Often, products are created to address an existing problem, improve people’s lives or disrupt an existing marketplace. Products, new or existing, have to be constantly evaluated to meet evolving user needs and behaviors, and to continue to develop the ways in which we respond to those changing needs. To be fair, this is not just the job of the design team, or that of the product team. It is everyone’s job. ‘Design Thinking’ can be that tool which ensures that an organization always focuses on the right things, and does those things the right way.
WHAT IS DESIGN THINKING?
“Design thinking” is a process applicable to all walks of life; which is to investigate, ideate, think through and solve problems. To expand on that, itcan be used by all teams across an organization to solve complex problems and find desirable solutions.
In an organization, the higher level goals are fairly similar across departments (and even industries); solve problems, achieve greater efficiency, serve people’s needs better, focus on the bottom line. Design thinking can be used to help teams meet these goals. A framework for design thinking can look like the one below.
An end-user of an enterprise solution not only interacts with the user interface of the product, but with many different touchpoints and experiences that inform their impression of the product and brand, whether positively or negatively. For enterprise products, there is a likelihood that a given user may have to work with:
- Sales to buy the product, if it’s not self-serve
- Services to implement or roll-out an upgrade
- Customer Support to fix an issue
- Product Management or User Research to be interviewed for user needs assessment or user test
- Account Managers, to manage renewals, escalations, and ongoing relationships
- The product guide or user-help to set up a custom configuration, or even just learn how to use the product
- The product website to access demos and white papers and so on.
With this being the case, if teams can work with a collective vision, everyone wins. And design thinking can be the common thread that brings the collective together.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLES
Design thinking helps us look at innovative ways to solve problems. Sometimes it has to do with connecting the dots, knowing the unknowns so far, or be willing to fail small and safe.
Let me illustrate how leading companies employed design thinking to solve complex problems.
1.Personalization of content on Netflix: One of Netflix’s biggest USP is personalization. Users’ behavior evolves over a period of time and their needs grow. At the surface, we know that there are complex algorithms behind the scenes to make all of it work efficiently. So it is extremely imperative that Netflix understands the nuts and bolts to get the machine cranking. So an innovate way Netflix saw to ensure content stayed personalized was that they started working off existing user behavior patterns to inform their content acquisition strategy. So that way, they knew what movies, sitcoms, documentaries etc. were the ones people wanted and made more of that available.
2.Customer support interaction at Intercom: Intercom, as you may know, is a tool to interact with customers within a product. Customer Support personnel at Intercom were looking at fun and playful ways of letting customers log complaints and provide feedback. They thought that it would be cool if they allowed users to upload videos, as opposed to the boring way of typing all of it out. They gave this a go and what they ended up collecting was tons of useful feedback, which in turn drove up user engagement. They have an entire book on what they think about customer support, you can read it here.
4.Design thinking at scale at Intuit: Intuit looked at how they could usedesign thinking to challenge themselves and create bigger and better products and services. For starters, they encouraged a ‘show and tell’, where they asked team members to bring in things that inspired them and talk about the specific attributes of the ‘thing’ that impressed them. There were challenges in adoption, but with time, it became a part of their culture. Each team started approaching problems with a ‘designer’s’ hat on. To cite a couple of examples, the Finance department started assessing the ease of a purchase process and started exploring approaches to streamline it. The HR department started to look at the job application process holistically; right from the time the applicant applies to the time he / she is onboarded.
Just a little change in approach can make all the difference.
DESIGN THINKING AT ACCELA
At Accela, we create productivity and engagement software geared towards government agencies and citizen users. Although there have been some challenges in getting a design-thinking approach, I would like to highlight problems that have been solved by various groups at our company through design thinking.
1.Participant management and lean research: As the User Experience Research team, we had to reinvent ourself to be nimble and act fast to meet the exacting research demands of a growing product line (but not a growing research team). First, we put our heads together and talked through the use cases and workflows we would need; starting all the way from initial planning of research to the final sharing of results, and then storing those results for later projects. Then, we ended up researching tools which would address our needs, without breaking our budget. While there are a lot of big ticket products out there that could have achieved 60–70% of what we needed, that remaining 30–40% was crucial to meeting our lean and speedy goals. Our final solution is taking the form of a DIY hacked together, integrated, slew of applications to meet our research needs. It’s pretty awesome. More on that through a follow-up post by Sarah Henry.
2.Monitoring customer health: At Accela, we have 2000+ customers. That is a lot and we were in grave need of a robust solution to help us get a collective sense. The Customer Success wanted to be on top of user engagement, get a deeper understanding of the features customers use on our products and also get a sense of customer churn. To set this in motion, the Director of Customer Success went around his team and started defining the team’s needs. They then evaluated several different options together to find the best fit. One of the biggest challenges that confronted the team was that we have customers across U.S., Canada, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand and it required a holistic approach. Having a better hold of our internal needs informed us that Totango was the right tool for what we wanted.
3.Quality testing our biggest ever upgrade: Civic Platform, our flagship product, was just released last month. Since it was our biggest revamp, the efforts to get the product quality-tested were huge. Our QA team could not take on the entire burden and was contemplating an efficient approach to solve this problem. They sat the entire engineering team down (Product Management, User Experience, Developers, Documents teams) and gave us a walkthrough of the process and worked with each of us to own and test a feature. Although not the most perfect solution, but it helped us hit our targets on time and crowdsource the effort. While this is not a perfect example of intentional “design thinking,” it is an example of how holistic thinking and creative problem solving can result in repeatable, well-designed process approach that meets major business goals. (It is also a great example of how a team can stumble upon design thinking without knowing it.)
DESIGN THINKING AT YOUR ORGANIZATION
Design thinking ensures that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ When it becomes a part of the organization’s culture, it becomes increasingly easy to break the silos that may exist and have a more collaborative effort in tackling business challenges. If you are a company interested in using design thinking, you can take a few of these steps to start to incorporate design thinking into everyday processes:
1.In a collaborative workshop or retreat with your team, start defining some of your challenges and why they are worth solving (A workshop from Cooper, Neilsen Norman or finding a local meetup can be a good place to start)
2.Dig deep to figure out if you understand the H’s and the W’s — Whys, Whats, When, How… (A simple whiteboarding or sticky-noting exercise can help. Often times, problems are easier to confront on a whiteboard / paper than battling all these in your heads. Also the anonymity of a post-it can help people be more honest, and will surface things people may be afraid to say otherwise.)
3.Brainstorm ideas to solve problems that you identify as critical to address at a given juncture (I would recommend that you look into affinity diagramming. In a nutshell, you basically try to organize your train of thought as an observation, inference, or an idea and use that context to rationally think through)
4.Start small, and be willing to be iterative to learn from every effort, and course correct when needed. (Just getting into the mindset to create things as atomic as possible and getting that validated would insure us against taking detours or starting from scratch.)\
5.Get this loop going and retrospect things that work and things that you would like to improve on. By this, I mean that one has to get into the cadence of understanding the processes that work that do not work work and, identifying areas of opportunity going forward. And repeat the previous 4 steps in regular rhythm.
To keep things simple, attitude and approach matters. Give it a try and I am sure you won’t regret it.