When properly implemented, design thinking can result in higher success rate for innovation. However, one of our studies states that 63% of those involved in innovation processes said design thinking initiatives had not advanced. What mistakes should be avoided to be part of the effective one third?
You don’t have to be a start-up in the fast-changing economy to benefit from design thinking. Even traditional sectors such as financial services, oil and gas, aircraft, and health care also stand to gain from adopting its customer-centric focus.
There have been notable success stories of companies in many sectors using design thinking, from Bank of America, to Shell, Brussels Airlines and the Rotterdam Eye Hospital. Design-led companies that are publicly listed in the United States outperform the benchmark S&P 500 Index by an eye-opening 211%.
However, there are obstacles to overcome in applying design thinking, which puts new demands on leadership, teams and individuals. One of our studies states that 63% of those involved in innovation processes said design thinking initiatives had not advanced. What mistakes should be avoided to be part of the effective one third?
Applying design thinking in five steps
Design thinking occurs where analysis meets intuition. It puts the end user – the customer – at the centre and creates a workplace atmosphere that encourages creative ideas and values diverse teams. In practice, it follows a simple five-step process:
1. Empathise: The customers’ problems and needs should be understood. Tools such as “Day in the Life Of” (DILO) allow teams to get into their customers’ heads.
2. Define: The team reviews the information, delimits the problem, and sets specific goals.
3. Ideate: Potential solutions are generated rapidly, often using techniques such as bodystorming (role-playing) and brainwriting (recording all the ideas that come into an individual’s mind and relating them to the next person to trigger solution ideas).
4. Prototype: The idea needs to get out there, fast, to start receiving feedback immediately.
5. Test: The team directly seeks feedback from end users.
Identify the stone that makes you stumble
Talking to a variety of companies, we identified some common problems in the application of design. A loss of focus, the lack of specific resources or an insufficiently detailed definition of the original problem to be solved, among other factors, often undermine results and lead to unfulfilled expectations across various levels of the organisation – leadership, team and individual. (See Figure 1.)
Working through these problems one by one, we suggest three layers of solutions to make the process go more smoothly.
1. Leadership level: Ensure awareness and buy-in from those in leadership roles. Leaders need to know that output may not be scalable, or not immediately so. The definition of the problem needs to be detailed clearly, as does the scope of the exercise.
2. Team level: Keep the focus not on what customers say but on what they do. With respect to the practical application, design thinking needs to be structured, with frequent deadlines and constant feedback, to prevent it from becoming an ongoing brainstorming exercise.
3. Individual level: Team members should be from diverse backgrounds, and that means team facilitators should have a hybrid profile. To combat a loss of focus among participants, there should be few but clear rules.
Success stories: from banks to hospitals
When properly implemented, design thinking has a proven track record. Bank of America increased online-banking registration by 45% after a user-centred redesign of its process. The oil and gas company Shell turned 3,000 ideas into 300 commercial projects: one of them “increased oil recovery by 1.5 million barrels within three years.” Brussels Airlines experienced a 42% increase in its conversion rate in six weeks by creating a more user-friendly booking experience. The Rotterdam Eye Hospital saw patient intake rise by 47% in a decade and got an improved score of 8.6 (out of 10) in its customer satisfaction surveys by transitioning to a patient-centred strategy.
A promising solution
Industries are facing disruption over how things are done. Meanwhile, customers are adamant that they need better and more personalised products and services.
Based on designers’ methods for matching customer needs with innovation in offerings, design thinking is uniquely placed to help maintain growth and respond to customers’ needs, both spoken and unspoken.
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