How to Apply Design Thinking Principles to Business Transformation Initiatives
By Michael Valania, Manager at Navint
In business transformation, we often deal with the tension of strategy vs. tactics. Strategies set the course, tactics create the course, and both must be managed with empathy to all stakeholders. Design is often considered secondary to more direct tactics and is thought to be too esoteric for full, strategic consideration in a transformation project. Strategy is structured; it defines the path. Tactics are tangible; they achieve tasks and milestones. Design thinking is just…well, what does design do? Isn’t that the fluffy stuff of “creatives”?
Design thinking brings a holistic perspective to transformational initiatives. In the age of the Continuous Customer™ and the desire for recurring revenue, we no longer have the luxury of approaching these projects in functional silos, executing them in vacuums, nor viewing them as strictly a product-vs.-process debate. Cross-functional, cross-customer, past-, present-, and future-orientation are required if the transformation is to be successful. To maintain the increasingly important, long-term relationships with our organization and customers, well-designed business transformations establish a common foundation. Most of all, design thinking delivers value.
Follow these five steps to bring design thinking to your business transformation initiative:
1. Take time to learn
In business transformations, poorly designed projects can get myopic or unfocused, to the point of failing to achieve purpose and desired value. Before any execution begins, you must take time to learn. Call it requirements, call it personas, call it market research, or call it prototyping—taking the time to learn establishes understanding and clarity for your initiative.
Often there are pressures to launch a program quickly, leaving very little time for upfront learning. Don’t worry. Design thinking is a very iterative process. You can learn post-launch and adjust as you go. The key point is to keep learning.
2. Understand the present
You’ve probably heard the saying, “You have to know where you came from to know where you’re going.” While that’s true, let’s flip it around. In a design-led business transformation, you must know where you are right now to be able to know both where you came from and where you are going. The present provides context.
When you apply design thinking principles to the present, you do two things: ask good questions and listen for details. Asking good questions and carefully listening to the answers can uncover a more comprehensive history and a vision for the future. It’s a grounding exercise that enables the fluidity to both work backwards and forwards, in parallel, as you plan your transformation. Through our years of working with clients, we’ve found that the most successful projects start with this step.
3. Examine the past
Sometimes we get so excited about the future that we want to gloss over the past. We either downplay failures or overemphasize successes because “this time it’s different.” And company history can be ugly or incomplete. In young companies, there may not be much history, if any at all. In older organizations, history can be fuzzy, inconsistent, or even lost. So why bother?
Examining the past, no matter how limited, gives important contextual cues that can add theoretical flesh to the bones. It can tell you whether you’re dealing with a chicken or a dinosaur. Any history is good history and should be taken into consideration for your transformation.
4. Move towards the future
As we move towards the future, design provides value in transformations through readiness, goal-alignment, and execution. It brings the what, why, and how together, allowing you to see across functions, understand the impact of various decisions, and communicate effectively as you execute. Design exercises are not predictive or prescriptive, but add strategic thought and clarity to support a strong transformation.
5. Iterate as you go
Despite our best efforts to plan for all scenarios, unexpected situations will arise. Execution can only be controlled to a certain extent. However, design thinking is a paradigm that accelerates our ability to ingest the new information, overlay it onto the current reality and future state, and iterate on execution. Because design is a multi-dimensional perspective that runs throughout the business transformation, we have a solid foundation by which to execute and perpetually iterate.
By applying design thinking principles to business transformations, you’re minimizing the overall risk of the initiative. Take the time to learn, understand the present, examine the past, move towards the future, and iterate as you go. If you would like to talk to us about your business transformation, contact us today.