AFIT Business Innovation Factory Early Adopters

BIF Early Adopters Share Progress

Why Are Your Students Hiring You?

Do you know what your students are hiring you to do? You might be surprised how many institutions are out of touch with their students’ needs. AFIT’s Summer Institute is designed to ask the difficult questions and inspire the type of innovative thinking that is necessary for institutions to thrive in the future.

Over the past several months, six AFIT members have served as “early adopters” of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) transformation methodology, moving to transform their own thinking and capabilities based on their students’ needs. Today, two of those early adopters tell us about the focus of their transformation projects and share their progress to date.

Jackson College AFIT member

President Dan Phelan of Jackson College Serves as BIF Early Adopter

Dr. Dan Phelan
President, Jackson College, MO

As part of our business model redesign, the Jackson College team has been incorporating the work of Saul Kaplan and the Business Innovation Factory, as well as the Blue Ocean Strategy work of W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. Broadly speaking, we have concentrated our lens upon improving the retention of our students, so as to lead to better outcomes. Beyond the systems, practices, and policies of retention, our team has chosen to address the more particular needs of the whole student.

Following a variety of student interviews, reviewing available research, and building upon our efforts to date (i.e., creation of a medical clinic and a mental health center), the Jackson College team is working to implement expanded human efforts with food and housing security. Beyond a pantry and housing referrals, the College is working with its food service providers and housing staff to create capacity to serve students in meeting their more basic needs. In doing so, it is our belief that students will be able to engage more fully in their educational pursuits. Working with expanded groups on campus, it is our hope that we will have activated prototyping models in place for the fall semester.

Our goals for this year’s Summer Institute include:

  1. Consider the final aspects of the prototyping and implementation;
  2. Review strategies for taking the successful prototypes to scale (which includes feedback we have obtained from other successful operations at the College);
  3. Consideration of potential blue oceans and future business model innovations.

Bay College AFIT member


Laura Coleman Bay College BIF Early AdopterDr. Laura Coleman
President, Bay College, MI

Bay College has two BIF projects. The first focuses on shifting our advising model. Through the student interviewing we did in Rhode Island and then the ethnographic research project we did at home with our students, we found our advising model was not as effective as our students wanted it to be. We are developing a prototype that will be launched with a defined group of students during orientation this summer. We have been doing research and working on changing up our advising model through Guided Pathways. We are hoping this will provide our students with better academic plans to follow, which will result in better retention and completion rates.

Our second project involves moving to competency-based education. This comes from research done with our business and industry partners and the overwhelming need for this being expressed nationally in research and with the Department of Labor. This project will develop a prototype this fall in a technical program working with a team we are bringing to Kansas City and with faculty members from the program. We hope this will enable us to give employed students the opportunity to progress through the education necessary to expand their skill sets and provide better trained employees for our business and industry partners.

Northwestern Michigan College AFIT member


Dr. Tim Nelson AFIT Early AdopterDr. Tim Nelson
President, Northwestern Michigan College, MI

Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) is using the BIF processes on a number of transformation fronts with the intent of eventually adopting this as the college-wide process for change. Our largest project being pursued by our Early Adopter Team is addressing the question, How do we embed experiential learning into every class and curriculum?This is a faculty-led project that we started before working with BIF. Once we signed on, we recognized this design theory process is what we needed to really make progress.

The first “shift” required us to believe that the customer is the expert in defining the experience they seek. The notion that the customer is hiring for a specific purpose was not easy for us to grasp at first. However, after 30+ intensive interviews with our customers, the team has come to not just understand these points, but to believe them. The proof is that it is becoming part of the language. This was critical because we are not looking for experiential education to be a bolt-on to what is currently done but a transformational way of providing learning interactions.

Our second sprint really was amazing. We determined design principles that any of our solutions will be assessed against, described our customers’ intended experiences, and began to assess our ability to deliver against key and supporting competencies for success. All this led us to where we are now in terms of crafting the minimally successful business model.

We are working through what a prototype of that minimally successful business model will look like. This will be the culminating work at the AFIT Summer Institute. This concept has required another shift in people’s thinking, as they are used to thinking about going immediately to scale. The concept of the prototype is to “do something and learn from it.” Think of Colin Powell, who suggests the 20-70 rule. Get at least 20% of the information you need, but not more than 70%, and then try it.

Our objective is to implement the prototype this fall semester and to learn from it as we continue applying this transformation process.

NMC is also applying this process in two other areas: international student programming and institutional decision-making. We have decided to bring a second team to the Summer Institute that will focus on the decision-making transformation. They will participate in the non-early adopter portion. We then have two teams of six who can help develop others at NMC.

This is hard work. It is messy work. It is a disciplined approach that focuses on doing to learn. We believe that it fits well with our existing innovation model and will help make us successful in a world environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous…VUCA. It is a model that will force us to continue to understand the experiences our customers want and help us to determine if and how we can deliver against that.

Waubonsee Community College AFIT member

Christine Sobek BIF Early AdopterDr. Christine Sobek
President, Waubonsee Community College, IL

Waubonsee Community College has a fall-to-fall semester retention rate of 70%. That number falls to 57% for our African-American male students, so we decided to use that group as the focus for our design thinking project with BIF.

We did focus groups, interviews, and had conversations with prospective students, current students, and alumni. Remembering the words of Saul Kaplan, “this is a prototype, not a pilot,” we focused on the richness of our conversations and less on the number of people we spoke with. In total, we were able to speak with more than 25 African American males in our community. We heard many things that we can improve in the delivery of our services and many challenges in the community that necessitate more communication and collaboration with parents and other influencers.

This will be an ongoing learning process for us, but the concept of design, inside out thinking, building a model for the student and their job to be done, and less about our constraints or historical behaviors has been a very powerful, enriching, and rewarding experience.

Western Iowa Tech Community College

AFIT member President Terry MurrellDr. Terry Murrell
President, Western Iowa Tech Community College, IA

The project is important, but what we are finding more valuable for the long term are the team dynamics developed by the experience of (creating a job to be done and planning/implementing a prototype).

Our team found the following pitfalls:

  • It is more difficult than we thought to find student stories.
  • We often think we know what is the problem (but we do not).
  • The group wanted to fix all the problems, not the job-to-be done.
  • It was difficult to create a prototype and not be victims of scope creep.

Strategies to overcome the pitfalls:

  • The job-to-be done statement must be written, understood, and reinforced throughout the project.
  • Outcomes for the project need to be determined.
  • Concentrate on the job to be done. Eliminate outliers.
  • Do not allow your team to bog down. Push forward.

The prototype is a learning experience that allows the project to fail quickly and/or be flexible enough to change. We look forward to sharing more in Kansas City!

AFIT member President Christine HammondDr. Christine Hammond
President, Mid Michigan College, MI

Mid Michigan College has focused its work with the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) on the creation of a service model to reach and support students from Michigan’s rural underserved areas.

We began this work with the recognition that students of all ages in rural Michigan face special challenges. Those who come from small high schools in small towns may find the prospect of a large university daunting. Some cherish the close-knit communities where they were raised and others cannot wait to escape. Without a local community college, these students must choose between dramatic alternatives – leave home for an expensive and perhaps high-risk university experience or stay at home earning low wages in the local economy.

Those who choose to stay and enter the local workforce may soon discover the need for additional knowledge or skills. Without a local community college, options for technical or managerial training are limited. These workers, and the companies they serve, risk falling further behind in a knowledge-based economy. Those who strive to learn – who love to learn – find that, without a local community college, community education for life-long learning is out of reach.

Countless research studies show that educational access is key to the economic success of both an individual and a community. In response to these challenges, Mid Michigan College has, for more than 50 years, brought post-secondary education to rural communities in the center section of our state. Our current business model has emerged organically. We are working with BIF to be more intentional and effective. Using the BIF model, we have shifted our perspective, reorganized our staffing model, assembled relevant research, and engaged the campus community in a discussion of service to rural communities. Over the last six months we have continued to shift our lens and also have used BIF’s interviewing techniques to gain a deeper understanding of citizen perspectives in rural areas. Our specific focus has been in Michigan’s “thumb” communities where we anticipate prototyping and testing some offerings in the coming academic year.

The BIF framework enables us to be intentional in our service model to rural communities. Much work remains but we are further along the path because of our work in AFIT’s Early Adopter program. During the Summer Institute, we will use the BIF design methodology to define our minimum viable business model and clearly articulate the job-to-be-done.

Thank you to all of our early adopters!

To learn more about their transformation projects, join us at the 2018 Summer Institute in Kansas City, MO!