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.
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.