Discovering Airline Operations
Uptake’s aviation team identified airlines as their target market and sought opportunities to sell to this market. It had recently been presented with its first opportunity to work directly with an airline, and the objective of this project was to figure out what to sell to this airline.
Due to my non-disclosure agreement with Uptake, I cannot discuss the content of my research. However, I can speak generally to the process we used to conduct the research.
This project utilized the divergent-convergent thinking integral to the Double Diamond process.
An aviation business lead and I spent two weeks at the airline’s headquarters to learn broadly about airline operations. We established a cadence in which I led the research activities and he took notes, with time for him to ask questions at the end without interrupting the flow of the activity. The roles we talked to were primarily identified by way of introduction from the previous participant; this helped us establish better rapport and enabled us to uncover value more quickly given the broad nature of the exploration. At the conclusion of our trip, the airline’s CFO invited us back for a presentation of our findings.
Upon returning to the Chicago office, the business lead and I began work on our respective syntheses. He focused on creating a map of the airline’s system interconnectivity and a deck for the final presentation. Meanwhile, I extracted broad themes (due to the exclusivity of an ongoing contract, I was unable to be more specific) from my observations to paint a picture of the gaps and pain points in the airline’s operations. I worked with a Brand designer to visualize these insights into a book. However, the business lead and I failed to communicate in our syntheses, which led to a misalignment between my themes and his areas of opportunity in the final deck.
We returned to the airline’s headquarters with the head of the aviation team to present the systems map and the book. In discussing the areas of opportunity presented in the deck, the Uptake team and the airline reached a consensus on the opportunity to move forward with. However, as a result of the failed communication between the business lead and me, we had no research on the opportunity that had been chosen (it had initiated as an ask from the airline).
Recognizing the need for more research, we planned to conduct a follow-up discovery trip. In preparation, I exhausted all immediately accessible resources. I conducted internal and external subject matter expert interviews, secondary research on online materials and documentation, and a competitive analysis of the existing market. These activities helped us identify the airlines’ current appetite for this space, understand what airlines were doing today, and hypothesize the opportunity for us. The result was a list of use cases and assumptions to be tested during the discovery trip. I also visualized this information in a general ecosystem, noting the players in this space, the known use cases, and who within the ecosystem was responsible for them.
Equipped with this knowledge, a small team representing the perspectives of viability (business), feasibility (product), and desirability (UX) returned to the airline to 1) learn about the reality of operations with respect to this opportunity and 2) validate the identified use cases according to our respective assessments. We strove to talk to all the roles identified in the ecosystem that existed at this airline, and observed relevant processes at the airport. We emerged from the trip with an initial prioritized list of use cases.
We returned to the office and iterated upon our previous synthesis for improved communication. Instead of conducting siloed syntheses, I led an ideation session to move our understanding from raw observations to supported use cases. By opportunity mapping these uses cases according to viability, feasibility, and desirability, we narrowed the list of use cases down to two and compiled our findings in a deck to present to the whole aviation team.
Following the presentation of these findings, the aviation team decided this airline was not the best launch customer based on alignment to our product offering.
However, the business and sales leadership was so impressed by the output of the initial exploration that they are currently developing a new sales offering that would help sell SaaS.
A lot of Post-its