Design Thinking the next iteration of Agile practice

  • April 24, 2018
Design Thinking the next iteration of Agile practice

A bit like old school Business Analysts, great Designers are born and not made. We all know what happens when somehow an employee without an analytical mindset gets into a Business Analyst role; it is frustrating but worse than that it can lead to wrong business decisions leading to an underperforming business. The same can be said in Design. 

Many people believe that Designers are those people with great aesthetic talents who can make things that all of us mere mortals crave to improve our sense of wellbeing. No so, although admittedly as I found out to my own cost as a fresh-faced Product Design student, it is pretty tough to be great designer without great aesthetic intuition, however that is not the core at the heart of a great Designer. 

Designers are first and foremost great problems solvers. To do that they must have great empathy and understanding for genuine problems. Genuine problems, particularly in business are those that will add great value if resolved. These in many agile theories can be confused with those that can remove personal problems rather than add value, or ones that impact design from a very singular perspective.

Any design student will tell you the first step in Design Thinking is “get out there”. Great Designers are not gurus who sit in their castles inventing wonderful things that no one wants or needs, they need to exist in the problem space. They are great observers of problems; seeing problems is where they derive their energy and creativity. Let them out there, get among it.

Once a problem is thoroughly understood, Design Thinking adds a step that is often missed in traditional agile projects, the production of alternative solutions. Now, non-IT business colleagues under time and productivity pressures may struggle with the value of this step, they may take more of a “just get on with it” stance. However, if all Great Designers were talented enough to come up with the optimal solution from one proposal, then I would subscribe to the “get on with it” stance. In Design Thinking there must be room for exploring multiple viable options so that a view can be taken from all perspectives. This will always add value.

From the selection of options to be explored further, Design Thinking can lead back towards more agile practices, mainly “show and tell” and “fail quickly”. This is all about efficiently illustrating the potential of each explored solution. This stage is about two things, firstly refining sub optimal features, secondly about eliminating any options that may have come to their natural end point without adequately solving the problem. This phase is traditionally iterative until a conclusive way forward has been agreed.

From this point, in my opinion, Design Thinking as a process hands over to Agile Development Methods. The Designer should have added the majority of their value through great creativity in problem solving. Depending on the size of your team it may now be handed over to software architects, human factor designers and coding teams. As with all great Designers, they don’t leave the project at that point, they are the custodian of the design until go-live and handover into production.

Design Thinking is valuable, it requires mindset, ability and creativity, it is not something that any old employee can step into once every four years, they have their own day job and expertise, it is highly unlikely to be design. 
I just have one question, as a Product Design graduate who wandered into IT via the Business Analyst route, surely we’ve been doing this for years already? Is the real challenge about how to influence our business colleagues as to the necessity of a collaborative approach to all the steps required in the process?...Now that is a challenge.