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What is design thinking?

By Kane Avery - Head of Training

What is design thinking? header image

Design thinking is mindset that allows us to solve problems with creativity, in a way that feels a little unorthodox – but really it allows us the freedom to come up with creative solutions that otherwise would get thrown in the bin immediately due to process, red tape and a mind-set that limits us. 

Design thinking allows us to be more creative with innovation, it deals directly with customer problems based on the empathy we build up. We ask why more. We understand the pain and the emotional response to this. As Product Managers (PM) we need to come up with new product ideas that solve real customer problems whilst serving the needs of the organisation. Design thinking is a methodology we should have in our PM armoury that can help generate new ideas.

Where to start? Building empathy using the empathy map and customer interviews. (Not sales calls!) 

Find a customer and spend time listening to them, ask why more times than is probably comfortable. (x5). Find out their problem statement and understand their pain.

Ultimately, we are responsible for releasing a product that solves a real problem in a meaningful way. To create real value for customers we need to spend time wallowing in the customers’ pain.

Once we understand, we move onto Observe – what is the customer journey and who are our key personas? What trends can we discover and do peers agree with their peers? This is an explorative step that allows us to see the evolution of the information we have already obtained. The key here is we observe to identify pain points directly from the customers perspective, we then use those pain points to define problem statements once we have fully understood the customer pain. The problems statements should then be prioritised for us to manage how we work and solve these statements. At this point we then begin with ideation and this may be directed at new products, new features, any form of new opportunity present to us by the identified pain points of the customer. 

It’s time for action! 

How might we tackle the information we’ve generated and what that means for the vision to success? The key before we start brainstorming our innovative ideas, we need to be able to create extremely compelling stories that satisfy our lead users and deliver as much value as we can. Using the How Might We framework we use the problem statement as the centre piece of our brainstorming and then start by generating How Might We questions based on all the prompts provided within this tool. Once we have those questions laid out, that when the ideas start rolling in! it’s a more structured approach to normal brainstorming and also helps us cover that 360-degree view of the problem statement. 

We are focused on the problem and the need from the user perspective by putting ourselves in their shoes. Ideation should come once we have a clear view through the customer lens. We then need to get crazy and creative with our brainstorming. Bring your team together and sketch as many different ideas out as you can. Share the ideas and mix them and then remix them around!

We build and test our successful ideas with real customers, gather their feedback and get as much detail as we can. Do not be afraid of getting to prototype quickly, the earlier we can test it with a real user the quicker we can address any key flaws. And sense of whether we are on the right lines with the idea or not. Remember, we need to fail fast in order to be successful, if an idea doesn’t deliver the commercial value, we need to be successful it should be spotted at the earliest possible opportunity.

There is no point to any of this if we do not follow through with our actions but also learn from the process. We need to act on our successful product ideas, as well as look at our approach to the design thinking process! At this point we need to capture feedback on our product and plan our implementation. If this idea passes our idea assessment and validation steps then its time to add some timber to the frame and build out that product plan/business case. 

Let’s look at ourselves retrospectively and try to improve, we must ask what we like, wish, and wonder about the products evolution and question the decisions we made. Take positives from what went well and consider what might have happened if feature X had made the cut, for example. Some critical and experimental thinking can go a long way for us during times of reflection!

As a final note on design thinking, I would like to draw on a commonly told story for the aspiring musician, speaking from my own background and experience. 

The Blue Coat Test. 

Design thinking and the customer centric approach to product innovation is all about showing empathy, being in the customers position and testing everything early. Test, test, test. 

Well, this got me thinking about the blue coat test and the lessons we can learn from this modern history lesson. 

The Blue coat test, or maybe it was pink - let’s say blue... was a story amongst composers and A&R people in the music industry back in the early days of music business. At one of the large American labels, Columbia records for example, before the golden era of music it was commonplace for artist to be assigned their repertoire of music. Much like today’s popstars get to pick songs for their albums from the best 300 composers in world.

During this point in time, composers were much like office workers in large buildings, working 9 till 5 writing and playing the music they created each day. There was one common place test these composers would joke about and use as early testing for their songs, this was seen as a good omen for the song in questions if it ever accrued. 

This was the blue coat test. Composers were convinced they had a hit song that would prove to be very popular if the blue coats would whistle their songs and melodies back at them at the end of the day or early in the morning. The blue coats were the cleaning team, they would walk around the office building throughout the day and hear all the new music being created. If the tune was catchy or the song was memorable, the blue coats might whistle out these un-released songs as they enjoy and recall the music they have heard whilst working nearby to the composers.

It is a clear form of early testing with a potential client is it not? These composers knew they were doing something right if they had blue coats whistling and singing their songs. This must ring true to products as well and it is one of the earliest forms of prototype testing that I can think off that relates to the product manager mindset that we see growing today! 

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