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Identify Your Key Activities

Identifying your key activities can be a difficult task. Everyone wants to think that what they do is vital for the success of the organization, business model, and the impact you are trying to have on the world. But for the purpose of highlighting the key activities in your business model, you will need to make dispassionate prioritization of which activities are really critical for your business model. This can force difficult, but also clarifying, discussions as to what you really believe is driving the value in what you do. It should also lead to salutary discussions regarding some of your activities as an organization. Ask questions such as: Are these activities really necessary? What value are they driving? Which could be done better by another organization? Could these activities be dropped? If so, what will happen?

Not all the key activities in your business model will actually be carried out by your organization. Some of them will be performed by partners that are critical for the success and sustainability of your business model. Identifying key activities that are carried out by your partners will allow you to address a number of strategic questions outlined below.

Key Activities: Prioritization

First, identify the key activities that need to be highlighted in the business model canvas. By doing this, you are essentially analyzing your activities and determining which are critical to the success of your business model. These activities can change as your digital solution and organization grows, but they are the processes, routines, and initiatives that are fundamental to ensuring that your business model is successful.

One way to identify the key activities is to look at each of the other building blocks and identify what are the most significant activities related to them. For instance, if a core component of your business model is a volunteer network, then network coordination will be a key activity.

Another way to identify key activities is to review the exercises you have done in this toolkit and highlight significant projects that have emerged from them. For example, with the Core, Modular and Hackable Tool and the Core Component Codification Tool in the value proposition building block, you will have highlighted the gaps and work to be done. Look over these exercises and assess whether any of the activities are sufficiently important to be highlighted as a key activity.

Key Activities: In House or Outsourced to a Partner

Once you have identified the key activities in your business model, the next step is to evaluate which should be carried out by your organization and which would be better performed by a partner. This might require some difficult discussions among members of your team and organization. Guiding questions to help you decide whether it is an activity your organization should be doing include:

  1. Are we the best organization to do this activity?
  2. Is this activity part of our core value proposition?
  3. Does this activity build core competencies in the organization that are valuable?
  4. Would our digital solution have more impact if this was done by someone else?
  5. Would it be more cost effective if another partner did this activity?

By answering these questions, you will be able to identify which activities you should retain or bring into the organization if they are currently carried out by a partner, and which activities you should ask a partner to do.

Key Activities: Over Time

As your digital solution and organization mature, you will need to reassess your key activities and who does them. This is particularly important when you try to scale your impact. Scaling your impact across multiple geographies and to a greater number of people often requires changes in what activities are carried out by you and what are carried out by partners in your inner value network.

Examples where this can be the case are:

  1. You have used internal developers for your product and there is a need to increase the number of developers and engineers beyond what you can manage.
  2. You have used external training organizations to provide complementary training support, but this is increasingly becoming a funding source and would provide much-needed income for your organization if it were brought in house.
  3. Some of your partner organizations are unable to scale at the pace you need them to, putting constraints on your ability to scale impact.
  4. You do not have sufficient control of the key elements in your value proposition.
  5. You have built up a sufficient number of user volunteers who can take over some of the support work, or, conversely, there is volunteer fatigue and you cannot recruit and retain a sufficient number of volunteers to meet the new level of demand for your service.

Periodically reviewing your key activities in conjunction with your future strategy will enable you to anticipate when and how to insource and outsource key activities.

Case Study: Can’t Wait to Learn

Can’t Wait to Learn is an edtech digital solution from War Child Holland that provides curriculum-aligned, contextualized, gamified learning. As Can’t Wait to Learn scaled out from its original program in Sudan and moved into countries across East Africa, West Africa, and the Middle East, it needed to transition a number of its key activities.

Curriculum development had previously been carried out by a partner in the organization’s inner value network. But when this was identified as a key activity due to a new curriculum needing to be developed in each country for each of the games, the cost of the partner and the critical nature of the activity meant that it needed to be brought in house.

Scaling also put a strain on the capacity of the software development company that had been War Child Holland’s partner in developing the games. The company could not grow at the rate that was needed, so War Child Holland changed its software development partner and brought in a CTO to manage the process.

Key Activities and Core Capabilities

Assessing your key activities and deciding which are most important provides the potential to pivot some of them and their corresponding resources to be revenue generators by offering the processes and activities to others. In essence, as your organization builds its expertise, systems, and processes, it builds core capabilities that others might need.

These capabilities may be quite tangential to the main focus of your organization, but they can be incredibly powerful in providing a revenue stream that can cross-subsidize your business model. See Leveraging Core Capabilities and the SNHU case study in Section 5.1.

Key Takeaways

  1. Key activities are those that are high level and fundamental to the success of your business model.

  2. Periodically review your key activities and decide whether you or a partner should carry them out.

  3. Assess the core capabilities you have developed through your key activities to see if there is anything you can develop a revenue stream from.

Complete the following in your Business Model Sustainability Canvas:
  • Outline 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.