The latest issue of the Harvard Business review has an article on design thinking, discussing how it might be as big of a game changer as total quality management. It carries the potential to radically improve processes and unleash people’s creative energy.
Successful process innovation must deliver three things: better solutions, lower costs, and employee buy-in. Asking new and different questions in what is called the discovery process can help teams discover better ideas and solutions. It’s well known that the best solutions usually are those that incorporate user-driven criteria, with diverse voices brought into the discussion. What has to be managed is the time spent exploring a problem versus being too impatient to take the time what to ask.
A new process won’t succeed without employees getting behind it – and the best route to winning support is to involve employees in the process of generating ideas. But again, with the involvement of many people with different perspectives comes the necessity to tame the many points of view that may arise – and design thinking fits that bill, by bringing in a set of structures to facilitate productive thinking.
As explained by Kaaren Hanson, Facebook’s design product director:
“Anytime you’re trying to change people’s behavior, you need to start them off with a lot of structure, so they don’t have to think. A lot of what we do is habit, and it’s hard to change those habits, but having very clear guardrails can help us.”
Many of the methods design-thinking concern identifying the “job to be done.” This usually begins with immersion in user experiences that enable deeper insights. One example is the Gallery Walk exercise, where key stakeholders are invited to tour a gallery important data gathered during the discovery process and highlight the bits of data they consider essential. In small teams observations are shared, combined, and sorted by theme into clusters for insights. This is a way of avoiding having innovators will be too influenced by their perspective. The process creates a common understanding and facilitates interactions and reaching shared insights.
After this idea generation process, the assumptions underlying ideas will have been carefully vetted, ensuring success is achievable. They will have the buy-in of dedicated teams, tasked with bringing them to fruition.
Then comes testing. Prototyping is often regarded as a process of fine-tuning a something already largely developed. However, in design thinking prototyping is about users’ iterative experiences with a work in progress, meaning radical changes – even complete redesigns can happen during the process. Design thinking requires the repeated creation of prototypes: simple, low-cost artifacts capturing the essential features of the proposed user experience. They are different than “minimum viable products” that are often used to test with customers, and their most important quality is flexibility: the goal is to learn by exposing users to them, and have their incompleteness invite interaction. And this cyclical prototyping and testing continues until the project is delivered.
Design thinking creates a continuous flow from research to delivery. Immersion produces data, turned into insights, so that teams agree on criteria used for solutions. Assumptions of those solutions are then examined and tested with rough prototypes that yield valuable lessons for the development of further refinements and for real-world experiments.
By involving all stakeholders in the framing of the problem and the process of developing solutions, design thinking garners commitment to change. This helps innovators collaborate and agree on the essentials at each step along the way. And by shaping the experiences innovators, stakeholders and implementers, design thinking enables better ideas to come to fruition and ensures successful solutions.