How managers can implement design thinking

A step-by-step process for managers to institutionalize innovation in business


We have all heard and read about how Steve Jobs introduced a sense of design into Apple – a sense which not only made the products that it made the company technologically revolutionary but also made its products artistically groundbreaking. Remember, the brief Jobs set was that the icon on the iPhone display had to be most realistic and beautiful so that the customer or the user would also appreciate the beauty of the icon in addition to using it.

So is there really a way you could make everyone in an organization or a team or a cross-section of teams to think in a particular way to get you to the best results? Let us find out what design thinking is all about.

While design has always been used to create new and better products, design thinking is about how it can be used to improve a business's performance by looking at our day-to-day issues and growth requirements differently, and how the process can be built into teams to bring about the best results.

The whole process is not about turning managers into designers, but to help them become better design thinkers who are literate in the tools and processes that designers use, enabling the managers to use those processes to solve their business problems.

In that respect, design thinking is a way or a simple process that can make innovation a part of every managers daily life. For ease of implementation design thinking breaks down the entire process into four stages, with each stage breaking down into four broad questions:

What is?

As the question suggests, "What is?" relates to current reality. Managers want to run immediately to the future by brainstorming on the new possibilities and options. The objective of What is? is to understand the present with maximum data available, so that we have a better, clearer and wider understanding of a problem or issue that needs to be tackled. It is also about understanding any unarticulated requirements that need to be addressed. The objective of What is? is not rely on your imagination but to get deep insights into what the stakeholder actually wants and reducing the risk that our new idea will fail. It specifies what a great solution will look like without telling us the solution itself.

The end result of this will be the identification of patterns and insights from the data of the present that we have gathered. Some of the normal tools which could be used during this stage include:

Journey mapping: This involves assessing the present experience through the customer's eyes.

Value chain analysis: This involves assessing the current value chain that supports the customer's journey.

Mind mapping: This involves generating insights from exploration activities and using those to arrive at a specific design criterion.

What if?

All experts in this field are likely working on this question, but the key to making it a success is to not go overboard with your imagination, but to keep the creativity within the specific patterns we found with our first What is? question and look at ways to address the same in the best possible manner.

Two tools that can be used during this process are:

Brainstorming: Involves all stakeholders to generate new possibilities and new alternative business models.

Concept development: This involves assembling innovative elements into a coherent alternative solution that can be explored and evaluated.

What wows?

After the first two stages we would usually be left with too many interesting concepts to take forward. In this stage we need to reduce the same to a manageable level by trying to locate the best options that can provide significant upside for our stakeholders, and which also matches with our organizational resources and capabilities, as well as our ability to sustain to deliver the new offering.

The concepts which pass this test are good candidates for turning into experiments to be conducted with actual users. In order to do this we will need to make these into something that the end user can actually interact with a prototype.

Two of the tools that could be used in this stage are:

Assumption testing: This involves isolating and testing the key assumptions that will drive the success or failure of a concept.

Rapid prototyping: This will involve expressing a new concept in a tangible form for exploration, testing and refinement.

What works?

This is the stage where the low fidelity prototype is tried out with actual users. The prototype will need to be reworked based on the feedback received for further fine tuning and the process continues with testing out the refined prototype with a wider audience and so on.

Some of the key principles to keep in mind at this stage include working in fast feedback cycles; minimizing the cost of conducting experiments; fail early to succeed; and test for key trade-offs and assumptions early on.

So let us summarize with the key contributions that the design thinking process can help us with:

Reframing: This enables us to ask better questions to understand the issue in depth instead of jumping to solutions as we are always used to.

Collaborating: Helps bring different types of people to co-create with one another.

Engaging: As there is no pressure for any predetermined outcome, it enables better engagement.

Curating: Helps us to drill down to the essence of an issue and see what matters. This is particularly important in today's world where we have too much of everything from data, to information, to anything you can think of.

Emptiness: Because we do not know and are not expected to know the outcome there is a sense of possibility in every step of the process – we only need to reduce our discomfort of emptiness enough to allow the intrigue of discovering to take over.

Accelerating speed: With all stakeholders involved working on common insights, the risk aversion is so common in organizations that it gives way to faster speeds.

As we have seen, design thinking is about bringing about a simple process to the way we approach our day-to-day problems. When we change the way we look at a problem, we change the words that people say, and when we change the words that people say. we change the way we behave and by changing the way we behave we change the culture.

Start the New Year with a whole new design thinking approach to your business.

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