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  • Writer's pictureSven Marten

Design Thinking is no panacea

This happens more often than you would guess: The Customer needs Design Thinking fast and reliable to solve a specific problem he already knows. At least he says so. In fact, Design Thinking is even more powerful in a way he doesn’t think of.

Scorched earth, gridlocked situations, wasted resources, colleagues who do not want to, or cannot, search for a solution together? No problem — we’ll fix it with Design Thinking! This is what happens, when Design Thinking becomes the handsome new kid on the block in organizations. At rocket speed, it becomes the buzzword solution and gets applied to any and all kinds of problems. But, I’m sorry to spread the news: Design Thinking is no panacea.

Handle with Care

Design Thinking is a mindset and a process. With the right people (a multidisciplinary team) in a creative space it is the most powerful approach to identify the underlying root cause to a problem and develop creative solutions. The goal is to quickly and cheaply validate the most promising ideas with users and get a project on track.

To make design thinking successful it is essential that the problem or challenge is framed correctly and that it tackles the root cause. Here, it’s important that the team is open-minded enough to challenge the initial question, “what problem REALLY has to be solved?”

Here’s how this typically plays out:

Customer: ‘’We need a Design Thinking Workshop.‘’ Design Thinker: ‘’Okay. What’s your problem?’’ Customer: ‘’The Problem is that we do not sell enough. Therefore we need a CRM system.’’ Design Thinker: ‘’Okay. If you have the problem AND the solution, why do you need us?’’ Customer: ‘’We need a Design Thinking workshop to understand how the CRM has to be configured.’’ Design Thinker: ‘’Sorry, but in that case you need something different.’’

What happened? The customer has a pain — sales are weak. But this is NOT the root cause problem. There is a reason for weak sales. It may be that not enough leads are created to fill the pipeline (in that case CRM might be part of a solution). But it could also be that the products are of a low quality. Or production is slow. Or not sustainable. Or the webshop is poorly designed. Or… or… in these cases CRM would not help to sell a single product.

You have to scope

You see my point. If we do not identify the root cause and thus reframe the challenge, we definitely shoot in the wrong direction. In such cases, Design Thinking will be misused to speed up processes without adhering to an important principle: Only if you observe the problem from the user’s perspective you can really find the optimal solution.

After the most promising solution is validated, you need to scope the project. And this is not a Design Thinking task. This calls for a different workshop format to help put the project on track (at sovanta we call it Design Scoping).

So, the biggest pitfall is that Design Thinking is just seen as an accelerator to speed up projects that run out of time because teams are under enormous pressure to deliver. Often, we notice that teams are not willing to take a step back and ask these questions. And if you give in and go along with that approach then you’ll just help the workshop team to get to the wrong solution in a faster way. In the end, this leads to frustrating results and fosters the feeling that Design Thinking is not working at all.

How to use Design Thinking in a proper way?

Design Thinking is an incredibly powerful tool, but it is somewhat like medication: Ask the right questions first, then pick the most effective method, and dose wisely. At sovanta, we created our own decision framework: Are we willing to step back and find the root cause problem? Are we allowed to look left and right to create the best possible solution? If the problem and the preferred solution are already fixed, go ahead with Design Scoping.

So, Design Thinking is the right format if:

  • Projects are deadlocked or have already failed

  • Processes have to be digitized

  • A project needs to start quickly, but you don’t know where to start or how to get started

  • The needs of the customers/users are unclear

  • The requirements (from business side and/or IT) are not/not sufficiently understood

  • The actual (root cause) problem is not clearly defined

  • Participants need a new mindset & thinking tools to work creatively

  • The participants do not manage to work together constructively as a team

If one of these questions gives you sleepless nights, don’t hesitate to contact us;)

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