Ever had a moment when you suddenly realize no one around you understands something about which you’re so passionate? It’s like standing on stage after your best performance ever and the audience responds with a feeble clap. That happens to me almost every time I talk to someone about design thinking. I get a lot of head nodding (“I know what design thinking is. We always use it when designing our requirements.”) followed by discussion that proves otherwise.
So what exactly is design thinking?
Design thinking, much like innovation, is creative problem solving. It’s looking at problems in different ways to find new solutions. Most importantly, people are at the heart of every solution and everything you do from a design thinking perspective is aimed at making people’s lives better.
You could be conceiving new software for a hospital or a meal service that socially engages nursing home residents. Maybe you’re working on a social program that fills a gap you didn’t know existed until someone took the time to follow a person around for a day and note all the workarounds subconsciously put into place to alleviate daily frustrations. In the design thinking world, we call this journey mapping.
My advocacy for this approach originates from being married to someone who does this every day. There are daily conversations and dozens of books in my house that explore this idea. In my estimation, design thinking has three main components:
- Ideation. You need many, many ideas from as many people as possible; one idea and one person is never enough. That means you’ll need heaps of sticky notes and markers too…that’s where it gets fun.
- Empathy. Put yourself in the proverbial shoes of the person whose pain you’re trying to alleviate. Experience the situation from his or her perspective. Repeat that for several people with similar pain points.
- Experimentation. Be iterative (ties in nicely with Agile). Come up with something, try it and then ask yourself, “Does it work?” If it does, expand on it. If it doesn’t, consider pivoting and trying another angle.
Applying Design Thinking Beyond the Walls of the Product Development Department
In many organizations, design thinking lives in the product development department. Given I work in Geneia’s operations department, you may be wondering why I am so passionate about design thinking. Because it is absolutely applicable to my organization, the team that develops and enhances the products we use internally and externally to run Geneia.
I’ve introduced these concepts to my team because innovation through design thinking is cultural. It’s the perspective I want us to use every day, regardless of the problem or opportunity presented. Our ability to work with an innovative mindset leads to greater excitement about the journey to the end result. In fact, in our last design thinking session, the team put forward the idea of making our internal team website holographic!
Design thinking improves the Geneia employee experience.
Our ability to apply principles like design thinking means Geneia’s internal systems are created with the end user, Geneia employees, in mind, making it possible for our teams to operate more efficiently and effectively. I am confident these principles help us deliver a great end-user experience for our employees.
For example, our team is improving the way we onboard new team members. We are automating the process the resource coordinator uses to request hardware, a desk location, phone installation, and system IDs; prompting the hiring manager to request access to the various systems and software the new team member’s role requires; and creating tasks automatically assigned to provisioning teams and tracked to completion. Having everything ready to go on day one is the first step in making new team members feel welcome and ultimately supports a healthy work-life balance.
Design thinking gives clients fast, multi-modal access to support
Our team is also responsible for the MyGeneiaSM portal, an interactive experience where customers can collaborate using a crowd-sourced model, making contributions and learning from others’ posts. It also provides an easy-to-use knowledge base containing articles on product functionality, a portal for clients to submit and review open support tickets and more.
Our work with this product is focused on giving clients fast access to support without having to pick up a phone. On the flip side, we support a mobile app if clients prefer their phone or tablet. By using design thinking principles, we’ve been able to approach this from the customer’s perspective.
While these questions seem basic and intuitive, as an end user myself, I know not enough companies ask them. Think about your commute to work this morning: did your auto, bus or train manufacturer use design thinking? If my car manufacturer had used it, my Bluetooth connection would work without ‘encouraging’ it several times, the USB charger would work with my phone, my travel mug would fit in the cup holder, and I could use Waze on my navigation screen instead of the outdated system that doesn’t re-route me when there’s traffic.
Design Thinking: Make It Human
Does it take years to learn design thinking? Do you need to be born with a creative gene? Absolutely not. I still draw stick people!
The methods I use are simplistic. I often cut documents and flows apart, tape them back together in a different order and then give them to someone else for a fresh look. My team uses the same approach.
Design thinking isn’t a black box between project inception and delivery; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. If you truly want to innovate, jump feet-first into the box with a bunch of people, a supply of sticky notes and markers and see how many creative and unique ways you can look at your boxed-in situation – and how many options you can visualize to get back out!