How design thinking and agile development can help you solve customer pain points

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Aaron Stibel CIO

(Editor's note: This is a co-authored article, written by James Vila, partner at Brillio Imagine, and Puneet Gupta, CTO at Brillio.)

In order to better understand and solve their customers’ pain points, enterprises have frequently turned to new and novel methodologies. These include design thinking and agile methodology, both of which aim to create effective products from a more customer-centric perspective.

While useful, these strategies can sometimes clash with one another, creating fresh headaches for managers and teams. Here, we’ll examine what it means to lead with design thinking, and how organizations can combine ideas from multiple methods to create solutions that are both efficient and effective.

What design thinking means

The idea of “design” brings to mind certain related concepts: art, imagination, right-brained thinking. And while we may think of design as being purely aesthetic, design thinking is actually a practical business methodology that applies the creative aspects of design to other business disciplines, including software development.

Design thinking is founded on a simple, yet elegant idea: products should be designed to meet the user’s needs and expectations. This requires a great deal of empathy, patience, and imagination.

Many organizations are led, at least in theory, by efficiency and logic. This approach can still be tailored to meet the user’s needs, and can often be quite successful. However, design thinking tends to see the bigger picture more clearly, empowering companies to craft delightful, unsurpassed user experiences.

Combining design with agility

For modern technology enterprises, “agile” principles are still all the rage when it comes to project management. Originally developed as a set of principles for software development, agile thinking emphasizes individuals and interactions, responsiveness to change, and collaboration with users. In the agile methodology, larger projects are divided into smaller, shorter tasks, completed in cycles, and assessed frequently.

A key difference is that agile thinking is focused on efficiency, whereas design thinking requires a patient, heedful approach.

Agile development and design thinking aren’t necessarily opposed to one another, but they can be at odds. However, they actually share many of the same objectives, such as streamlining operations and seeing things from the customer’s point of view. A key difference is that agile thinking is focused on efficiency, whereas design thinking requires a patient, heedful approach.

One way to combine the two is to lead with design thinking – using its principles to recognize the problems that must be solved, then identifying opportunities to create solutions. Once those solutions are determined, enterprises can use an agile approach to complete the work in fast, efficient cycles.

Leading with design thinking

The ultimate goal for enterprises should be to combine the forces of more than one methodology. The key is to not only create solutions quickly and efficiently but to get them right the first time. After all, it doesn’t make sense to speed through a development if the end result won’t meet the user’s needs.

Methodologies like design thinking and agile development are the wave of the future.

That’s why leading with design thinking is so critical. All of the agility in the world won’t be enough if the end product doesn’t create an emotional response in the user. Remember that design thinking can also offer an important competitive edge. Consider the case of Apple, whose offerings perform similar functions to those of its competitors, but in a more intuitive, emotionally appealing package.

Methodologies like design thinking and agile development are the wave of the future. As enterprises work to adopt these strategies, managers must look for ways to harmonize them. Then, they can realize the powerful advantages of each, which become even more pronounced when used together.

Design thinking and agile methodologies combined with advancements in technologies such as machine learning is accelerating the time to market significantly, in some cases, up to 50 percent faster, with associated productivity savings and accelerated value creation. The two practices combine the best of the top-down approach with the best of the bottom-up approach. It’s a way for leaders to translate their thoughts to action and therefore, the perfect blend of strategy and execution.

James Vila is Partner, Imagine Business Transformation Practice at Brillio.  He is a senior customer experience strategy management consulting leader with 20 years experience in global enterprise transformation including 8 years at Cisco Systems working with top 50 Customers to design and implement new business and operating models, leveraging scaling technology.