26th September 2016

Implementing Design Thinking in 5 Steps

Design Thinking can play an important role in how businesses approach problem solving, innovation and decision making.  The word ‘design’ often conjures up the mental image of something visual, whether it’s graphic design, interior design or product design. In it’s simplest form, design thinking is about a process to address a question, topic, theme or challenge with a number of solutions and creating new opportunities.

Design thinking for business doesn’t mean you commission a consultant to come into your business and deliver all the answers after being locked in a dark room for a few hours, with nothing but a sketch pad. It requires somebody who can assemble a group of people, who are knowledgable about their business, make them feel comfortable to be honest, ask probing questions and find links and solutions in the insights they uncover.

The 5 step guide below provides a design thinking framework we use with our clients.

Step 1: Get to the heart of the challenge, not the surface.

Getting to the heart of the challenge requires an in-depth look at the real issue and not the perceived issue. As human beings we frequently hang onto our ‘first thoughts’. These are our gut responses or intuitions around a specific subject. To be able to drill further down and find the root cause of a challenge requires skill and perseverance. It can be a demanding process that is pivotal to the success of the overall solution. There is a need to balance diverse opinions from within a group and continue questioning until the real problem can be revealed. Once the challenge can be clearly defined, we can move onto step 2 where solutions are waiting to be discovered.

Step 2: Explore multiple solutions and opportunities.

With a clearly defined subject/challenge from step 1, attention can be shifted to ideas that solve the challenge. Many business stick with tried and tested methods of overcoming business obstacles, these often include management meetings, board meetings, individual discussions with section leaders or the advice of a trusted aide. This often results in a repeat of the ‘first thoughts’ syndrome, the obvious solution that sit’s in our subconscious tree, easily plucked and consumed. A design thinking approach will consider ‘first thought’ ideas but continue to question and drill down idea generation from a number of different angles. Different angles (or perspective’s) look at ideas from different people’s point’s of view and considers different scenarios. You might think a perfect solution exist’s as you see it from your business perspective but how does that solution look when viewed through the eye’s of your customer? Using customer empathy as a vantage point can guide ideas through a very different path and open the door to new opportunities. On several occasions I’ve been running a workshop, an off the cuff comment from a participant has been the catalyst for a great idea, the skill in this environment comes from listening and recognising what’s being said as possible solutions and not a throw away comment.

Step 3: Refine, sort and group short list of ideas.

Creating methods of collecting discussed idea’s and putting them in context to the challenge at hand is key to making a decision. One of our favoured tools for this process is a decision matrix. Core objective’s (rational) and affects (emotional) are mapped along the axis, the ideas and opportunities generated in the session are placed in the 4 quadrant’s with the strongest ideas closest to the central core challenge. This method not only allows us to sort, group and weight the idea’s, it allows everyone to visualise the solutions and become involved in sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Step 4: Decide on a solution and develop an action plan to implement.

Once the strongest, central idea has been agreed upon an action plan needs to be drawn up in order to make the solution happen. By developing a road map with roles, responsibilities and deadlines our idea has the best chance of survival. The energy from the workshop session’s can’t be lost when the hard work of deployment comes along. We all respond better when we know what is happening and the role we play in making it happen. Visual plan’s have the ability of adoption more than page upon page of reports. Time is of the essence and to absorb the detailed finding’s quickly require’s an approach that allows an action plan to be accessible and visual. Process and workflow diagrams are a simple way to bring an action plan to life and remove the barriers of implementation.

Step 5: Review and evaluate the effectiveness of the solution.

The final step in implementing the 5 step approach to design thinking is to review the effectiveness of the solution. The key questions we need to ask are; How was the solution received? Did we achieve our goal? What could we have done better? What more can we do next? The answer’s to these question’s will determine the next course of action. Do we start again, do we implement one of the other solutions, how can we improve on what we’ve done, have our customer’s or staff benefited from the changes we have made? The cycle of design thinking is never complete, it should always act as a catalyst for continued improvement, development and enhancement of brand experience.

If you would like to find out how design thinking can benefit your business, get in touch with us.

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