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Making design thinking an ‘always-on activity’

12 Apr 17

Design sprint experiences can often feel more like a marathon for participants learning to work in a new way. By thinking of a sprint as a ‘design learning cycle’, it can be seen as a more fluid and iterative process that becomes ‘business as usual’…

Design Thinking can help business leaders address their organisation’s most important challenges and deliver the ultimate prize – creating customer utility.

To achieve the re-imagining of existing products or services and the invention of new ones, a design sprint shouldn’t be a one-off experience engineered to confirm an existing assumption or develop a new fail-safe initiative.

While no process offers a silver bullet for companies wanting to eliminate risk, by treating design sprints as a continuous design learning cycle, Design Thinking can become a routine mechanism that works directly with your customer to solve their most pressing needs.

The true purpose of a design learning cycle is to move with speed so that each stage of a Design Thinking process fail-safes the last. For example, your ability to frame up a human-centred problem is dependent upon the quality of your research.

Your ability to ideate is dependent upon the quality of problem framing. Participants should be prompted to iteratively move through a design learning cycle at an almost unreasonable pace. Put simply, many smaller design cycles (iterations) are safer to apply than long-drawn-out projects.

Pace brings other benefits too. Shorter and faster learning cycles reduce risk within your business. Effectively, you are committing fewer resources towards exposing a flawed concept or strategy.

Smaller, routine cycles also create a safer landing pad for teams to fail or for them to learn to recognise and acknowledge when they are failing. A smaller, scaled cycle will reduce anxiety within the team and help them take the necessary bold steps towards realising an innovative idea.

With routine application, the effectiveness of design learning cycles will accelerate dramatically. Each cycle usually provides a diversity of lessons learned for the wider business and, over time, familiar patterns will begin to consistently emerge regardless of the starting design challenge and context.

Companies should take serious notice of such themes and patterns. They could be indicative of a serious issue in need of attention.

What else might prevent your forays into Design Thinking from stalling at the first hurdle?

First, always begin with research where you seek to understand the genuine needs and problems experienced by your customer. Don’t believe ‘we already have all of the answers in the room’. You don’t.

Avoiding meeting with your customers at the start of a sprint process might initially feel like the path of least resistance, but that will give you an output of least surprise. Sprinting without research will lead to incremental step-change at best and likely just resurface familiar ideas already available to your business.

Also, consider investing time in designing the right challenge for your design thinkers. An overly tactical focus or working on routine ‘hygiene’ projects with too narrow a field of focus tend to exhaust themselves quickly in a design learning cycle.

A challenge which is too wide open might be devoid of the requisite constraint to focus your designers towards delivering a useful outcome. An appropriately scaled challenge will instead allow teams to negotiate their way ‘to the puck’ and be directed by real customer need.

When operated as a continuous routine process with your customers, design learning cycles will help inform your fundamental business strategy. Take time to scale challenges the right way and be prepared to operate cycles at an almost unreasonable pace.

With the right formula in place, you will soon discover how design learning cycles can help you get it right by rapidly getting it wrong.

Simon Holbrook is Principal Consultant of Assurity Consulting’s new Design Thinking team. Simon and Olivia Wilson will be hosting a live ‘How can Design Thinking help you?’ Q&A session on Assurity Consulting’s Facebook page to introduce people to the power of Design Thinking. Tune in on Friday 21 April at midday. You can submit your questions before the event via this link. We’ll aim to answer as many questions as possible in the 20-minute Livestream. Please ‘like’ Assurity Consulting’s Facebook page for all the latest event notifications. 

Article by Simon Holbrook, Principal Consultant, Design Thinking, Assurity Consulting

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