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4 Steps to Implementing Design Thinking at Your Organization

If you don’t think your organization is creative enough to implement design thinking, think again.

Design thinking isn’t about your knowledge of design concepts or color palettes, but rather it’s about designing tools and processes with the end-user in mind. When we design programs or platforms directly for the users and employees, we can increase engagement, adoption, and employee satisfaction. 

Design thinking described by IDEO CEO, Tim Brown

Using the design thinking process, everyone is a designer and design is everywhere. This skill isn’t as far out of reach as you might think. You practice design in the way you plan out your day, arrange furniture, build spreadsheets, or create training programs.

The most important foundational piece of design thinking is integrating the end-users’ needs before you begin creating, so time isn’t wasted solving the wrong problems. It’s a mindset of relentlessly trying to understand the user and the problem at hand.

Inspiration, ideation, and  implementation

Here are four actionable steps to implement design thinking and bring its benefits to your organization:

1. Focus on the problem 

Companies often fail at effectively solving problems or meeting goals because they don’t correctly identify the user or problem initially. Here are a few tips for identifying your problem:

  • Listen. Put yourself in users’ shoes and think through their lenses.
  • Ask questions. Who encounters this problem and why? Why did past attempts fail to solve the problem at hand?
  • Have collaborative conversations. Working in silos is an easy trap to fall into. Engage with everyone, not just those on your team. 
  • Stay unbiased. Don’t assume you immediately understand the problem, nor the solution. By being open-minded you might find something else you weren’t expecting.

2. Develop design thinking skills on your team

Traditionally, the ideation phase of the design thinking process was saved for project managers or engineers, but that doesn’t mean it can only be used by that department or function. Since design thinking is the mindset of asking questions, understanding, and testing, everyone can and should participate in this practice. Here are a few tips for developing your team’s design thinking skills:

  • Practice the mindset. Start implementing the process in your role whenever you can. For example, if you oversee onboarding, think about ways you can test a new approach or understand the new employee mentality by gathering feedback through a survey. Remain open to new outcomes.
  • Foster interests in design thinking. If you have team members who want to take initiative and expand their skill sets, make sure to nurture that interest, whether it is encouraging experimentation or reimbursing costs for design thinking classes.

3. Have (or start having) more debriefs 

It’s important to understand that design thinking is continuous. It’s a process of iterating on previous experiments so that the product or outcome can improve and become better. However, learnings can’t be implemented if there’s no feedback process. Here are a few tips for creating a learning culture through gathering feedback:

  • Be open about what went wrong. Set an example by demonstrating that failure is an expected part of design thinking. Openly discuss what tests failed and why.
  • View failure as learning. Trying and failing a new approach serves the crucial function of narrowing down the list of possible processes. This gets you and your team closer to the approach that will work best. Encourage failure!

4. Embrace the feedback loop

The goal of design thinking isn’t perfection, but the best answer possible. And the best answer likely won’t be the first answer. Thus, a constant feedback loop is essential. Here are some tips for implementing a feedback loop:

  • Test and iterate as much as possible. Find new ways and angles to test your assumptions, you might come across something you would’ve never thought of otherwise.
  • Have feedback sessions often. When you embrace feedback, not only does it create a safe space to innovate but it also prevents the same mistakes from happening again.

Design thinking can help you and your team identify and solve meaningful problems for your organization. The process is like a muscle that you need to build and use. With a design thinking mindset, you can spend time effectively solving the right problems and building processes that will impact your organization’s success.

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