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6 Tactics to Make Design Thinking a Success

Design thinking is great in concept, but there must be some planning around the execution.

Recently, I wrote about how to put design thinking into action, covering what design thinking is, some of the tools and techniques you can use and ways it can be useful. In this follow-up article, I’m going to look at some of the specific tactics you can utilize to make design thinking a success in your organization.

Why Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a strong methodology that helps users and stakeholders give imaginative and effective input into designing human-centered solutions for a wide range of digital projects. It drives both innovative and highly tangible outcomes that not only support solution design, but can also contribute to successful roadmaps, RFPs, project plans, KPIs and dashboards. Above all, design thinking is fun, and gives a voice to everyone involved in a process. It ensures that users are heard, helping them consider and articulate their ideas.

Design thinking can be used across a wide range of scenarios. For example, I have worked with a large Canadian organization serving the community who were considering their next digital experience platform (DXP). They were going through a digital transformation exercise that involved changing all their systems, and we used design thinking to help them choose their platform in terms of needs rather than technology.

The design thinking sessions helped the team identify their audience and consider how to re-organize their content into something that was much better focused on the needs of that audience. As a result, the DXP they selected was a good fit for these new priorities.

Six Tactics for Successful Design Thinking

Design thinking is not rocket science, but it does take some planning. Here are six tactics to consider that will help drive more successful design thinking.

1. Consider Phases, Tools, Techniques of Design Thinking

When I plan out a design thinking workshop, I always think about the different phases it needs to cover to reach a successful outcome. Generally, there are three:

  • Understanding the current state: Emphasizing and defining the current problem, really going into detail if necessary, analyzing the issues identified and synthesizing them to discern the main priorities
  • Mapping the future state: Coming up with new ideas and then giving them more by prototyping a solution
  • Validating proposed ideas: Testing the ideas to see if they will work and how realistically they can be put into action

For each phase, you can then map out the various tools and techniques that could help participants give their input. I mentioned some of these in the last article: for example, Rose, Thorn, Bud works very well in understanding the current state, while a Creative Matrix is great for mapping the future state.

2. Adopt the Right Mindset

Sometimes, if you have a hammer, it’s all too easy to see everything as a nail. That kind of thinking tends to result in technology platforms being used to solve problems that they are not best suited to solve, or finding problems that don’t actually need addressing. This ultimately leads to technology that is neither people-centric, nor particularly successful.

This is the sort of outcome that design thinking aims to avoid by looking at problems in a different way and encouraging people to challenge their own assumptions. While there are techniques that can help bring out different ideas, it is good for participants to approach a design thinking workshop with the right mindset and be prepared to challenge their existing thinking.

3. Gather Diverse Group of Perspectives

A lot has been written about the value of diversity in collaboration and avoiding group think. Similarly, in a design thinking workshop, it really pays to involve a varied set of stakeholders to leverage a wide range of perspectives. Having input from different roles, backgrounds and levels is critical.

For example, if you were using a design thinking workshop to help select a new DXP, you would want input from your marketing, design, technology and content teams. This means people who don’t normally talk and provide feedback are truly involved, especially during design thinking exercises which require input from everybody.

When ensuring there are a range of diverse stakeholders involved, try to provide an agenda and stress that it is an important but highly enjoyable day; you want to make sure that everyone who says they will come does actually turn up.

4. Have the Right Facilitator

Design thinking has become truly mainstream in the last two to three years, with a lot of media attention in the business process. Many people are dipping their toes into the world of design thinking, which is of course a good thing, but it does mean that not everybody is applying it successfully.

Design thinking has a large set of tools and techniques, and there are a lot of potential “recipes” that can be applied. If you are going to carry out a design thinking session that takes up the valuable time of multiple stakeholders, you want to make sure you have the right facilitator. That person will make all the difference.

A successful facilitator needs to have solid experience of running workshops and sessions. They also must be able to choose the right techniques and tools based on the problem that is being solved, the workshop’s audience and the time that is available.

5. Get Prepared for Any Design Thinking Session

It might sound obvious, but you need to plan out each session and ensure you have the required resources based on the scheduled exercises and the number of people attending. Pens and paper? Stickers and post-it notes? Whiteboard? Desks, tables and chairs? Does the space you’re going to be working in have any issues? If you have an external facilitator, make sure you speak to them beforehand to prepare everything you need.

Similar rules apply if you’re running a virtual design thinking session. You’ll likely be using some kind of whiteboarding tool like Miro or Mural, but do make sure they have the requisite capabilities or even templates. Mural Online, for example, has Luma Institute templates.

Setting aside adequate time for planning ensures there are no impediments to the flow of ideas and input. Design thinking is fun, fast-paced and invigorating, and keeping participants engaged is key as this will generate much better interaction. And that means better outputs.

6. Get Experience if Running Design Thinking Sessions In-house

If you’re going to start running sessions in-house, there are ways to build up the right learning and experience to get great results. Starting out by attending a design thinking session led by an experienced facilitator is always a good way to get a feel for some of the concepts and see design thinking in action.

Then, use a design thinking training and certification organization like the Luma Institute to learn the right tools and techniques, and gain solid experience of running actual sessions yourself. I went through Luma’s certification program a few years ago, and it’s given me all I need to facilitate design thinking workshops.

Conclusion: Getting the Best Out of Design Thinking

Design thinking has real value when it’s done well. By using the right tactics, you can make sure you get the best out of your design thinking session, ensuring you get valuable output while also making participants feel empowered through an enjoyable experience.

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