, give it a better name than Product Innovation Smile

Connecting Business and IT with User Stories

Agile development teams will speak in terms of “User Stories.”   So the business leaders can give context for these User Stories by providing the Business Scenarios.

You can break the Business Scenarios down into User Stories.

Here is an example of breaking the Product Innovation Business Scenario down into User Stories.

Business Scenario User Stories
Product Innovation

Collaboratively find expertise & information

Identify relevant business insights

Leverage social insights for decision making & tracking

Identify and drive the right ideas

Establish and manage a gated process

Source ideas from employees, partners, and customers

Note that these User Stories are written very fast and rough cut.  I would want to turn them into better User Stories by using the format:

As a < type of user >, I want < some goal >so that < some reason >. 

For example:

As a knowledge worker, I want to collaboratively find expertise and information so that I can speed up my research process.

Identifying Business Outcomes

You can use your better Business Scenario to identify relevant business outcomes you are trying to achieve.  

Business outcomes are effectively the final “business results” you are aiming for.  For example:

  • Gain customer loyalty through generation of innovative ideas that are aligned with customer needs
  • Rapid rate of innovation helping the organization to gain a competitive advantage and increased market share
  • Stronger brand perception through customer connection and engagement through social media channels
  • Respond faster to customers and promote products, build customer communities through innovative social media channels

Note – In my experience, KPIs are often a good proxy for business outcomes.

Identifying Business Benefits

Without business value, the ideas are just science projects.  The beauty is that once you write a Business Scenario down, you can now explore the business benefits.

Here are some example business benefits from the Business Scenario above:

  • Growth in product pipeline
  • Faster Time to Market for new product releases
  • Fostering culture of innovation
  • Increased market relevance
  • Improved ROI on new products

For the Business Scenario, you would figure out the relevant population – who does it impact?  This way you can multiple the benefits by the population that will be impacted.

You would attempt to turn quantify the benefits, because if you can quantify the benefits, then you can measure them.  And you would attempt to turn them into dollar amounts so you can turn them into financial impact.

When you explore business benefits, it helps to think in terms of strategic value, time to value, increase revenue, decrease cost, and option value.

Identifying Business Capabilities

You will require a few building blocks to make your Business Scenario happen.

Business Capabilities are the building blocks of Business Scenarios.  They are effectively chunks of people, process, and technology. 

Business Capabilities provide a nice abstraction for business leaders to communicate and focus on the business functionality without getting mired in products and technologies.

Here are a few examples of the Business Capabilities that would enable the

  • Product Development:  Design, build, and evaluate products and services
  • Discovery Research: Perform discovery research
  • Strategy Alignment: Confirm alignment of product/service concepts with business strategy
  • Life-Cycle Management: Manage product and service life cycle
  • Market Testing:  Test market for new or revised products and services

Note that these Business Capabilities should really be expressed as nouns.

Also note that Business Capabilities are also the key to assessing Digital Maturity.

Driving Adoption and Change

I find it helps to think of adoption very simply in terms of “behavior change.”

I also find it helpful to think in terms of START, STOP, and CONTINUE when talking about what kinds of behavior changes you will expect with your Business Scenario.

If we take for example, the one Usage Scenario or User Story around “Finding expertise”, you might list the following behavior changes:


  • Using Search to find and connect to people with relevant expertise and information
  • Benefiting from other people’s knowledge
  • Sharing knowledge


  • Reinventing the wheel and duplicating effort
  • Wasting time trying to solve problems that others have already solved
  • Sending personal info and document updates in email


  • Rich interaction, collaboration and engagement in community discussions, forums and listening to feeds

The Value is in the Change

Here’s another secret of business transformation … adoption is the key to realizing business value.

If a tree falls in the woods …

What good is a beautiful story of the future if you never make it happen.

You can dream up all sorts of beautiful pictures of the future for your business.  You can design all sorts of neat widgets.  You can come up with all sorts of new processes.  You can ship all sorts of amazing things.

But without adoption, you will never realize the value.

The key to adoption and change is actually “behavior change.”

If users don’t change their behavior, you don’t realize any of the business benefits you envisioned.

Prioritizing Business Scenarios

As you can already see, Business Scenarios are a powerful tool for Digital Transformation.

You will be able to turn your bright business ideas of the future into simple flash cards or story cards.

But you will need to prioritize them.

The good news is that because you have thought through the business impact and the potential economic value, you will be in a much better position to prioritize.

I could say a lot of things about prioritization and there are lot of prioritization frameworks, but let’s keep it simple.

When you prioritize, rate your ideas on both impact and ability to execute.

I see so many well-intentioned efforts die because the ideas sounded good, but they didn’t evaluate “ability to execute.”

A high-impact idea with no “ability to execute” is worse than no impact.  You just wasted a bunch of effort, time and resources that you didn’t have and killed potential momentum.

Dream big, but start small and focus on Business Scenarios you can actually execute.  As you build momentum and your Digital Dexterity you will be able to handle more and compound your efforts.

Let’s Do a Quick Recap

OK, we actually covered a lot of ground:

  1. You learned that Business Scenarios are the key to chunking up business change and driving Digital Transformation the Agile way
  2. You learned how to create better business scenarios for Digital Transformation
  3. You learned that Business Scenarios are the building blocks for Digital Transformation and a way to build a shared vocabulary and mental model around the business changes
  4. You learned that a Business Scenario should be a simple story in the “Voice-of-the-Business Leader”
  5. You learned that a Business Scenario should capture the Current State in terms of the business leader’s pains and needs (this build empathy and will help you create better business cases)
  6. You learned that a Business Scenario should capture the Desired Future State in terms of the business leader’s desired outcomes and/or aspirations (and that this “future picture” of the business should be “implementation free” – no mention of technologies)
  7. You learned that Business Scenarios are much like Agile “user stories” and can be a bridge between Business and IT
  8. You learned that Business Scenarios can help you identify business benefits as well as link your changes back up to business outcomes
  9. You learned that Business Scenarios can help you identify required business capabilities (which will be the building blocks for your Business Scenarios)
  10. You learned that Business Scenarios are a way to help focus your adoption and change efforts (which will all be about “behavior change’)

Not bad.

After all, I did say Business Scenarios are powerful stuff.

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