By Lynette Seah | Design thinking is not a particularly new concept, yet many people still struggle to understand and implement it effectively. At the heart of it, design thinking is about considering human needs first and then identifying solutions to complex problems in a hands-on and dynamic way.
Whether you’re just beginning or have already started to use design thinking as part of your organisation’s digital transformation strategy, understanding these potential pitfalls can make all the difference to your success.
Design Thinking Stages
Before we delve into the right and wrong ways to approach design thinking, let’s first briefly define the process. Although various iterations exist, this five-stage approach contains all the necessary elements without over-complicating the process:
1. Empathise: This stage is what really sets design thinking apart from other methodologies. It brings out the human side of your organisation’s problems by listening to customers and understanding their needs and desires. By immersing yourself at a human level you can gain useful insights that feed into all other stages of the process.
2. Define: During this stage you should take a problem your company is facing and re-frame it from a customer’s perspective. Defining problems in a human-centric way helps you make sure the solutions you develop later on are addressing customer needs.
3. Ideate: Ideation is about creating a multitude of ideas as potential solutions to the problem(s) you have identified. This often begins with a brainstorming session to generate as many ideas as possible then refine your ideas before moving to the next stage.
4. Prototype: In this stage, the aim is to create rough drafts of the solutions with which you want to proceed. Prototyping should be an experimental, hands-on process that may just focus on particular elements of a new product to keep things quick and economical.
5. Test: This is where a complete solution is produced from the knowledge gained in the previous stages. It’s then tested with customers to see whether it addresses the needs and problems initially identified.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
Now that we’re clear on the stages of the process, let’s look at how to avoid some common mistakes that occur during implementation.
1. Making it a rigid linear process – Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that these stages are not necessarily sequential. You may apply two or more steps simultaneously or revisit previous steps iteratively. The design thinking process should be fluid, with each stage contributing to the project in whatever order makes most sense. In particular, insight gained in later stages can feed back into earlier stages, which are then repeated with more fruitful results.
2. Being afraid to fail – The dynamic nature of this process means that there is room for failure, learning, and re-assessment. In fact, if you don’t experience failure at some point along the way, you’re probably being too cautious in your approach.
3. Thinking it’s only for the C-suite – Part of the beauty of design thinking is that it can bring together a diverse group of people from different professions and levels within the company, and they can all contribute something valuable.
4. Trying to solve every single problem with design thinking – Design thinking is a wonderful tool. It is just as important to know how to implement as it is to know when not to use it. It can be very helpful to identify new markets and create new offerings, but it’s not so useful for problems that are already clearly defined or where another technique, such as process improvement, would be more suitable.
For the design thinking process to work properly, it must be implemented in the right way for the right types of problems. Get a diverse group of people involved, give them space to create and fail, and don’t forget to make it a dynamic, iterative process.
About The Author
Lynette Seah is an Australian Chartered Accountant with over 28 years of experience in MNCs such as PWC and J.D Edwards, including 8 years as VP of Finance & Strategy at Salesforce.com. Lynette is the Founder and Owner of Alpha7, a company named one of the top 25 Most Promising Technology Startups in 2016 by APAC CIO Outlook. The business dashboard A7 IoB launched in Aug 2017.