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How the 5S model can bring focus in digital product innovation

When you’re working on improvements to your digital product, are you always 100% sure of the ‘why’ behind those changes? And are you always confident it makes sense to prioritise them over others? A framework like the 5S model can bring focus and help you identify which improvements will contribute most to your company’s key business objectives.

min read

It goes without saying that prioritising digital product improvements is a difficult task. From a long list of great ideas to make your product even better, deciding what’s most important, realistic and urgent can be challenging. Different stakeholders bring different viewpoints based on their own role or responsibilities, and sometimes the person who shouts the loudest (or has the fanciest title) ‘wins’. 

Rather than prioritising improvements based on preference, a gut feeling, or solely on their value to the customer experience, looking at how those changes align with the overall business objectives can help you make smarter decisions about which improvements to work on and when.

Ensuring the most relevant return on investment 

In our blog post ‘How using customer episodes can drive innovation in CX’, we talked about how thinking in terms of episodes can help you achieve a more structured, customer-centric design process. But as well as thinking about customer needs, it’s crucial to think about what the business needs when you’re deciding where to put your focus.

Is it more important to attract new leads, increase the value of your existing customers, raise your brand profile, add new functionality your customers have asked for, or maybe reduce your operational costs? Identifying the priority (or priorities) from the very beginning means you can put effort and resources to the best possible use, and maximise the return on investment.

At November Five, we use guiding frameworks like the ‘5S model’ to help stakeholders frame their thoughts, discuss on the same level, and reach a common understanding and approach.

What is the 5Ss model and how can it help bring focus?

The 5S model offers a straightforward way to think about the five possible ambitions of a digital product, or an improvement to a product:

  • Sell: Growing sales by generating new leads, increasing conversions, up-selling and/or cross-selling.
  • Speak: Getting closer to customers by building and reinforcing relationships through two-way communication, i.e. finding out what their needs are, and providing them with the right information and content.
  • Serve: Enhancing overall service whether through increasing satisfaction, reducing customer effort, allowing people to perform (more) tasks, explicitly delivering more value etc.
  • Shine: Creating or enhancing your brand presence and image online by building trust, increasing recognition, nurturing communities etc.
  • Save: Saving the business effort, time, resources or money through increased efficiency, direct cost reductions etc.


If we apply this framework to the redesign of an app, your first question should be “why are we redesigning the app?”. If your only answer is “to improve the customer experience”, then you can use the 5S model to dig a little deeper and identify which business objective(s) the app could (and should) contribute to.

One option could be that the app is there to SERVE customers, focusing on delivering added value and eventually leading to a satisfied customer. Alternatively, the main goal could be to SAVE time or money for the business by introducing more self-service and digitalising human processes. A third option could be to SELL products or services, meaning you define your app as a sales channel that aims to convert leads and drive revenue.

Whatever kind of improvements you are talking about, from a redesign to incremental improvements, the same logic applies, and will influence your priorities in the design process.

When discussing your project with each of the stakeholders, you should be able to build a clear view of which of these five objectives are most relevant at a certain moment in time. Of course, depending on your business context, you might identify more than one of these objectives as being key. However, remember that to avoid diluting your efforts with a ‘fix everything’ mindset, it’s still crucial to achieve a hierarchy (see further below for more on this).

The 5S model brings another advantage, in that it helps you determine the most relevant KPIs for the improvements you decide to proceed with. 

From the example above, if your objective is to SERVE, then you’ll be tracking KPIs like Net Promoter Score or Customer Effort; if your objective is to SAVE, you might be looking at call volume trend or % of incidents logged via self-service; if your objective is to SELL, then KPIs like Conversion Rate or Customer Lifetime Value will help you measure progress.

Using business objectives to prioritise improvements

The main business objective you identify using the 5S model will serve as a compass during all the related design sprints. But concretely, how does this help you prioritise the improvement areas in the customer episodes you’ve identified? – If you’re not working with customer episodes yet, read our blog post on customer episode design

For each area of improvement, assign a score according to how well it contributes to your key objective, e.g. if your key business objective is to SELL, improving your checkout process will score higher than improving your self-service portal, whereas if your objective is to SAVE, those self-service portal improvements would probably get a higher score. Where possible, back up your scoring with data to assess the potential impact, e.g. customer feedback, funnel analytics, support-call drivers, operational assessments, etc..

If you selected more than one key objective, then you’ll need to score your improvements on all the key objectives identified, e.g. using a 100-point system. This will help you decide which improvement area is the most important to pursue right now. In the example below, the red improvement areas score highest when looking at the two key objectives of SERVE and SPEAK, so these should be prioritised over the other improvement areas.

At the end of the exercise, you’ll end up with a shortlist of the improvement areas with the highest impact. Other prioritisation elements like feasibility and cost can be added in later when you’re ideating and prioritising concrete ideas to implement.

During the design sprint, it’s a good idea to regularly reflect on how well you’re aligned to the key business objective(s). Planning multiple checkpoints will keep the team focused on the right aspects and enable you to maximise the impact of your work.

Final thoughts on using the 5S model to support prioritisation

In our fast-paced, hyper-connected world, putting the customer at the heart of our design processes is more important than ever. But that doesn’t mean we can neglect the business reality we are operating in – time and money are finite, so we need to have robust processes in place to help us spend those precious resources in a way that will deliver the best possible return on investment.

Clear business objectives can inform and enrich the customer-centric design process in a way that maximises impact and makes sure that everyone understands the end goal. So next time you ask your teammates ‘why’ you’re implementing certain improvements, the answer you get from everyone should be pretty much the same.

Need help defining which objectives apply to your project so you can place focus where it’s needed most? Get in touch to find out how November Five can support you.

Jeroen Van Winckel

Product Strategy Designer

Jeroen Van Winckel

Product Strategy Designer

min read

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About Fast Company’s ‘Best Workplace for Innovators’

November Five was named one of Fast Company’s global 100 Best Workplaces for Innovators in both 2020 and 2021. This annual list, developed in collaboration with Accenture, recognises and honors the top 100 businesses from different industries that inspire, support and promote innovation at all levels. For the consecutive year, November Five was the single Belgian workplace listed.

Fast Company is the world's leading progressive business media brand, with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, ethical economics, leadership, and design. Written for, by, and about the most progressive business leaders, Fast Company and inspire readers and users to think beyond traditional boundaries, lead conversations and create the future of business.

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