NABC

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Engineering Areas
Ideation & Conceptual design
Group or individual
Group
Amount of people
Up to 15
Type of activity
Collaborative team setting, On-line Classroom activity, Self-work by students
Duration
Between half an hour and one hour
Type of class
Practice-based

Description

What is this technique about

The NABC method – Needs, Benefits, Approach, and Competition – is a useful tool for developing, evaluating, and presenting ideas. This method helps present ideas in a clear and engaging manner and, most importantly, supports the development and evaluation of these ideas.

The NABC consists of four key elements that define the value of a solution:

    • Needs: What are the essential needs of our target audience? A need should be linked to a significant and specific user, customer, or market opportunity, and the market size and target customers should be clearly defined. The market must be large enough to justify the necessary investment and development time.
    • Approach: What is our compelling solution to the specific user need? This can be visualized through drawing, simulation, or creating a mockup to effectively convey our vision. As the approach evolves through various iterations and feedback, it may eventually turn into a comprehensive proposal or business plan that includes key elements such as market positioning, cost analysis, staffing, partnerships, deliverables, timelines, and intellectual property (IP) protection.
    • Benefits: What are the benefits for the users of our approach? The benefits for the users of our approach are unique and should be quantifiable and significantly better than existing solutions. These benefits could range from cost-effectiveness, high performance, quick response, or an exceptional user experience. To succeed, it’s essential to establish why our solution is the better choice.
    • Competition/alternatives: Why are our benefits significantly better than the competition? Competition and alternatives are inevitable, and it’s crucial to understand why our benefits are significantly better. To do this, we must have a clear understanding of the competition and the alternatives available to our users. Our explanation should be concise and memorable, highlighting why our solution represents the best value.

Iteration is a crucial aspect of developing a NABC. One must continuously go back and forth between the need, approach, and competition/alternatives to arrive at a compelling benefit that is easily understood. This process requires multiple iterations and updating the presentation accordingly. The philosophy of “if it isn’t written down, it isn’t real” should be followed throughout the refinement process.

As a simple example, consider the following scenario: 

“I understand that you’re hungry (the need). Let’s go to the cafe XY (the approach), it’s nearby, the food is delicious, and it’s quiet there so we can continue working (the benefits). The alternative is McDonald’s, which can be noisy during lunchtime (the competition/alternative).”

Where does it come from 

The NABC approach was originated in the United States by the Stanford Research Institute (Carlson & Wilmot, 2006). It was created with the aim of providing a more systematic approach to comprehending value propositions and avoiding common pitfalls, such as: 

    • Neglecting the fundamental aspect of the value proposition, which is the user’s needs. 
    • Falling in love with the idea and becoming overly focused on the approach. 
    • Over-reliance on customer statements about their requirements rather than accurately identifying their real needs.

For which purposes it is used (why in your engineering teaching)

The NABC method enables idea-makers to present their concepts and assess their value using a set of key parameters, which are continuously refined through iteration. All proposals and business plans must, at the very least, address the four crucial questions of need, approach, benefits, and competition, which define the project’s value proposition. The NABC approach helps to concentrate on answering these questions, serving as the first step towards creating a comprehensive proposal or business plan.

Due to its brevity, the NABC can be rapidly iterated to gather new market and solution insights. The approach encourages a culture of creativity and ongoing collaboration, leading to the development of better solutions with reduced risk. After multiple iterations, the evolving NABC serves as the foundation for a concise business summary, which can be easily presented to potential clients, even in chance encounters.

How to use it

The NABC technique is used after the “needs analysis & problem definition” phase to develop the value proposition of a solution approach in the “ideation & conceptual design” phase. The NABC can be used to evaluate ideas at an early stage, and through iterative refinement, can develop into a full business plan over the course of the project.

Before the session begins, there should be pre-existing ideas on potential solutions, which can either come from early project outcomes or an idea generation session. The project team responsible for generating the ideas should remain the same during the NABC session, with a maximum of 6-7 students. A first iteration of the NABC session can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes. The resulting NABC should then be presented by the team to the plenary or to an evaluation board to receive feedback. Based on the feedback received, a second iteration can be performed to further refine the NABC.

How to implement this techniques online

Preparation, what do before the session
    1. Ensure that ideas and solution approaches are pre-existent. 
    2. Depending on the circumstances of the session, plan the session including a schedule.
    3. For each team, prepare a NABC canvas with a key question in analogy to the introductory picture.

During application, i.e., while giving the session

    1. Introduce the exercise and its purpose.
    2. Let the students do a teamwork on the NABC between 30-60 minutes.
    3. Let the students prepare a short pitch in the last 5 minutes time-box.
    4. Let the students know when they have 5 minutes left by ringing a bell or similar
    5. Let the teams pitch in front of the plenum or an evaluation board.
    6. Each team of the plenum or the board should give short feedback of about 5 minutes.
    7. Let the teams refine their NABC in about 30 minutes for the next project steps.

Follow-up, about what to do after the session

    1. Store the resulting NABCs for the teams or let them do their self. 
    2. In an ideation session, use the NABCs for idea selection.
    3. In a project, use the NABCs for further refinement of the value proposition and for the evolvement of a solution.

Examples and/or testimonials

Dr. Christoph Kunz is a Professor for Information Engineering at Hochschule der Medien. He used the NABC technique in his work for Zühlke Engineering in Switzerland within the Stars-to-Road innovation framework for structuring and pitching ideas. Below is an example for a digital solution for using the waiting time in a queue in a better way, e.g. having a coffee or visiting a shop nearby.

Tools needed

You will need a platform to share screens and communicate with the participants, such as: MS Teams, Zoom or similar. As well as a white board solution with digital sticky notes such as Miro or Mural:

    • Zoom
    • MS Teams
    • Miro
    • Mural
    • Timer (phone, watch, computer)

Resources

Videos

LU Innovation. (2022, November 15).  NABC – how to test and present your idea, by LU Innovation. [Video]. YouTube. Available at: https://youtu.be/rgyWHBN7-Es

Sheffield DocFest. (2012, July 04). NABC: How to develop an idea. [Video]. YouTube. Available at: https://youtu.be/iHiLAJGDGt4

Paper

Carlson, C. & Wilmot, W. (2006): Innovation – The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want.