How To Run A Design Thinking Workshop Part 1

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This blog post is for anyone who is thinking of running or participating in a Design Thinking workshop.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking, in various forms, has been around for a very long time. It is only recently, along with Customer Development, Lean Startup, Agile, Scrum, Product Development, and the rise to prominence of IDEO, that Design Thinking has become a popular methodology of driving innovation within organizations. Design Thinking can be summarised by saying

“it is a process that brings people together multi-disciplinary teams, provides them a structured process, methodologies, tools, and techniques to solve a specific problems and create new solutions from a human centered, creative viewpoint. Its aim is to bring together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable.”

To get a greater understanding of Design Thinking, the book The Art Of Innovation, by the ex-general manager of IDEO is a great read.

Where To Start?

The definition above mentions several specific elements of Design Thinking. These elements are critical to the success of the Design Thinking process.

Multi-disciplinary teams form the first element. The level of creative solutions and innovative output can be attributed, in part to the diversity of the team. It is the differences in the team; their nationalities, ages, work history, and cultural background amongst others that allow them to apply the Design Thinking methods, harness differences within the team to produce novel and innovative solutions to complex problems.

A structured process is the next element of Design Thinking. Here, a specific process is used by a team to work through the problem solving and solution creation process. It’s allows everyone to stay “on the same page,” fail quickly, step back to a different part of the process to try something else, and reach a successful outcome sooner without wasting time and money. The Design Thinking process step through six main phases; Understand, Observe, Point of View, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. This process is a culmination of different section mentioned within the Product Management document section of this website of which there are too many to mention within the context of this post.

The best work space for conducting Design Thinking workshops are ones that support creativity, openness, and communication. A key element for the working space is that it should be changeable. Teams should have the ability to stand, sit, work in teams, work autonomously, etc.

Next is “what is desired from a human point of view.” Here, we are asking the question “does the output from the Design Thinking workshop solve a real problem for a real person?” This is paralleled in Value Proposition Design. A Value Proposition describes the benefits customers can expect from a product or service. Great value propositions focus on jobs, pains, and gains that specific customer segments are trying to solve or achieve. Everything is focused around the customer.

The next element “..what is technologically feasible?” While the Design Thinking process may have provided some exceptionally creative solutions to a real problem, the question that needs to be asked is “how can an organization implement the idea?” If it’s too complicated, too expensive, if the technology doesn’t exist yet, these may all be barriers to feasibility of the proposed solution.

The final element is it “economically viable?” Here, Design Thinking is looking to see if the proposed solution does solve a real problem for a real person and it is feasible, can an organization create the product or solution as a competitive and profitable price, and can they market it and will people buy it? This element of the Design Thinking process parallels the Customer Discovery: Verify the Business Model and Pivot or Proceed section of the Business Model Canvas. Within the context of Customer Development three main questions are asked:

  • Has the Product-Market-Fit been achieved? Is there sizable demand for solving the problem, and does the product fill that demand well in the customer’s eyes?
  • Who are the customers and how does the organization reach them? Does the founder/Product Manager understand the demography and archetypes of their key target customers?
  • Is it possible to make money and grow the company? Is growth  predictable and large enough to make a great company?

The Design Thinking Process

Before understanding the tactics used within the Design Thinking workshop, it’s worthwhile to get a better understanding of the six step process mentioned above. At the highest level, the process is broken into two parts. The first part is problem area. The second part of the process is the solution area.

Step 1: Understand

The first step is all about identifying a problem worth solving. It involves understanding the problem from as many different angles as possible. How does the team define the problem? How do they understand it? What do they and don’t they know about it? What assumptions are made about it? And, who is affected by the problem? In the blog post Project: ProofPop Research Phase Part 1, it talks about writing out a problem statement to clearly articulate what the problem is, who it’s affecting, how it’s affecting them, the severity and regularity of the problem, and the consequences if not addresses. Once the problem statement is written out, it is dissected into its individual parts to figure out how to determine if the assumptions are true or not.

Step 2: Observe

The ultimate goal here would be if the Design Thinking team embed themselves in the user’s and customer’s environment and simply observe what happens. While in that environment, the Design Thinking team will also interview different people to get a better understanding of their pains, gains, and jobs to get done. A great tool to assist with asking the right questions and recording the answers is the Value Proposition Canvas. This can be found in section 2.4.5 Value Proposition Canvas Summary. When speaking of observations in the context of Customer Development and Lean Startup it’s often referred to as “getting out of the building.” For more information about the Customer Discovery section within Customer Development see section 2.4.2 Customer Discovery: Get Out Of The Building. Additionally, in section 3.2.5 Lean User Experience, under the heading of feedback and research, Lean UX describes how observation and discovery is done within a Lean UX environment.

Step 3: Point Of View

Once the observation and interviewing has been completed, the Design Thinking team assesses the content collected, it is summarised on to post-it notes, similar observations and insights are clustered together from which patterns emerge. From this exercise, the Design Thinking team will gain a better understanding of the users and customers, their wants, needs, fears, goals, jobs to get done, and possible solutions.

Step 4: Ideate

In the Ideate phase, the data that has been collected is used to generate as many human-centric ideas as possible. At the end of the Ideate phase, all the ideas are evaluated and the best ones are chosen to progress through to the next phase.

Step 5: Prototype

The Prototyping phase is where the Design Thinking team turns their ideas into reality. They do this using any and all resources at their disposal including pens, paper, lego, whiteboards, mockup software tools and so on. An excellent section to review about how to build prototypes are sections 3.2.5 Lean User Experience and 3.3.1 Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Once the prototype has been built, it needs to be tested by users which is the topic of step six.

Step 6: Test

The goal of step six is to get the prototype in the hands of potential users and customers as quickly as possible to elicit feedback via observations, interviews, and interactions which will be used in the next iteration to improve the solution. The ultimate aim is to move through the Design Thinking process as quickly as possible to reach product-market-fit. Here, the Design Thinking team will have built the perfect product that solves the problem for their perfect customer. Sections 3.1.7 Product Roadmap, 3.2.5 Lean User Experience, and 3.3.1 Minimum Viable Product (MVP) all discuss the creation of a product and product-market-fit to varying degrees and will provide a holistic understanding of how and why testing is done using this technique.

In the next blog post “How To Run A Design Thinking Workshop – Part 2” I’ll discuss, in greater detail, what a Design Thinking workshop is, the different types, and the key elements which make up a great Design Thinking workshop.

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