Design (or should I say the design process) is fast becoming one of the most important methodologies you can apply in modern business. Having a forward thinking management team with a design thinking mindset is critical to the success of any business. Having a whole organization of design thinking employees is like winning the jackpot on the lottery – you are untouchable!
So what is all this Design Thinking stuff about anyway – what does it really mean in concrete terms? To be honest I spent 11 years working at IDEO, the place that invented Design Thinking and even though I read all the books, got drunk with many of the guys and girls that wrote those books I still for some reason did not quite get it. Maybe if I had spent less time getting drunk I would have wrote my own book and nailed it but hey, what the hell, life’s too short!
Go google Design Thinking and you’ll get a bunch of abstract diagrams or the usual designer dude in front of a wall of post-its.
Anyway, in simple terms here’s my understanding of Design Thinking:
“Throw away all assumptions, get out of the boardroom, fall in love with the end user, co-design with your client, be prepared to kill your babies, fail often to succeed sooner and prototype the hell out of everything. Iterate wildly but always keep your eye on the big picture if you want to change the world. Never ever give up and remain positive always no matter what happens - That’s my book".
The year is now 2015 and now I’m starting to see the evidence of this Design Thinking behavior eventually popping up in the places you least expected and the value being advocated by the types of people you doubted the most. Something must have worked? At the height of the Design Thinking buzz, it always seemed to me like a subculture of smart designer types chattering amongst themselves. I don’t think for one second traditional industry had much idea what we were talking about or more importantly what relevance, if any it had for them and their businesses back in the day.
Times however have changed for the better;-)
The digital revolution feels like a huge meteor just hit and the impact is global and deep. The large egg laying dinosaurs with specialist adaptations are struggling to find enough nourishment and places to nest, while the smaller, more adaptable and agile, opportunists begin to flourish and re-populate this planet we call Earth.
With the onset of the digital revolution, global internet penetration and device technology, big companies are becoming more and more distanced from their customers. Global competition has gone through the ceiling. The digital environment is about as stable as a feather in a thunderstorm. The rules of business have well and truly been re-written in front of our very eyes and the Design Thinkers are having a field day.
I’m very happy to say, I’m starting to see real evidence of this. I’m seeing modern successful companies adhering to core Design Thinking principles, whether they are aware of it or not, it’s helping them go from strength to strength. I’m meeting CEO’s and CTO’s who totally “get it”. They are turning their backs on the old school management consultancies, prefering hands on “doing” companies like Futurice to help them change the way their companies work and deliver their services to the world.
I’m also working with R&D teams in large traditional organizations that are currently creating their own innovation labs with roots that drink directly from the Design Thinking source. Even brand strategy, marketing and communication agencies are getting in on the act, adopting co-creation with end users as a key weapon in their arsenal. Good times I’d say!
But hang on a minute, Design Thinking just got even better!
Design thinking grew up and became truly multi-disciplinary. In the past when I worked at IDEO, the teams were made up of mainly designers, different types of designer yes, but at the end of the day from a similar design mould, we all followed the same process and things went just fine. These days it’s much more of a mixed bag. At Futurice teams are highly diverse. Projects are made up of designers, software developers, business consultants and data analysts all working together on the same brief. Again the digital revolution has been the key trigger for this increased multi-disciplinary front and it's also due to the greater complexity of the problems these teams are solving.
Clearly this extreme team diversity you would think could cause some issues and you’d be right. Ingrained ways of working, communication and cultural issues are the biggest challenges to overcome. That’s why there really aren’t many companies that have managed to combine all these disciplines and schools of thought under the same roof and do it successfully.
But just like in any diverse environment, what’s needed for it to succeed is respect and understanding of each others difference. A large degree of empathy for other disciplines and the cross-pollination of thinking on a daily basis. What also helps is to actively hire people who we call "Pi shaped", meaning their skills comfortably span two or even more core disciplnes. Not an easy task but if you raise the bar high you can find these people.
Where Futurice teams excel is in the merging of the various schools of thought. Futurice is prototyping and improving this working relationship on a daily basis with the projects we are doing. We are actively bringing together three schools of thought, combining the best, most impactful aspects of Design Thinking, Agile Development and Startup Mindset into one way of working that we call “Lean Service Creation” (LSC for short).
The three schools of thought naturally share some common practises, for example, prototyping in short iterative sprints with regular reviews are key to all. What I have found more valuable however is how the merging of the three has also helped to trim some of the fat from each of them. Take for example user insight work. At IDEO we invested heavily into this area and rightly so. However I often felt that it took far too long for the team to create anything concrete and after much distilling and strategising a concept would finailly appear from the shadows.
In contrast with LSC we prefer to do the two activities almost in parallel, meaning we co-create with small users panels as part of our Service Vision Sprints diving much faster into the concrete. We focus on quickly designing and building something real, a working prototype or a mockup of some sort that enables us to evaluate back with our user panel throughout the process. Here I think we see the value of combining Design Thinking with Agile Development techniques.
I also find many of the Startup tools a very helpful addition to the design process. For example the business model canvas and value proposition definition was something I found completely missing from the Design Thinking toolbox. The minimal viable product (MVP) thinking that says build a bare bones service fast with lower investment and lower risk, get it into the market as soon as possible to check for market fit before investing more. This iterative prototyping behaviour is actioned where it's most needed, in context with real end users, rather than in some artificial test lab.
The brilliance of this method is that it taps directly into the nature of how modern companies should operate in this rapidly changing digital environment, helping them navigate the unexpected pitfalls without too much negative impact.
So in summary it's great to see these three schools of thought maturing and to benefit from all the battle proven tools and methodologies they contain. It has also been a very interesting journey working out how to combine these toolboxes and offer something new and unique to the market that makes total sense and delivers deep impact in this challenging business environment we are part of today.
See you on the next one.