Adoption of Design Thinking

In mid-April, I presented at the Design Thinking 2019 conference in Austin, Texas on “Translating Design Thinking into Effective Project Management”. My presentation was part of the “beginner track” and I shared the room with Andy Vitale (of Sun Trust) and Jason Gaikowski (of VMLY&R). The goal of my presentation was to help the audience understand how to lay the groundwork for successful adoption of design and arm them with the benefits and key messaging to use within their organizations.

I shared lessons learned and experiences from my career on how to:

  • Communicate the value of design to build organizational buy-in,
  • Proactively identify and address obstacles to adopting Design Thinking at an organization, and
  • Use our management or leadership roles to gain alignment and create unity in vision.

This article will focus on how to communicate the value of design in order to build organizational buy-in.

Value of Design

A key step to ensuring successful adoption of Design Thinking is being able to communicate the benefits of design in order to build organizational buy-in. The vocabulary that resonates best with business types, is “value”. And it is important to tie the “value” back to addressing some organizational pain points. Usually, I tie my pitch back to missed customer requirements. Software teams, especially internal IT teams, are especially bad at building and rolling out software solutions that do not meet the needs of their users. And sadly, industry statistics back this up.

Why? They are not practicing design. Nor are they using the goodness of Design Thinking.

  • Design drives business value – It has been found that “Design Centric” companies show higher investment return and out-perform the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. The Design Management Institute (a non-profit organization that seeks to heighten the awareness of design as an essential part of business strategy) identified a group of fifteen design-centric companies and found these over a ten-year period, from 2005 to 2015, these companies well out-performed S&P 500 index by more than 200%.
  • Design has positive impacts on business – This past October 2018, McKinsey & Company completed a study that built upon the Design Management Institute’s (DMI) index. McKinsey tracked the design practices of 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period. They interviewed and surveyed senior business and design leaders at those companies and found a clear correlation between superior business performance and design strength. Additionally, companies in the top-quartile of design maturity showed higher returns to thier shareholders.
  • Design helps mitigate risk and failure – If you look at stats around new product development from the consumer world, most products fail. Based on a 2011 study by Accenture and the Consumer Electronics Association (US), 95% of all returned electronic gadgets actually work despite what customers may say or think. 5% of returns were due to actual product defects; 27% were dues to buyer’s remorse. But astoundingly! 68% percent of all product returns worked properly, but weren’t meeting customer expectations — or they are simply too confusing to use. This is a big problem. The total of returned products with “no trouble found” or NTF, represented a $17 billion problem in the U.S. alone in 2011. In 2019 dollars, this would be equivalent to $19 billion worth of waste. All because of poor usability or complexity. The solution is to incorporate design methods into your work. If your teams become good at human-centered design they will mitigate risk. Most products don’t fail because of poor engineering or product quality, it’s usually the wrong solution to the wrong user need. Solving the right problem, with the right solution, is hard. It costs most industries real money. It’s a fact. The solution is to incorporate design methods into your work. If your teams become good at human-centered design they will mitigate risk. Most products don’t fail because of poor engineering or product quality, it’s usually the wrong solution to the wrong user need.
  • Design reduces overall product development costs – There is a principle: It costs less to identify and fix something earlier in the process. This sounds straight-forward, but most companies do not follow this guidance. Tom Gilb’s relative cost of repair model from “Principles of Software Engineering Management” points out it costs less to fix something earlier in the process. Per Gilb:  “Once a system is in development, correcting a problem costs 10 times as much as fixing the same problem in design. If the system has been released, it costs 100 times as much relative to fixing in design.” Investing upfront in making products “easy to us” really pays off. Using Design Thinking methods earlier in the product cycles reduces risk, cost, and time — while at the same time improving, efficiency, effectiveness, and end user satisfaction.
  • The cost of incorporating Design into your projects is not as high as you may think – Many project managers expect user research and usability testing to be expensive. Research has shown that you reach sample size “saturation” with a relatively small group of users. That number is about 5 per user group. The best results come from involving no more than 5 users and running user testing (and user research) across several small testing rounds, rather than blowing a budget on a single, elaborate study. When I present this information to a project manager audience, it really turns heads. The ROI break of 5 users to uncover usability defects is very compelling to business. I have heard several times: “this is one data point that I can immediately use in my work.”
  • Design helps with solving the right problems – Design Thinking helps teams focus on “doing the right thing”. As I mentioned before, design encourages the exploration of the problem space prior to the jumping into the problem-solving phase. Too often technical and business teams want to jump into solving the problem without fully understanding the problem or the customer’s needs.
  • Design Thinking is complimentary with other methodologies, not competitive – Lastly, Design Thinking has a compatible and even symbiotic relationship with other project methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma, Agile, Lean Start Up and traditional project management.

In my next post, I will address how to proactively identify and address potential obstacles to deployment and adoption of Design Thinking.

1 thought on “Adoption of Design Thinking

  1. […] * In April, I presented at the Design Thinking 2019 conference in Austin, Texas on “Translating Design Thinking into Effective Project Management”. For more information on how to adopt Design Thinking at your organization.  […]

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