There is a shift happening – to a human-centric approach to creating products that people love and are loyal to. This real connection to humans equals real big business. Recent surveys by the Design Institute show that Design organizations (like Apple, Disney, and Target) outperform others by over 200%! As consumers, we may not know exactly what it is that draws us to these companies, but it shows up through brand loyalty. Want to get that kind of results? Read on…
Design as a method for problem-solving
This shift to design as a method for problem-solving is not new, it’s a resurgence to connect with users and to compete in an unstable, global marketplace that is running faster than ever before. Design Thinking is a mindset (‘design’ as a way of thinking) and it’s output is the use of structured, customer-centric exercises – and user data – that help us identify and explore key interactions and gain empathy for the customer. That mindset, combined with some simple techniques, can lead to new insights and exciting ideas for business opportunities.
There is a great deal of emphasis on building things right. And building things fast. Agile helps. Scrum is an agile framework used to build software in complex environments. We use iterative development, sustainable teams, and short feedback loops to get working software into the hands of our users. We get a lot right.
However, we seem to have a lot of trouble building the right thing. Industry surveys like the Chaos Report consistently show that we still spend a lot of time and effort (= money) on building software that no one uses. Silicon Valley consultant Andrew Chen writes that 80% of users abandon mobile apps within 30 days.
Utilizing some very simple Design Thinking techniques like empathy exercises, customer journey maps and ideation helps us learn more about our customers and improve our product, service or process. It seems like Design Thinking and Scrum would go together like peas and carrots. But I often hear “I know we know we need to do more of <design thinking> but we just don’t have time. We are too busy solving existing customer’s problems.” And that is really the crux of the matter.
Design thinking isn’t about solving any one problem, it’s about defining the right problem to solve – and removing waste at the same time. We can’t outperform our competitors at over 200% if we don’t change the way we think, and then the way we work. Design Thinking helps us to evolve from a focus on “are we building it right?” and “are we building it fast” to “are we building the right thing?”
Change your thinking, change your product, change your world
So how do we bring Design Thinking into our existing Scrum cadence?
Why not use Refinement time? The Scrum Guide suggests we don’t spend more than 10% of our development time in Refinement, so that we focus on creating working products. The faster we can release, the faster we can get feedback and provide value to our users. However, in my experience, Refinement efforts are often under-utilized and too short sighted. Imagine spending 10% of your time preparing for future work. That could be a game changer! Read on for an example of how one day changed an organization’s strategy.
Design Thinking is a Complementary, not a Competing Practice
Recently, I had a very rewarding opportunity to run a design thinking session in a steel refinery. (Yes, I said steel. With steel workers.) Our intent was to identify opportunities for improvement in the melt shop – the area of the plant that contains the furnace, think of that iconic image most of us have of fire, extreme heat, and a very large cauldron of melted steel.
Happily, this event happened on the same day that President Trump announced a tariff on steel. What a disruptor! As a facilitator, I was excited to see how our design thinking exercise suddenly became a possible game changer due to this major change in the market. The focus of our session shifted on the fly to include the scrap metal yard — the area that intakes, sorts, and manages the materials that are fed into the furnace in the melt shop.
At the end of a 6-hour facilitated session, with lots of breaks, food, air, and conversation about the price of steel, this group of 7 steel workers had covered an entire wall with their insights – and identified 44 areas for improvement! 22 of these items were digital improvement ideas that were captured by a Digital Leader (in attendance), the others were captured by the Plant Manager (in attendance) and 2 were truly innovative suggestions related to optimization in the scrap yard that were fed back into the organization’s Innovation Center.
This is just one example of the synergy that is created by people closest to the work having the time and space to apply their powerful insights and problem solving to their own workspace. Did we find out if we were building the right thing? Time will tell! If you want to explore how design thinking might work in your domain, contact me to hear about success stories in a variety of domains.
UX and Design Thinking…
Let’s go just a little bit further. UX (short for User Experience) is the act and output of designing — for a user. UX designers would use Design Thinking techniques in their work, along with much, much more. UX experts are like digital anthropologists – UX is not just visual design, it includes information architecture, human behavior, decision making, and a whole lot more. It’s a fairly new discipline, and has really exploded with the last couple of decades of our digital transformations.
If you are working in a heavy UX environment, you might be keenly interested in the new offering by Scrum.org – Scrum with UX. This is a certification class that explores how to combine UX with the Scrum framework – which work can be done in parallel as part of the Sprint and other techniques to close the gap between UX and development. This course was formed by UX practitioners, including the author of Lean UX, Jeff Gothelf. Contact me about a Scrum with UX course if you want to know more or are interested in forming a private course.
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