Let’s be honest — inertia, by definition, a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged¹, is incredibly difficult to overcome. I’ve seen it consistently in client consulting engagements as well as in my own agencies and management consulting firms. The inertia I’m referring to is solving for challenges / opportunities the same way without regard to past outcomes and candidly, knowingly using a process that’s inefficient and ineffective.
Having sat through thousands, and I literally mean thousands, of sessions intended to define a challenge, establish a premise, build requirements and develop a prototype, the process has historically been painful, expensive and elongated, to name just a few of the issues. I’ve seen method after method used, from The Grove’s — Visual Planning System to experiential learning to LEGO Serious Play. In the end, each has its own benefits and drawbacks. So, here’s the first key takeaway. If the process you’re using is delivering the desired outcomes, then by all means keep doing what works for your organization. If, on the other hand, you already know the next initiative you’re tasked with is going to be challenged based on the methodologies and supporting processes you’ve historically used, then hopefully, this is worth the few minutes of commitment.
You can read great articles on the principles of Design Thinking from The Interaction Design Foundation — https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/5-stages-in-the-design-thinking-process or from Harvard Business Review — https://hbr.org/2018/09/why-design-thinking-works among many others. With this in mind, the focus here is on the power of change and the meaningful impact it can create, not another article outlining the details of Design Thinking. Rather, let’s address insights derived from actual Design Thinking exercises conducted across large organizations.
These insights are simply categorized into Comprehension, Collaboration, Cohesion, Context and Creativity. Yes, the 5C’s, but these are a different set than you’re accustomed to from your experience with strategic frameworks.
Let’s start with Comprehension. One of the most interesting aspects of Design Thinking is how it creates clarity regarding the actual challenges and opportunities that are being solved for in a non-threatening environment. Done correctly, the context of the experience itself provides a collective experience in which no answer is right or wrong; rather, it provides for varying perspectives, learning and ultimately, appreciation for either the simplicity or complexity of the challenge. The exercises, which there are are many (60+ just in our own model), provide the framework to define the situation. Each activity provides for a means of alignment and perspective. We actually use Design Thinking to help define the problem we’re solving for, while some organizations focus exclusively on the “investigative phase” with focused questions intended to formulate answers to the “design” challenge or the creation of the solution itself. Having experienced this approach, it’s become clear that comprehending the challenge / issue is the most critical component of the Design Thinking process. Without alignment, Design Thinking accelerates the process of getting to an agreed upon set of requirements that can be prototyped while the challenge, as defined, for the exercises may be incorrectly identified and not aligned to the stakeholders participating. The downstream effect of this misalignment eventually comes to life through the process, which can quickly derail the entire goal of a Design Thinking session.
A key component of Design Thinking is Collaboration. In order to achieve the desired outcomes of the process, a structure for collaboration has to be established prior to even entering the room. This structure requires:
- Collective dynamics — Individuals have to be able to work as seamless as possible together to solve for the complexity of the challenge with as wide of a breath of expertise and knowledge of the issues as possible. With this in mind, as small of a team as possible with 3–5 participants and a facilitator is the typically the most effective.
- Distributed insights — We’ve all been there. A room of intelligent people is dominated by one individual who is outspoken and whose ideas are forced on the collective. When building the participant structure, take into account individual personalities and the ability to adhere to the principles of Design Thinking in order to get diverse points of view and perspectives that are not dominated or heavily influenced by a single individual.
- Facilitation Model — The individual leading Design Thinking exercises needs to be both an excellent communicator and a strategic thought leader who understands the challenge to be solved for, while also recognizing the defined role of the facilitator. Understanding what’s being proposed, approaches, recommendations, etc. is critical to ensuring the exercises deliver the desired outcomes. Having a facilitator who inserts their “ideas” into the mix of solutions creates a significant challenge, while having a facilitator that knows how to align or ask the probing questions is incredibly valuable to the process and to ensure the right approach to collaboration.
Done correctly, collaboration leads to a united vision to solve for the defined challenge. This cohesion is critical to getting to prioritized recommendations and a unified approach to solving through an agile model. Cohesion should become evident through the initial exercises. Imagine a wall covered in Post-it-Notes with ideas and “votes” associated with each one. As you watch the exercise progress, what you see, in the right environment, is an aggregation and alignment that naturally takes place — gravitating to ideas that are no longer “owned” but rather a collective, unified set of ideas that can be built upon.
With a cohesive vision in place, the context for solutions / recommendations is the next component within the Design Thinking workflow. Context includes the channel(s), the customer experience, the desired outcomes and the organizational requirements. Yes, while there are other elements within context, this is where each session has the opportunity to uniquely define the scope of the exercise. Context provides the details necessary to ideate the solution into a creative vision, or depending on the level of fidelity, a prototype of the solution.
The work within the Design Thinking exercise to this point has led to the development of the creative expression. Typically, a Design Thinking sprint lasts 2–3 days, depending on the complexity of the business challenge with day 3–4 reserved for creative development or prototype creation. The 4th or 5th day is used specifically for audience testing (internal and external) to validate / invalidate the product or service offering and the requirements that define the capabilities and associated experience. It’s this creative step that brings to life the effort and the desired outcome.
By implementing Design Thinking as a core methodology we can now achieve:
- Rapid alignment to objectives
- Better / more effective requirements
- Realistic scope and ROI models
- Functional solutions that identify and solve for pre-existing limitations
- Reduction in go-to-market timelines by 70%+
- Reduction in total cost of delivery by addressing elongated timelines and missed opportunities within target markets to capture audience or reduce expenditures
In the end, our experience is as close to the “magic bullet” as we have come in solving for what has been a legacy cultural issue. In today’s rapid paced environment, we’re now able to solve for issues that historically took months to years to address in short order, while providing for “snackable” solutions that can be built upon through iterative Design Thinking sprints.
As a credit, I would like to thank Alex Severin, https://firstname.lastname@example.org and Haroon Aslam, https://blog.prototypr.io/@haroonaslam for all of their efforts executing incredible Design Thinking workshops.
I hope this has been interesting and maybe it inspired a few thoughts on your part. Feel free to share them with the me — Bob Morris, email@example.com or on Twitter — @digitalquotient