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Design-Thinking and Project Management

Design Thinking and Project ManagementIn today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment, organisations need speed, innovation and breakthrough solutions if they are to achieve.

In a previous blog How to Structure Your Organisation to Drive Innovation, we discussed how strategic project management supplies the key ingredients for choosing and executing innovative products that align with an organisation’s overall strategy.

This week we look at how strong organisations can innovate by fostering an environment in which people use logic, imagination and reasoning to explore possibilities and solve problems. This is also known as a design-thinking culture.

Design thinking allows organisations to thrive in today’s ever-changing landscape – providing project leaders are adaptive enough to be able to work in this more complex world. (To help leaders adapt to the challenges of VUCA, we have partnered with Duke Corporate Education to launch the Adaptive Strategic Execution Programme).

To empower teams to be design thinkers, senior executives must focus on aligning culture with strategy. But a dichotomy exists in organisations which can make this difficult.

This is because managers are planners who rely on the past and the present in order to project for the future, while designers are creators who are taught to break away from the past in order to build for the future.

Design-thinking requires collaboration and buy-in through the process in which managers think like designers and designers think like managers.

By encouraging a healthy dialogue about what has worked well and what hasn’t, the design-thinking process generates new, shared insights as well as breakthroughs which come from re-framing old ideas. (Some of the best ideas come from those which previously weren’t considered).

Creating and recreating results in change – and it is change that creates forward-thinking organisations. The following three components will help ensure an organisation achieves this:

  1. Envisioning the future by creating a shared understanding
  2. Investing in talent to embed a mindset and skillset
  3. Ensure alignment between the organisation’s culture and business objectives

Design thinking also forces an organisation to decide whether upskilling existing talent or hiring new talent will yield the best results and outcomes.

Training the existing workforce through customised training will result in strategic thinkers who are fully invested in the mission and future direction of the organisation. It will also help create a workforce with increased levels of tenacity to overcome resistance, being able to implement change and drive innovation. For more on selecting a training partner read our guide: Selecting Your Professional Development Partner.

In addition to strategic thinking, communicating the important values and expected behaviours such as risk-taking, openness to new ideas, rapid decision-making and willingness to fail fast will emerge from a culture of transparency and openness that filters down from the top.

While the following behaviours are more likely to kill design-thinking:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Resistance to change
  • Quelling different thinking
  • Fearing risk-taking
  • Isolating strategy from execution

To realise its full value, design-thinking must be pushed beyond centres of innovation to everyone in the organisation, with the goal of improving all aspects of the enterprise – not just product development.

Most of all, it requires the right mindset and toolset, embedded in a culture that supports risk-taking, divergent thinking, adaptive leadership and freedom to collaborate.

Design Thinking

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