Project Management

Innovation and Design Thinking, Part Two

From the Voices on Project Management Blog
by , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cyndee Miller
Lynda Bourne
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Wanda Curlee
Christian Bisson
Ramiro Rodrigues
Soma Bhattacharya
Emily Luijbregts
Sree Rao

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Rex Holmlin
Vivek Prakash
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Linda Agyapong
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Bernadine Douglas
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
William Krebs
Marian Haus
Shobhna Raghupathy
Peter Taylor
Joanna Newman
Jess Tayel
Lung-Hung Chou
Rebecca Braglio
Roberto Toledo
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

Believe It or Not, You Were Built for This Time

How Will We Conquer COVID-19? Innovation—Delivered Through Projects

Introducing the Crisis PMO

3 Leadership Lessons From A Global Pandemic

Can Agile Help You Make the Most of Millennial Team Members?

Categories: Agile, Design Thinking

By Lynda Bourne

In my previous post, Innovation and Design Thinking, Part One, I focused on the personal and cultural aspects of innovation. But having an innovative idea is only a small part of the challenge. To create value, the bright ideas need to be transitioned into practical products or solutions that can be applied, sold or used.

Well-managed projects are a key element in building the new product or solution, but traditional project management, even agile project management, is rarely sufficient.

One well-established technique that bridges the gap between an idea and a practical project: design thinking.

Design Thinking

The original concept of design thinking was built around problem-solving with a shift in emphasis from traditional analysis toward innovation and synthesis. Design thinking tends to be promoted by its advocates as a complete solution to delivering innovation within an organization. A typical model looks like this: 

There are many models, with minor differences, to explain the process. But they all involve the following basic steps:


  • Understand and empathize. Using observations and qualitative data, create stories that help define the problem. Understanding the context and culture of the people involved helps you to empathize with the problem. As with agile, the design thinking approach is focused on the end users’ needs.
  • Define the problem or opportunity. Research and find patterns in these insights, then diagnose the problem. Translate the diagnosis into a defined plan.
  • Ideate, prototype and test. Here’s where the creativity comes in. The first round of “solutions” should really be treated as a jumping off point for more in-depth iterations. Create simple prototypes that test possible outcomes, so mistakes are noted and fixed early on.
  • Implement and learn. The entire process can be cyclical, especially when it comes to ideating, prototyping and testing. After implementing the solution, feedback facilitates the refining of ideas.

The problem with these models is a lack of process around creating the solution. My suggestion is using design thinking to link the creation of a culture that encourages the development of innovative ideas (the focus of my last post) with the use of project management to deliver results.

I believe that bringing project management disciplines into the design thinking process—starting from the validation of the design brief (is the proposed solution feasible, viable and desirable?) through to the delivery of the innovation and realization of benefits—is likely to result in a more cost-effective outcome in a reduced timeframe.

Innovative thinking should be encouraged within every organization. But you need pragmatic innovation to move the best of these ideas from an abstract concept to a proven concept that delivers value. Melding design thinking and project management seems to be one way of achieving this objective.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: February 28, 2020 06:29 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

Please login or join to subscribe to this item
Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for sharing these insights

Thanks for posting!

Please Login/Register to leave a comment.


"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly 98 million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea..."

- Douglas Adams