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

What Goes on in the Mind of a Project Manager?

What do Project Managers do all day??

Big Bang Delivery is Dead

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

Reflections on PM Congress 2019 (TU Delft)

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 (10)

Design Thinking & Project Management (repost)

Design and design thinking is "old news."  As Project Managers, we are late to this party. 

If you have not yet seen my webinar on Design Thinking & Project Management, here is a link:

Design thinking has emerged as a major trend for how innovative organizations are approaching problem-solving. Design thinking encourages innovative solutions by drawing on approaches from engineering and design, and combining them with ideas from the arts, social sciences, and the business world.

Design Thinking is ...

1)  People-centered. Empathy is at the core.

Empathy gained through user research is at the center of design. The PM and project team should strive to include all project stakeholders and customers in the process, starting from project initiation. The goal is to get immediate and timely feedback from the customer and make changes and revisions along the way.

2) Extensive interdisciplinary collaboration.

A common challenge across projects is communication. Words, and the meaning behind them are often misunderstood. Different people with different backgrounds and experiences use language differently. Design Thinking tools and methods, like sketching, mind maps or physical models, can be extremely useful. They force people to remove imprecise words and organize around a “synthesized” picture to describe the concept. Additionally, people are terrible at recall, but we’re awesome at recognition. Project Managers should utilize these tools and methods to bring people together and work more effectively.

3) Highly creative. Strives for diverse viewpoints.

As a PM, you should staff your project team with people that possess different perspectives for the best results. You absolutely need people who think differently, but to be efficient, you need to find ways to communicate, prioritize, share in decision making. Seek out staff that can “think laterally” and are willing to try connecting ideas that might not seem to intuitively go together. 

4) All about doing and being hands-on.

Design Thinking is about taking ideas and concepts and quickly giving them form. Whether a napkin sketch, a prototype carved from foam rubber, or a digital mock-up, the quick-and-rough models that designers constantly create are a critical component of innovation. When you give form to an idea, you begin to make it real and can elicit emotional responses from end users and customers. You have to make in order to learn. 

5) Iterative.

Lastly, Design Thinking is iterative. You and your team will never get it right the first time.

As part of your project management process, you need to embed the cyclical process of prototyping, analyzing, and refining a product or service. Your team needs to secure timely feedback from the customer in order to make iterative/incremental improvements along the way. My advice -- the iterative nature of design is not as costly as not doing it at all.

A few closing thoughts on this topic:

  1. Design Thinking is not magic. There is rigor to it. You can learn it. You can practice it, you can get better at it.
  2. There are many design models to choose from and no single process or toolkit serves every case. As a PM, you need to understand whatever model you are using and account for it in your project planning and execution. 
  3. Design is a set of tools to solve problems. If you do it well, it is a sustainable activity that can transform your projects and your entire business.


I am passionate about evangelizing Design Thinking within the Project Management community. I welcome any feedback or comments below. 

Posted on: February 12, 2017 11:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Guidance for Project Managers


Recently I have been working on a turnaround project that needed some additional project management discipline and rigor. I have been providing come guidance to some of the junior PMs, that I wanted to share with the community here.


Guidance for Project Managers:

  • Empathy and listening is key to being a successful Project Manager. Ask your teams “Where can I help?” and they will tell you.
  • Teams do not communicate well. It is our job as PMs to make sure any mis-communications or delays in communication are beaten down.
  • Be an escalation point for your teams to ensure that their open items and concerns are being addressed in a timely manner.
  • Get your hands dirty. There is a lot of important work that no one team is assigned to do yet needs to be done for the project to be successful. (e.g. “herding cats”, action item follow-up, procuring additional software or resources, generating drafts of documents for the team to react to, etc.).
  • Think strategically and think about the bigger picture. Someone needs to help guide and focus the team on “The Goal”.
  • Keep a watchful eye on dependencies and their impacts on milestones.
  • Stay focused on the Top 3-4 critical issues that could delay or derail the teams’ progress.
  • Make sure the team takes time to prepare for key stakeholder meetings. Conduct dry runs if needed, but at minimum presentation materials should be reviewed prior to sharing with stakeholders.
  • Shield the team from as much administrative work as possible.


Connect with me on Linkedin or follow me on Twitter @brucegay

Posted on: December 11, 2016 02:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Project Manager as a resource not a taskmaster

I recently participated on a lecture panel for Carnegie Mellon University's School of Design. My role on the panel was to bring a project manager's perspective on design, specifically for development and design of software in the healthcare sector. 

One of the messages that I wanted to communicate to the graduate students was to treat your project manager as resource and not a task master. 

Rightly or wrongly, people often think of Project Managers as the person in charge. They see this person as managing timelines & schedules and handing out task assignments. However, I wanted the graduate students to understand that their job would be easier if they treat their PM as a partner and a resource.

In my opinion -- a good PM helps his or her team to remove roadblocks and open new paths to help the team achieve its goals.

If a software developer needs a new software license or a certain piece of hardware, the PM should be the one championing the procurement of the new resources. 

If the UX design team needs feedback from certain customers, salespeople, or product users, the PM could make those initial introductions happen and help the designers gain access to the stakeholder groups.

What if the analysts and designers wanted to know the current set of feature priorities or the worst-offender bugs? How about what the latest data teaches us about a new product feature? The PM should be able to provide the data or at least connect the analysts and designers with the right people who have the data.

I also feel that it is our jobs as PMs to shield our teams from as much administrivia and unnecessary distractions as possible. This will allow your team members to do their best and most meaningful work. 

I encourage you to tell your teams that they should treat you as a resource and not a task master. 


Connect with me on Linkedin or follow me on Twitter @brucegay

Posted on: November 04, 2016 03:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Integrating Design into Your Organization

In May 2016, I presented a webinar to the PMI Community on the topic "Design Thinking & Project Management". Continuing my series of articles on how Project Managers can integrate design into projects, this article will focus on Lesson #2: "Design should be involved in the full project lifecycle", and specifically options and recommendations on how to structure UX Design teams within your organization.


Each company or organization is different. How you decide to organize your teams will depend on what works best for your company's goals and culture. The key organizational models for UX Design are: centralized, de-centralized (aka embedded), or hybrid of the two. There are advantages and disadvantages for each model.

1. Centralized Model

In a centralized team model, designers belong to a single unit and are "farmed out" to work on individual projects around the organization. When a particular designer's work is complete they return to the central group and are re-assigned to new work and new projects.


  • Promotes uniform career growth of the design team.
  • Provides emotional benefits of belonging to a group.
  • Advances a coherent design experience across the organization.


  • Reduces design to a purely execution function, not fully integrated into the project lifecycle.
  • Designers are inserted into a project that was already underway.
  • Designers would not have participated in problem definition, a key activity that designers are well-suited to lead the team through.
  • Perception of designers as outsiders - "not one of us".

2. Embedded Model

In this model, designers are embedded into multidisciplinary teams and report up through local management. Designers are dedicated to a team and each team is devoted to a distinct aspect of the product or software development.


  • Over time, the team forms a cohesive unit and team members respect the contributions of the designer.
  • The designer builds up specific business or domain knowledge and
  • The designer establishes stronger bonds with key stakeholder (and decision makers) involved in the project.


  • Designers have no sense of design community for support, they could become lonely.
  • Designers work on their own, likely not collaborating with other designers within the organization.
  • Team members are non-designers who do not speak the same professional language. 

3.  Hybrid Model

From recent experiences, we overcame the disadvantages of the two previous models by evolving a hybrid model with both embedded and centralized attributes. We found that having UX designers embedded in the development teams, but also members of a design group within the organization, worked best. The result had the combined advantages from both models.

In the hybrid model, there is a degree of commitment and engagement desired from the embedded designers assigned to specific projects. In this case, the designer understands the full life cycle and is deeply wedded to the business or domain. Having a centralized reporting structure lets designers to be managed by other designers. This allows for peer design, knowledge sharing across projects and quickly ramping up on a project.


I am passionate about evangelizing Design within the Project Management community. I welcome any feedback or comments on this article. 

Connect with me on Linkedin or follow me on Twitter @brucegay

Posted on: August 30, 2016 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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