Some organizations believe that if they build innovation labs with pool tables and beanbag chairs, and start hanging out with startup companies, then, innovation and design thinking will spread across the organization. The reality is that there is much more required to drive real design thinking that will accelerate growth and innovation results.
We have identified seven key steps that organizations can take to start the journey of implementing design thinking.
1. Set a purpose for the team that is all about serving others
Design thinking requires empathy and an understanding of people as well as a clear sense of purpose. For example, a company might have as its purpose how its customers, employees or partners experience their interactions with the organization.
Before jumping in to execute the next project or strategic planning process, companies should pause and think about whether they have a clear purpose — and if not, take the time to conduct some future-back and outside-in thinking. This critical first step of design thinking will inspire new ideas and instill a sense of urgency within the team that will pay significant dividends in the speed of innovation.
2. Establish a team with diverse mindsets
It is important to consider a wide spectrum of perspectives and experiences, and organizations that implement design thinking will typically create cross-functional, multidisciplinary teams that work collaboratively, from identifying a problem and determining actions to designing the solutions and executing on them.
As an example, Uber’s design teams consist of “psychologists; ethnographers, researching cultures across the world; scientists, working with data sets to derive insights that help inform user experience; entrepreneurs to set strategy; and craftspeople guiding the aesthetics and building beautiful and usable experiences.”4
3. Put yourself in the customers’ shoes
A successful design thinking approach requires an understanding of how people live their lives and the holistic context in which they experience a product or service.
For example, Tesla realized that it was not enough just to launch a 100% electric vehicle — it would be critical to create an exceptional experience throughout the entire ownership life cycle. As a result, Tesla reinvented the whole process to include elements such as creating its own dealerships, having an online buying and “waiting” experience that surpassed any other luxury car maker, building rapid charging stations, and making “house calls” to customers’ homes to perform annual inspections, firmware upgrades and other services.5
4. Develop a discipline that explores the art of the possible
Design thinking companies commonly hold brainstorming sessions, where team members can ask the right questions. In this context, everyone’s idea is given a fair hearing, no matter what their level of seniority nor how practical it is.
For example, at Airbnb, the online community marketplace that connects people looking to rent their homes with people who are looking for accommodations, considers ideation a key component of its solution development process. Ideation sessions are pre-planned meticulously by a brainstorming host, often in close coordination with a design researcher from the insights team, who use both research and the preparation of a number of different options to reframe the problem that needs to be resolved.6
Another example is Ideo, which worked with a traditional telecommunications company that had previously asked strategic questions such as, “How can we raise our customer’s average monthly bill by 10%?” and “How can we minimize our customer service call times?” The team reframed the questions in human-centered terms such as, “How can we help busy families to stay connected?” and “How can we reward our most loyal customers?” This inspired richer and more innovative value-added solutions.7
Brainstorming sessions can feel unstructured, lacking focus and practical value. By creating a discipline around holding art-of-the-possible sessions, they can become a major driver of breakthrough ideas and a very effective means of engaging and motivating employees.
5. Co-create solutions with customers
Both in business-to-business and consumer environments, it is possible to co-create solutions with customers. What better way to understand their needs and what they might value as a new product, service or overall experience, than to generate the concepts together?
DHL has embraced this concept: for example, to tackle the challenge of improving supply chains and logistics, DHL has hosted more than 6,000 hands-on workshops with customers in Germany and Singapore. One of the many inventions that community members co-created and tested out is the Parcelcopter, a test drone delivery service project based in Germany that reduces delivery times from around 30 minutes to just eight minutes.8
6. Adopt agile innovation and rapid prototyping capabilities
Successful design thinking organizations understand the term “fail fast,” meaning that it’s important to focus resources on the experiments and concepts that are achievable and will produce the greatest impact. As such, many have adopted the concepts of agile and DevOps software practices across many types of projects and strategic initiatives.
As an example, the San Francisco Opera (SFO) used design thinking concepts as it reimagined how to make opera more appealing to its audience and broaden its reach. SFO created various quick and inexpensive opera format prototypes and tested them out with customers to get their feedback and reactions, using those insights to understand what worked and what didn’t. This new way of thinking ultimately resulted in a first for the SFO: customers queueing around the block for shows.9
When General Motors (GM) started to build the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu, engineers at the company used 3D printing to save time required in prototyping parts for the vehicle. They built the parts out of liquid resin, taking days to build prototypes that engineers could see, touch and test — a process that would otherwise have taken weeks or cost thousands of dollars. This powerful technique was key in helping GM accelerate the development and evaluation of the updates and improvements to the sedan and drastically cut time to market.10, 11
7. Establish fanatical support from executive leadership
When applied effectively across an entire organization, design thinking can have a profound impact on a company’s operating model. But such changes cannot be long-lasting or effective without unflinching and visible executive leadership commitment. There must be a top-down executive commitment for design thinking to take root in an organization and generate the full desired benefits.