Why You Should Be a Design Thinker


There is new buzz for business and project management; it’s called “Design Thinking.”  Design thinking is not new, but proponents like Tim Brown, President/CEO of IDEO gave a foundational TED Talk on design thinking in 2009 and he suggested that Design Thinking belongs back in the forefront as a methodology for use in the public, private nonprofit sector enterprises. More and more organizations are insisting that their managers and product teams become design thinkers… and for good reason.

What is Design Thinking?

There are a variety of definitions but the two that fit the current trend best are below:

  • Tim Brown. President/CEO of IDEO, describes it as user-centric with this description; “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.
  • The Stanford d.school describes design thinking as “a methodology for innovation that combines creative and analytical approaches and requires collaboration across disciplines.

Clearly, it encourages a user-centric approach to develop innovative solutions and draws on approaches from engineering and design by combining them with ideas from the arts, social sciences and the business world.

How to apply design thinking to your project

What Are the Process Steps in Design Thinking?

The Stanford d.school has done the most work in this area and has the most widely-used five step design thinking process as follows:

  1. Empathy: Begin the end in mind with your end users and stakeholders. Empathize to get to know them through interviews, observations and learning how they would possibly interact with the product.
  2. Define: Based on your input from your end users and stakeholders, you can start forming hypotheses and asking further questions. All the while keeping the user’s perspective in mind.
  3. Ideate: Explore, brainstorm ideas and flush out the bad ideas to get to the good ones.
  4. Prototype: Building a prototype allows you to see how your product perform helps to put your ideas to the test.
  5. Test: Let your end users and stakeholders test your prototype, learning how they interact with it and thus allowing you to refine your ideas.

How Can You Apply Design Thinking?

  • Know your design process – Be accountable to understand the product lifecycle and its processes.
  • Focus on your customer first – Get out of your office and get to know your end users and stakeholders. Seeing the projects and its impacts will give you a new perspective from their point of view.
  • Everyone can be involved in design – Collaboration across many disciplines can promote common language, practices, and allow many to participate.
  • Brush up on your emotional intelligence – Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s situation from their perspective.  Placing yourself in another person’s shoes to understand their issues/problems may require occasional reflection.
  • Uncover the real business problems to be solved – Big, wicked creative ideas are important for teams to brainstorm to uncover the best and brightest ideas for the organization to consider for their projects. 
  • More brainstorming before the analysis – Analysis will provide teams with the detail to solve problems; don’t get stuck analyzing the wrong problems.  Make brainstorming big ideas a priority with your project teams so you spend time analyzing the right problems.
  • Utilize lean project management practices to help your organization learn to be more Agile. – Agile is a practice that more organizations are beginning to adopt into their cultures. Stay abreast of current practices and methods to help your organization solve their business problems using the most innovative practices.
  • Widely used tools add value – Design processes offers a few tools that project managers can take advantage of for process improvements, stakeholder participation, requirements gathering and experience design.

Future State of Design Thinking

Design thinking is not new but it’s a major trend for organizations to approach modern problem solving strategically. Design thinking for PMs promotes creativity to exploit the best ideas to select in the scope of requirements for a project that generates innovative solutions to meet a strategic initiative. Organizations should establish training for project managers, product managers and any product teams to build a strong knowledge and skill base around design thinking approaches in order to balance that with agile practices and to lead more strategic projects for their organizations.

If design thinking is the latest tool for you to be a better manager, then make sure you have all the right tools to collaborate and manage your projects. ProjectManager.com has been specifically designed for the needs of today’s project leaders. See for yourself by trying our free 30-day trial.

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