Design thinking to drive alignment

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Design thinking can become the epicenter of your team’s processes. We have all been in many meetings where people agree, disagree shake their heads and then finally seem of settle on a course of action for the next two weeks. The outcome is twofold. First, everyone left with their own interpretation of the path and secondly, the goals are completely misaligned.

Eventually, it all breaks down. It did not have to come to this, a simple process along with a diagram may have saved the two weeks and aligned everyone in the room to a common outcome. Design thinking takes this much further, especially when you are dealing with a larger group in complex projects with many dependencies.

One of the best guides for this process comes from Stanford D-School: Design Thinking Process Guide

Every problem has unique qualities, one that’s defined by the people surrounding it. In design thinking, empathizing involves understanding the beliefs, values, and needs of this audience. It involves observing, listening, and understanding your audience as well as their engagement and interactions with users or customers.

Now establish a point of view (POV): a statement that sums up the insights about your audience and clarifies their needs. The outcome(s) you eventually define will be informed by this POV.

Immerse the group in the ideation stage which is highly collaborative where nothing is off limits. The objective is not to separate the good ideas from the bad, but to come up with as many options as possible. The underlying point here is that everyone is creative in their own way — the brainstorming process can only benefit from having as many minds and perspectives as possible aligned in tackling the same problem.

Enter the prototype stage where the goal is to put the best ideas to the test. This could be represented by a wall of post-it notes or a storyboard to a physical/digital item or an interactive activity. This process often helps clarify the problem further and offer new insights. In preparing for the final testing stage, if prototypes can be looked at or experienced by your audience or the user for the purpose of gathering feedback.

Testing helps you learn more about your possible solutions and more about your audience. Based on test results, you may have to repeat one of the four previous stages. A common error for new teams is the need to adjust the problem definition or you may just need to refine the prototype.

Finally, you reach an acceptable solution. This is not rigid, be prepared to observe, collect data and make small adjustments.

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