First it was Agile. Then it was DevOps. Now it’s design thinking (often in combination with DevOps) – the latest approach that aims to transform IT service delivery, user satisfaction, and business outcomes.
While relatively new to corporate IT, design thinking has been around for a while. With roots going back to Stanford University’s School of Engineering in the 1970’s and later proliferating in Silicon Valley product development, it’s a user-centric approach to developing new products and services. In the consumer world, design thinking inverts the traditional innovation method: Instead of developing a new product or service in isolation and then convincing customers to buy it, design thinking enables companies to create products and services based on an in-depth understanding of what customers want.
It’s easy to see the potential benefits for corporate IT: Instead of building a new system in isolation and throwing it over a wall, technology leaders can integrate the end-user perspective from the very start. In combination with more iterative DevOps/agile development processes and managerial styles, design thinking can create a broad array of positive results.
“Design thinking puts the user at the center of the universe and the services are designed and developed per the user,” says Yugal Joshi, vice president at management consultancy and research firm Everest Group. “This user-centricity has been missing from the IT organization. The collaboration it can drive between IT, businesses, and end users can add significant value to the business in terms of employee engagement, productivity, cost of services, and revenue impact.”
But design thinking alone is not a silver bullet – and it won’t be right for every IT organization. Here are some questions IT leaders should ask before pursuing design thinking:
1. What’s the impetus for exploring design thinking?
“Design thinking is not an end in and of itself,” says Prashant Kelker, a partner in technology research and advisory firm ISG’s Digital Solutions Group. IT leaders who have found design thinking useful tend to frame it as an additional tool that the organization can employ to better understand end users and build solutions.
2. How will we define design thinking?
“Design thinking has multiple definitions and implementations, therefore choosing the preferred path and training users appropriately is necessary,” says Michael Cantor, CIO of Park Place Technologies. To begin, CIOs might look to software vendors, IT service providers, or other third parties who have a design thinking methodology and partner with them to provide a framework and training.
Because design thinking isn’t terribly prescriptive, some CIOs can get frustrated with a certain specific design thinking approach “and throw the baby out with the bathwater assuming design thinking isn’t relevant for their model,” says Joshi. “[However], CIOs can always change the typically available design thinking approaches to suit their own environment.”
IT leaders should also make sure, once they have an approach in mind, “that the IT team has access to experienced mentors that will guide and set expectations for team members and stakeholders,” says Dean Pipes, CIO of unified communications and collaboration provider TetraVX.
3. Can our organization embrace rapid testing, failure, and course correction?
“It’s risky to take on a new approach like this unless the culture is prepared for it,” says Pipes. “There needs to be a commitment to embracing the different cadences and lifecycle that comes with design thinking.”
IT organizations that have already adopted an agile framework or aspire to become more agile are good candidates for integrating design thinking. “While it won’t apply in all circumstances, a design thinking approach heavily supports the rapid prototype, test, and refactor agile pattern,” Cantor says. “It is incredibly useful in other development methodologies as well, but doesn’t necessarily align as cleanly as it does with Agile.”
At the same time, it’s important that everyone in the company understands the differences between – and benefits of – design thinking and agile, says Shawn Fields, VP of digital innovation with managed services provider CompuCom.
In addition, adds Kelker, IT leaders should make sure that performance evaluations and incentive programs are aligned with the design thinking approach: Don’t punish the failures and risk-taking that are integral to the iterative learning that takes place.
4. Will your IT culture support the design thinking mindset?
As described by the well-known design thinking shop IDEO, design thinking integrates “the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Empathy with users or customers is the bedrock upon which design thinking is built.
Practitioners believe that fully understanding the experience of the user for whom you are designing – through observation, interaction, and immersion – is key to understanding what really matters to them.
“Corporate IT will be called on to have much stronger consulting skills as they co-design workflows in-house along with their business colleagues,” says Kelker.
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