A Few months ago, an IS/IT director of a worldwide food group asked me : « Do you think that Design Thinking can really be useful for an in-house project because I am not sure we will have the time ? It’s a big project, we have more than 500 users !». More recently, at a meeting on the disappointing results of a new process, a director of an aeronautical plant said « If technicians don’t use the new process, it’s a management problem, I will ask them to communicate more ! ». In both cases, I am convinced that a user-centric approach is key to success and inhouse Design thinking a key success factor.
After an experience in supporting companies in the creation of innovative user-centric services, I joined a large industrial group to lead transformation projects within operations. So I was able to observe the development of design thinking from different angles. The purpose of this article is to share this experience, and more specifically my internal vision of it.
We can observe that more and more companies have understood the value of Design Thinking to improve their customer experience and offer new services. At first, we could think that it’s also the case internally because the proximity with users is easier. But, there are also specific difficulties that I will try to highlight with my point of view.
Inhouse Design Thinking obstacles
🛑 Psychological barrier
First of all, the psychological reason : it’s often hard to accept that we don’t really understand the users, especially when you spend time with them every day or when you have already done the « same job » a few years ago. But, there is a gap between know the users and their job and understand their daily life and their real tasks and thoughts. Without this awareness of the gap, it will be difficult to take time to have observation, interviews ,and user tests.
🛑 Organizational difficulty
The second observation is organizational. In many companies, there are still many levels of hierarchy with command&control spirit as well as a « silo » organization. To be efficient, especially during ideation phasis, it’s essential to build a multidisciplinary team with real autonomy and a lot of confidence to propose innovation outside of the box.
🛑 Skills gap
The last one is about skills. Most of the time, in operations departments, there are strong technical teams that are used to working with complex indicators and tools. This requires an open mindset to switch to human-centered methods and visual tools such as persona or experience map.
Despite these difficulties, I am convinced that design thinking can create a lot of value in business.
The value of inhouse Design Thinking
✅ Competitiveness Improvement
The most obvious gain concerns competitiveness. We all know about internal tools development started with someone’s good idea but never used by the teams because there were no needs. On the other side, we can observe operational teams wasting time with complex tools or processes requiring months of training. So, why should we have to spend months training on the job when we use new applications every day without instructions or trainers in our personal life ? With design thinking, you can make the job easier for the operational teams and focus development on the good topics.
✅ Customer Offer
Beyond internal gain, the design thinking approach is also an opportunity to identify some hidden « gold mine ». For example, in an aircraft maintenance center, by observing the technicians and sharing with the sales teams, we discover that a lot of practices already done in some cases could be new services proposed to all customers. Design thinking can help to identify existing assets to improve the customer offer.
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✅ Skills Development
Practice design thinking is also a great opportunity to build team spirit by involving people in designing innovative solutions to remove their pain points. The workshops also are good times to acquire new knowledge about the company’s ecosystem and key skills in today’s world.
✅ Good practices to get started in your company
Even if you’re convinced and motivated, it’s sometimes difficult to embark on a new approach within a large, already highly structured organization. I’m not going to explain how to deploy design thinking, there are already a lot of really good books to help you. The goal is simply to share some advice from my own experience.
✅ Play with existing approaches
Most of the time, many « improvement methodologies » are already in place (Lean, Agile…). It could be counterproductive to oppose the practices and start big projects with a Design thinking approach with a long training period, a lot of communication ,and time negotiation. These different approaches are often complementary with the willingness to iterate with the teams. I think it’s best to start with a small project and a motivated team to demonstrate the value of the design. Change is always difficult and admit that spending time to understand users’ emotions is far from the usual practice in many companies. Go step by step is the best way to get more and more teams on board.
✅ Take advantage of inhouse design thinking tools
Throughout the project, it is important to explain the different steps and make the deliverables visual (persona, experience map, storyboard…). These tools are very visual and powerful. For example, it is difficult to disagree with field verbatims. Switching from post-it notes to easily shared and collaborative documents is now possible without being a design expert thanks to the évolt Design Suite. The quality of the deliverables is also key to convince on the deployment of the innovative solutions found by the teams. Your presentations will contribute to developing the culture of design thinking, the tools but above the spirit ! Now it’s your turn! I’ll be happy to read about your experiences in the coming months.