My first job out of business school was with a management consulting firm who focused on growth strategies for their clients. The four founders of the firm were former partners at Bain, and they brought to our firm the concept of “best demonstrated practices” which we referred to by the acronym “BDP.”
Bain defines a BDP as something that “generates the most value at the least cost.” At our firm it referred to an example something done so well you could you use it as a model to learn from, where you could discern the essence of success from and apply it more broadly. This could be a business process or a business model, communications or management style. It’s a nice construct to help you identify patterns that could be relevant to you or your business.
Of course BDPs also have limitations. Without the corresponding insight about the context of why an example works so well, about all you’ll be able to do is copy the motions of the example, but not the essence of its effectiveness. To make a BDP really work you’ve got to simultaneously abstract away the context while also deeply understanding it.
I’ve seen some of the startups I’ve worked with over the years really get this wrong, whose teams will energetically seek out the best performing companies in some discipline (say, acquiring new users) and just copy what was done, without understanding whether or not those same methods really make sense or apply to their business, with their users.
But every so often you come across an example of simplicity and insight, efficiency of communication, where the problem has been thought through so completely you just wish you could take it, copy it, and paste it into whatever business you’re running.
I came across one of these earlier in the week. You know from my last post that I’m hiking the John Muir Trail next week, which will take about three weeks. I won’t be able to carry all my food for that length of time and will need to resupply twice along the way. This works pretty simply, you mail a package of supplies to one of two “resupply” points, and they hold it for you until you arrive. You restock your backpack, give them your trash, and off you go again.
But it’s more complicated than that. I am depending on that food being there when I get there, If it’s not there when I get there, I’m screwed – I’ll be close to being out of food and will still have more than a week of hiking to go to the next resupply. So getting this right matters a lot.
The first resupply point is like a hotel in the mountains, about a six mile roundtrip detour from the trail. The second resupply point, The Muir Trail Ranch, is much more convenient, literally on the trail. The quality of thinking that went into the instructions about how to get your package to them, and how to ensure a successful resupply, is simply magnificent. The fact that you ship your food to them in a five gallon plastic bucket makes this all the more whimsical.
It’s not just the explanation of the steps and logistics, it’s the tone of the communication. Clear, simple, welcoming, conveying a desire to make you successful, to make the whole process successful, conveying a deep understanding of the context of their service.
Their instructions reads like an FAQ, but it’s not a laundry list of questions, it’s a very thoughtful and insightful delineation of your needs and their ability to meet them. They’ve addressed the “lifecycle” of a resupply – the range of needs you will have (email access, recharging devices, disposing of your trash) when you’ve come to get more food.
To me the high point is at the bottom of the page, where they encourage you to pre-register your delivery, and will even e-mail you pre-printed shipping labels. The example label sheet is stunning in its efficiency – I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly never mailed a bucket before, and doing so is not obvious.
This experience certainly reduced some anxiety about my resupply, but made me appreciate how wonderful it is to be on the receiving end of high quality thinking and customer awareness. Where insight about the context is abundant.