Design Thinking has emerged as a practical methodology for driving innovative outcomes. Design Thinking encourages innovative solutions by drawing on approaches from engineering and design and combining them with ideas from the arts, social sciences, and the business world. Here are key elements of Design Thinking to help you understand the practice better.
Design Thinking is …
1) People-centered. Empathy is at the core. Empathy gained through user research is at the center of design. The PM and project team should strive to include all project stakeholders and customers in the process, starting from project initiation. The goal is to get immediate and timely feedback from the customer and make changes and revisions along the way.
2) Extensive interdisciplinary collaboration. A common challenge across projects is communication. Words, and the meaning behind them are often misunderstood. Different people with different backgrounds and experiences use language differently. Design Thinking tools and methods, like sketching, mind maps or physical models, can be extremely useful. They force people to remove imprecise words and organize around a “synthesized” picture to describe the concept. Additionally, people are terrible at recall, but we’re awesome at recognition. Project Managers should utilize these tools and methods to bring people together and work more effectively.
3) Highly creative. Strives for diverse viewpoints. As a PM, you should staff your project team with people that possess different perspectives for the best results. You absolutely need people who think differently, but to be efficient, you need to find ways to communicate, prioritize, share in decision making. Seek out staff that can “think laterally” and are willing to try connecting ideas that might not seem to intuitively go together.
4) All about doing and being hands-on. Design Thinking is about taking ideas and concepts and quickly giving them form. Whether a napkin sketch, a prototype carved from foam rubber, or a digital mock-up, the quick-and-rough models that designers constantly create are a critical component of innovation. When you give form to an idea, you begin to make it real and can elicit emotional responses from end users and customers. You have to make something in order to learn.
5) Iterative. Lastly, Design Thinking is iterative. You and your team will never get it right the first time.
As part of your project management process, you need to embed the cyclical process of prototyping, analyzing, and refining a product or service. Your team needs to secure timely feedback from the customer in order to make iterative/incremental improvements along the way. My advice — the iterative nature of design is not as costly as not doing it at all.
A few closing thoughts on this topic:
1) Design Thinking is not magic. There is rigor to it. You can learn it. You can practice it, you can get better at it.
2) There are many design models to choose from and no single process or toolkit serves every case. As a PM, you need to understand whatever model you are using and account for it in your project planning and execution.
3) Design is a set of tools to solve problems. If you do it well, it is a sustainable activity that can transform your projects and your entire business.
As part of your project management process, you need to embed the cyclical process of prototyping, analyzing, and refining a product or service. Your team needs to secure timely feedback from the customer in order to make iterative/incremental.