Key activities are the most important tasks that your organization needs to perform in order to make sustainable business model work. The question to reflect on is: Which key activities are required for your organization to operate successfully and, more specifically, create and deliver your value proposition, reach customer segments, maintain customer relationships and partnerships, and ultimately earn long-term revenue?
Key activities can be thought of in two ways: 1. What activities are carried out and 2. How these activities are carried out.
What Activities Are Carried Out
If an activity does not connect to one of the items in your building blocks, then your organization may need to reconsider why it is doing it, or at least why it is so prominent in your business model canvas. While every business model will include a number of key activities, it is important to remember that they will change depending on the type of business model you develop. The key is to identify the activities that are critical to making your business model successful and sustainable.
For many business models, key activities are not just carried out by your organization, they are carried out by partners in your inner value network (IVN). During the development of your digital product or service, you will have collaborated with different partner organizations and volunteers to carry out key activities. As you think about sustainability, you will need to assess who should perform these activities in the long term (e.g., volunteer coders). Moreover, you should take stock of the key activities your organization has been carrying out to date and evaluate whether they would be more sustainable if they were to be executed by another organization (e.g., partnering with local training providers to support the rollout of your service).
How These Activities Are Carried Out
The last two to three decades have seen the emergence of an “agile” approach to software development, where a number of methodologies are deployed, such as Scrum and Kanban. These iterative approaches are juxtaposed against the traditional plan-and-build or “waterfall” approach. On the heels of this trend, the past decade has seen the development and codification of “lean” approaches to business model development and experimentation, which also implement an iterative approach.1
Agile and lean are approaches that share a lot of the same core DNA. While agile can be described as the dominant approach in the tech industry, lean is still not the dominant approach in the private sector and is on the periphery of the public and nonprofit sectors, where “blueprint” planning, using tools like logframes, is still the dominant approach. This means that if you are running an agile operation for your activities, you may find that partners in your IVN and your buyer and user segments are not geared up for iterative lean and agile methodologies, thus creating potential issues when you have joint activities or activities that have co-dependencies.
To complete the key activities building block in your Business Model Sustainability Canvas, you will need to focus on two key areas. In section 6.1, there is guidance on how to establish what your key activities are and whether you or a partner should be performing them in order to achieve sustainability. In section 6.2, there is guidance on how to identify when there may be tensions between your organization, partners, and customers due to a mismatch in your approaches to key activities.
Section 6.1: Identify Your Key Activities
This section provides guidance on understanding key activities are a fundamental piece of the success of your business model. By questioning their relevance and making dispassionate prioritization decisions, it’s possible to identify what drives your organization’s value.
Key discussion areas:
- Explore how to prioritize key activities and whether they should be done in house or outsourced to a partner
- Evaluate your key activities over time and determine whether any activities have become core capabilities
Section 6.2: Approaches to Carry Out Your Key Activities
This provides information on how to successfully collaborate with traditional humanitarian and development partners when approaching them with an agile and/or lean methodology.
Key discussion areas:
- Identify when tensions between non-agile/traditional and agile/lean approaches may arise, and understand why aid organizations use more traditional methods
- Use the Agile Gap Analysis Tool to explore ways to help navigate these issues
Identify the key activities your organization performs. If an activity does not connect to one of the items in your building blocks, then your organization may need to reconsider why it is doing the activity, or at least why it is so prominent in your business model canvas.
Determine which key activities you will do and which activities your partners will perform to establish a sustainable business model.
Ensure that stakeholders understand the iterative and adaptive practices (e.g., agile and lean) that you may use, and where there might be tension with their more traditional waterfall or blueprint planning approaches.
Complete the following in your Business Model Sustainability Canvas:
- Outline the key activities that your organization will carry out and label them.
- Outline the key activities that partners in your inner value network will carry out, clearly showing that this is an activity that a partner is performing.
- Use the Agile Gap Analysis Tool to understand where there may be tensions between an organization and the client/customer to ensure that there aren’t any issues with the key activities you have identified.
- Add or remove key activities based upon the outcomes of the Agile Gap Analysis.
- Reiss, Bland and Osterwaalder↩