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Three Things That Are Different About Design Thinking

More disruptive technologies have emerged in the world of enterprise IT during the past decade than perhaps ever before. In-memory columnar storage, mobility, the cloud, and social media top the list. Individually, these disruptive technologies create new business opportunities.  Collectively, they drive a frenetic pace of innovation and business transformation.

At Optimal, we hear it all the time from our SAP customers: How do we embrace these new technologies while leveraging our existing SAP investments? What should we do first? What’s the long-term objective? What problems present the most risk?  What opportunities present the most upside? How do we achieve genuine differentiation, create customer value and a sustainable competitive advantage?

Design Thinking has something to say on these issues. In my last post, I talked about Design Thinking in terms of ‘right-brain’ vs. ‘left-brain’ thinking. The thrust of that article was that today’s challenges and opportunities demand a new way of thinking among business and technology professionals — a new approach that removes constraints of imagination and unleashes the potential of creativity.

In this article I’ll explore some of the ways in which Design Thinking differs from traditional IT development practices.

But first, let’s dispel a few possible misperceptions about Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is not a substitute for standard development tools and project-management practices. It is not a rigid process or set of templates. Design Thinking can incorporate all of an organization’s existing product development practices. It is best thought of as a new framework for more effectively utilizing everything at our disposal to drive innovation faster than ever before.

Design Thinking is a proven and repeatable methodology for addressing complex, often intractable problems. It is a structured, problem-solving framework that brings method (and productivity) to the madness created by today’s deluge of disruptive technologies, difficult problems and boundless opportunities.

While there is a tremendous amount of content and nuance around Design Thinking, we boil the differences down to three main categories:  (1) customer empathy, (2) multidisciplinary team-based activity and (3) process acceleration.

Customer empathy

Design Thinking is intensely end-user focused. It centers on close observation of how a person works, on the pains a worker deals with on a daily basis, on the workarounds every employee devises to get the job done, on their thoughts about what works, what doesn’t work, what might work, and what will never work.

Customer-focus is not mere lip service in Design Thinking. It is front-and-center at all times. Successful product (or application) design can only be achieved by developing a deep understanding and genuine empathy for the end-user. This means understanding how services and products appeal to both the rational and emotional sides of people.

Today’s business users demand a consumer-grade experience — fast, easy, intuitive. Customer-focus in Design Thinking translates into continually honing a product’s ease of use.

The consumerization of technology also has acclimated business users to expect incremental product enhancements. Design Thinking’s hyper-iterative process for prototyping and product development lends itself to continually increasing a product or service’s value to the customer.

Multidisciplinary teams

At its core, Design Thinking is a social, collaborative exercise — leveraging insights across different departments and operational areas, fostering discussion, and maximizing the complete value of an organization’s workforce and data assets.

Multidisciplinary collaborative teams are vital to Design Thinking. Everyone from end-users, designers, IT leads, line of business heads, customers, and partners participates in identifying problem areas and discovering opportunities for innovation.

Each individual on a Design Thinking team is expected to contribute, and each individual’s perspective is heard and valued. By drawing on a broad array of domain expertise, Design Thinking fosters discussion from which new insights arise.

By bringing together people with different skill-sets and experiences to work towards a common goal, Design Thinking strives to facilitate an environment where the creative spark happens more frequently.

Process Acceleration

Because Design Thinking is more of an ‘inclusive’ than ‘exclusive’ methodology, one might get the impression that product-development speed slows down. This is not the case.

Within the Design Thinking framework, speed is of the essence, with teams tasked to have tangible product prototypes ready for end-user testing within days or hours.

In the beginning, frequent failure can be a consequence of dramatically accelerating the product development process. But Design Thinking embraces failure early on, putting into practice the truism that we often learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.

Rapid prototyping, continuous user feedback and hyper-iterative development keeps all team members and product stakeholders invested in the process of product development — which in the end considerably speeds things up.

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