Design Thinking & Project Management

Design Thinking has emerged as a practical methodology for driving innovative outcomes. This blog aims to explore the intersection between Design Thinking and Project Management and to start a conversation on leveraging Design Thinking for contribution to the Project Management practice.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Insights from the 2019 CEO Outlook

9 Tips for Managing Creative Teams

Top PM Conferences

What Goes on in the Mind of a Project Manager?

What do Project Managers do all day??

Insights from the 2019 CEO Outlook

KPMG released their U.S. CEO Outlook 2019 report with survey results from 400 U.S. CEOs. Key Findings from the survey provided some very relevant insights for Project Leaders who want to grow in their careers and remain on the forefront of technical, cultural, and economic change. I decided to turn the insights into an infographic which can be downloaded here: 

-->  CEO Outlook and Insights for PMs

You can read the full KPMG CEO Outlook report here:

Summary of the Key Findings:



Key Finding: CEOs reported a positive outlook and tempered optimism. A majority of U.S. CEOs (81 percent) plan to pursue inorganic growth, favoring strategic alliances and M&A.

Actions you can take based on this finding:

  • Build out networking skills
  • Build competency in organizational change management
  • Cross-train on Business Analysis skills

Key Finding: CEOs have more realistic expectations of AI implementation and are becoming more enthused about AI-driven decisions.

Actions you can take:

  • Become more versed in AI terminology, its applications, and AI’s limitations and risks
  • Identify and network with AI vendors for business partnerships and knowledge sharing

Key Finding: Agility is a critical capability and requires innovation maturity. Sixty-three percent (63%) expressed the need to improve innovation processes and execution in the next three years.

Actions you can take:

  • Research and become more informed on innovation models
  • Become an “expert” at your organization’s innovation process
  • Help executives understand the cultural changes needed for agility success

Key Finding: Investment in tech is prioritized over people. When asked to make a point-blank choice between investing in technology or people, more than two-thirds of CEOs chose technology.

Actions you can take:

  • Leverage the fact that capital budgets for technology may be easier to secure sign-off than for new job openings
  • Help executives understand risks inherent in trade-off between people vs. technology
  • Position yourself to manage technology change

Key Finding: Companies are actively disrupting their sectors. Seventy-six percent (76%) noted that their growth relies on their ability to challenge and disrupt any business norm.

Actions you can take:

  • Look outside your industry for trends that can help catapult your organization into a new growth area
  • Help team members become more customer-centric to identity unmet customer needs or opportunities

Key Finding: Cyber security risk is slowly being seen as a top organizational risk. CEOs no longer look at cyber risk as a separate IT topic and are embedding cyber in all technology-fueled growth decisions. Only a minority (16 percent) point to cyber security risk itself as their organization’s top threat.

Actions you can take:

  • If your organization has a CISO (chief information security officer), become educated on his/her needs as well as the vision and strategy that they are laying down at your organization
  • Become more versed in cyber security risks and how they relate to you and your team's work

Key Finding: â€‹Organization want to align policies to reflect the values of their customers. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of U.S. CEOs believe that they could significantly improve their understanding of their customers. Eight-one percent (81%) feel it is their personal responsibility to ensure that their organization’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policies reflect the values of their customers.

Actions you can take:

  • Advocate funding and opportunities for your teams to engage with customers to better understand their values and needs
  • Help your teams become more customer-centric


Again, a copy of the infographic can be downloaded here: CEO Outlook and Insights for PMs

Posted on: August 03, 2019 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

9 Tips for Managing Creative Teams

Project Managers need to balance process rigor and process with allowing teams the time and space to do their best work. Here are nine (9) tips and lessons learned for managing creative teams.

1) Shield your team from as much administrative work as possible. Keep your team focused on the most valuable tasks and where they can be most productive.

2) Train your team in creative problem-solving techniques.

3) Allocate time for new ideas to emerge. Try not to hold your team to unreasonable and arbitrary schedules and deadlines. 

4) Let your team do their job without the constant check-ins and oversight. Avoid micro-management!

5) Stress the importance of open communication. 

6) Encourage your team to utilize you as an escalation point.

7) Allow exploration to happen and encourage the team to share ‘learnings’ across all disciplines. Promote interdisciplinary collaboration.

8) Keep challenging the way your team approaches their work. Encourage team members to keep looking anew at the way they approach their work.

9) And most importantly — tolerate risk-taking. It is inevitable with design thinking and agile models now being used on projects. Foster a team environment where failure is a learning opportunity, not something that would limit one’s career.


In summary, make space for creativity, investigation, and failure on your team.

Posted on: July 27, 2019 07:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Big Bang Delivery is Dead

ASSERTION: The era of the big bang transformation and delivery is dead. Rapid, hybrid solution delivery is ascendant and necessary.

- Do you agree or disagree?


Given the rapid pace of technology and business disruption, most organizations are investing heavily just to keep up with the changes. What differentiates the leaders from the laggards in addressing this disruption is how they organize their business to execute against strategy.

We can no longer use the model of monolithic programs that go on for 2-3 years. Organizations find that what they set out to do or solve at the beginning is not what they will finish doing.

In the current business environment, traditional delivery models are now looking too rigid and organizations are locked into investments that often miss the mark. Leading organizations are using rapid delivery cycles that mobilize a project very quickly, aiming to release the product into market or to customers with minimum investment.


- How does role of the Project Manager change with this trend?

- How does the role of the PMO change?

- Does the approach to portfolio management need to adjust?


Posted on: June 12, 2019 06:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Does a Specific Mind-set Drive Passion for our Work?

I am reflecting on my experiences attending multiple PM conferences over the last couple of months. My aim is to identify and share emergent themes that are bubbling up across the project management profession.

Moritz Sprenger's "Voices in Project Management" retrospective on the PMI EMEA Congress had a topic that stood out to me. Mortiz made the keen observation as to why we are passionate about our profession, it is the PM mind-set.

An excerpt from Moritz’ blog post: “I have realized for why I am passionate about the profession of project management: It’s all about mind-set. The people I met [at PMI EMEA Congress] in Dublin had these things in common: Personal drive, the willingness to communicate, being results-driven, working passionately towards personal goals, and foremost: curiosity. These are exactly the traits that distinguishes a good project managers."

Project Manager mind-set. Is that what attracts us to the profession?

I would love to hear if others agree whether it is the mind-set that drives passion for Project Management?

Posted on: June 11, 2019 06:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Reflections on PM Congress 2019 (TU Delft)

The PM Congress 2019 ran April 11-12 on the campus of the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in Netherlands. The conference had the provocative tag line "Adapt or Die", but its theme was the more-grounded "Research Meets Practice". There was good mix of academics, practitioners, and students from TU Delft in attendance at the conference. The organizers had the forethought to include several breaks during the two days and evening events to allow networking and sharing of ideas.

This edition of my retrospective will focus on the conference key note sessions.

Key Note presentations:

Prof. Lynn Crawford (Dir. of the Project Management Program at The University of Sydney, Australia) used a mind map visualization to organize her presentation themes: Forces of change, Research, Practice, and People. (Very nice technique that I will have to use someday!) Lynn challenged the conference attendees with the question: "Are project management practices behind the times?" Essentially our profession and its related training needs to move from a focus on technical skills to assisting project managers develop a variety of skills, abilities, and different mindsets currently not central to our profession.

Lynn also noted that we will move from project management to "project leadership". The usage of "Project Leadership" is a subtle change that I am starting to hear more and more as I attend international project management conferences. The evolution is one I welcome.

Marco Eykelenboom (Exec. Project Director at Fluor Corporation) addressed the complexity and challenges of the project management profession. Marco shared learnings, insights, and experiences from managing large, complex projects in the energy sector. One useful takeaway was the use of visual status reporting on Marco's teams. The teams at Fluor would generate one-page "Weekly Flash Reports" with pictures of the project's progress. These artifacts resonated with both stakeholders and team members. A second key insight from Marco's presentation were polling results to the question: "From your last successful project, what were the key success ingredients?"

Not surprising, the top three responses were:

  1. Team work / cooperation / team spirit,
  2. Communication / information sharing, and
  3. Relationships / trust.

Marco's last key takeaway for managing complex projects was to emphasize the focus on Mission, People, and Balance between human versus technical aspects of project management.

Prof. Dr. Hans Georg Gemünden (Chair for Technology and Innovation Management, Berlin University of Technology) shared research findings on the value of Project Management on innovation projects. The research focused on answering the questions: Does Project Management delivery value? Or is Project Management only a self-deception based on an illusion of control? Based on his research, "project organizing" does indeed create business value but with diminishing returns. Project Management creates higher value for more complex projects versus those with lower complexity. Hans Georg advised the audience that Project Management matters, but we cannot manage projects as we always have. Highly innovative projects need to be managed in a different manner. Ideation, user centric, and collaboration are more important than planning and controlling. Hans Georg correctly noted that current PM standards do not this as they have a focus on formalized processes as key success factors. 

Gerard Scheffrahn (Project Director at OT Osborne) spoke about project organizing and innovation, using Amsterdam's long-delayed North-South metro line expansion project as a great case study. Gerard encouraged Project Managers to spend the majority of their time in what Stephen Covey termed the "Circle of Influence”. In other words, PMs should focus on the decision making process and proactively work from the center of their influence and constantly expand it. Hearing stories about the complexities of building the North-South metro line were also interesting and enlightening.

Connect with me here on Linkedin, at, or follow me on Twitter @brucegay

Posted on: April 28, 2019 08:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."

- Mark Twain



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