In a previous blog post, I introduced several of the most popular project management methodologies that are used by professionals today. Included methodologies featured were: Waterfall, Agile, Kanban, and Design Thinking. These diverse methods help individuals – and teams – prepare and execute projects. An established and organized approach means that time is spent in a more meaningful way, increasing the likelihood of stronger solutions. Today, we are going to dive a little bit deeper into the Design Thinking methodology to dispel some questions and show you how it can be used in quick exercises to get you thinking like a seasoned pro.

There has always been the misconception that “design” refers to a final product or end result. In Design Thinking, the word takes on a more active form referring to the process that one goes through to get to that stellar end result. As businesses and their products have started to take design into serious consideration, Design Thinking brings a traditional designer’s approach into the business world. By taking unmet user needs into consideration and combining them with business strategy, it is possible to convert these gaps into customer value and market opportunity. Design Thinking is special because it combines empathy, creativity, and feedback, to create solutions that fit into the context. This means that these solutions meet user needs and generates revenue at the same time – a great way to keep your business strong and relevant! Ready to start thinking differently? Let’s go over the process of Design Thinking.

Key Elements of Design Thinking

Now that we understand why Design Thinking is valuable, we are going to explore the process. As a whole, there are four main steps that must be completed:

  1. Define The Problem: This is arguably the most crucial part of the process, not because it is the first step, but because if there isn’t a DISTINCT problem to solve you could be wasting time by coming up with something that already exists or doesn’t work for your business. In order to truly determine the problem, it is recommended to brainstorm in a group to define and revise the problem statement before embarking on the journey. This cross-function insight helps to provide needed diversity and boundaries.
  2. Create & Consider Many Options: While individuals in the brainstorming group might not offer up the BEST ideas, you must remember to consider and judge all ideas equally. What we are trying to do is to recognize ALL viable opportunities. An idea that might sound outlandish might actually yield a great solution after you ideate and develop it further. This leads us to step three.
  3. Refine Selected Directions: As we were just saying, refining and ideating allows an idea’s potential to be realized. Creating an environment where growth, mistakes, and experimentation are welcomed is key to achieving extraordinary results. During this stage, do not be surprised if some options need to be combined with others. This integration could be crucial to a plan’s success – so don’t discount the little guys! After you come up with refined selections, repeat this step until the right answers surface.
  4. Pick the Winner & Execute: After picking the winner from Step 3, commit resources (personnel, budget, technology, etc.) to achieve the early objectives of the plan. Many like to create prototypes and test them. Testing potential solutions early on allow a business to understand what aspects will work and what might not be achievable with the present resources available. It is better to nix a solution at this phase than to bring it into fruition completely and realize it actually doesn’t work.

Design Thinking Crash Course

This week, my professor challenged us to learn how to quickly define a problem statement and ideate solutions based off of a user’s needs. To make sure we were all on the same page, our professor had us follow this Design Thinking Crash Course led by Jeremy Utley and George Kembel of the Stanford This crash course encourages participants to learn how to be active and collaborative with the Design Thinking process. If you’d like to try it out for yourself with a partner, you can download the Participant Worksheet here.

“Every self-respecting designer should do something. Come up with new ideas, dust down old ideas and place them in a new context. Silence the cynics. Let the politicians know that wheeling and dealing achieves little. Prove that actions speak louder than words. Demonstrate the power of design. Designers can do more than make things pretty. Design is more than perfume, aesthetics and trends.”
– Richard van der Laken

The prompt of the exercise was to redesign the gift-giving experience. Through interviews and prototyping, this exercise is supposed to familiarize participants with the Design Thinking process. During my exercise, I was paired up with Kyle Souza, a reporter who works for NASCAR and handles social media updates. While Kyle and I had just had a previous class together, I didn’t know anything about him besides his name and where he worked. This exercise allowed me to get to know him and understand his objectives when giving a gift. Here is how our Design Crash Course played out:

During Kyle’s interview, he described the last gift he gave to someone. He gave the gift of dinner to a strained family who was currently facing hardship between caring for a sick mother and a differently-abled child. While his gift of pizza and spaghetti was well-received, it wasn’t about the physical gifts, but the service that made the biggest impact. After further questioning, I determined that my problem to solve was: Kyle needs a way to alleviate stress and care for others, but solutions must be respectful of time and schedules. From this problem statement, I was able to ideate and come up with a solution for Kyle’s specific gift-giving experience.

At the end of the exercise, my solution to Kyle’s problem were “Help Coupons.” Taken from the idea of “coupons” a child would create for their Mom on Mother’s Day, this solution would allow both parties to collaborate and define when and what they need/were able to do. In my prototyped solution, I created a Help Coupons booklet that had outlines of possible tasks one could fill in and transfer to the app by either taking a photo of the filled-out page or by manually adding in a task. The app would then connect to parties’ calendars and users could submit/reschedule/reject tasks.

As a solution, this allowed Kyle to perform helpful tasks while keeping the limits of his busy schedule in mind. The family in need was also able to provide what they needed in a way that wasn’t demanding or overbearing and could be easily edited depending on changes in schedules. When presented to Kyle, he definitely felt that as a preliminary idea, this could be developed into something that could work long-term.

I felt the Design Thinking Crash Course was a refreshing departure to how I normally manage and complete projects. While this wasn’t a realistic representation of how project management is done at a real corporation, it was good to do something quick and dirty to keep your skills sharp. Interested to see my completed participant’s worksheet? Download it here: My Design Crash Course Worksheet.

Did you complete the Crash Course yourself? Write me a comment below and tell me how it went!


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