Want to Improve Your Work? Think Like a Designer
By Herb Schaffner | June 29, 2011
To innovate, you don’t need big, abstract ideas, just a fresh approach and some tools to help plot your successful execution.
That’s what you’ll get in a superb new book called Design for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers, by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie.
Ogilvie is the CEO of Peer Insight, an innovation strategy consultancy. Jeanne Liedtka, a professor and former associate dean at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, previously served as chief learning officer for the United Technnologies Corporation.
Designing for Growth is an illustrated guide that shows how to translate “design thinking” into practical, everyday tools. As the authors note, “Design thinking can do for organic growth and innovation what TQM did for quality – take something we always have cared about and put tools and processes into the hands of managers to make it happen.” In reading the book, it struck me how useful their tool would be in the publishing industry where ebooks and handheld readers have blown up the publishing value proposition.
To unpack the process of good design and apply it to a business problem, the authors start with a process of four questions, What is, what if, what wows, and what works? Essentially, these are translated as:
- Assess the marketplace, get close to consumers to understand their behavior, talk to users;
- Brainstorm and write down hypotheses; dream up your optimal, best-case-ever outcomes to a challenge; set aside constraints and fears to loosen up creativity;
- Cull options down to a manageable number that will “wow” the customer, combining upside value while presenting profit potential;
- Go into the marketplace with options and test the solution, product, or service with consumers, invite customers to co-create, and integrate feedback.
The authors suggest a variety of tools to flesh out these answers. Some examples include:
- Visualization: Use sketches, photographs, and other images to visualize a management problem. At Kaiser Permanente, a nursing supervisor addressed problems with administering medications by having nurses sketch out their experiences. The nurses at first denied they had issues, but when asked they drew amazing pictures showing nurses on roller skates with “hisor her arms full and all these other little stick figures asking them questions. So we took all that and started looking at themes coming out of this.” Other techniques are storyboards that lay out a sequence of events with simple pictures, and creating fictional personas that visualize and represent typical customers.
- Customer journey mapping. As the authors observe, operations experts advise managers to “staple yourself to an order” to understand the flow of activities within a firm; a customer journey map means you “staple yourself to a customer” to empathize with a customer’s experience from beginning to end with your brand. The authors cite how Darden Business School did a map with MBAs, beginning with their decision to join the school through 12 stages leading to graduation. A book publisher could map a reader’s journey, beginning with reading about a book online and in a review, through further research, deciding whether to purchase a print or ebook, where to purchase it, the reading experience, and what happened when they finished the book (email the author, post Amazon review).
- Assumption testing: isolate and test key assumptions that will determine success or failure using thought experiments and simulations as you prepare to launch your solution or product. What assumptions are you making about your customers that need to be examined? Assumptions about operational capacity of your firm? Assumptions about how your competitors will react? Imagine if publishers had done more assumption testing years ago about the popularity of ebooks!
- Customer co-creation: engaging the customer in the development of new business offerings. By putting prototypes in front of customers, you observe how they react, and integrate their responses to improve and change your offering. As the authors write, in our “Six Sigma world, which values perfection and polish, we tend to get anxious about showing customers unfinished, unpolished “stuff.” Get over it. Innovation is about learning, and customers have the most to teach you.” I’m sure publishers and editors are devouring survey and focus group data, as well as their own research, about how readers are changing habits, and what they want from the reading experience (for example, many readers are acutely concerned ebooks don’t allow you to share and pass along a book).
- Other tools include value chain analysis, mind mapping, brainstorming, rapid prototyping, and the learning launch.