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How is Design Thinking Used to Get Project Results?

Design thinking is a non-linear process, which allows businesses and their project teams to embrace design concepts, in order to solve complex, ill-defined problems. It is especially useful for situations where project managers need to re-frame the way they view an issue, challenge internal assumptions, or truly innovate.

While the concept of design thinking has grown in popularity, some remain unsure of precisely how it works and what the benefits of a design thinking course are. With that in mind, in this article, we take a closer look at design thinking and explain how it can help you to get results that other methods or approaches may not deliver.

The Basics of Design Thinking

On a basic level, the design thinking process can be broken down into three main steps, which are covered in the Strategy Execution design thinking course, entitled Design Thinking for Results. These three steps form what is sometimes known as the PSC Model and this breaks down in the following way:

  • Perceiving – This stage is all about re-framing what you see and the way you perceive a problem, eliminating pre-existing biases. It involves empathising with users, understanding their issues and their needs, gathering qualitative and quantitative user data and creating customer personas, based on your research.
  • Sensemaking – This step is all about ideas, innovation and envisioning solutions. The ideation process will typically include brainstorming and other techniques to generate possible ways to solve the core problem. It is important that ideas are generated as freely as possible, with ‘outside the box’ thinking encouraged.
  • Choreography – The final step is about putting ideas into action, first through creating working prototypes and then by testing those prototypes. The lessons learned from testing can then be used to make adjustments or to change course, with a view to producing the most viable solution possible.

Design Thinking for Project ManagementThe reason it is described as a non-linear process is that each step could easily send the design team back a step, or back multiple steps. For instance, information learned during the choreography phase might help the team perceive the issue in a different light, or an idea generated in the sense-making stage might re-frame the problem entirely.

Ultimately, design thinking is a structured approach for solving problems, first by understanding the situation more clearly – from the end user’s perspective – then by allowing the generation of fresh ideas, and finally by putting ideas into practice, testing them and using the information gained through testing to light the way forward. 

Increased Opportunities For Innovation

One of the key ways in which design thinking gets results is through increased innovation. This occurs because project team members are able to re-think how they perceive a situation and voice new ideas for how to solve it. The entire design thinking approach encourages different questions to be asked and unique ideas to be shared.

“Defining problems in obvious, conventional ways, not surprisingly, often leads to obvious, conventional solutions,” says Jeanne Liedtka, a professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, in an article written for the Harvard Business Review. “Asking a more interesting question can help teams discover more-original ideas.”

While thinking outside the box is encouraged, high-quality design thinking training will emphasise the importance of using the data and insights gained during the perceiving stage of the process to inform those ideas. However, it is crucial that project managers are willing to take a step back, in order to limit the influence of their own biases.

Design Thinking Design Thinking for Complex Problems

Aside from its capacity to increase innovation, design thinking is also an ideal methodology for project teams dealing with complex problems or complex business contexts. In simple terms, complex problems can be described as those with low to medium certainty and predictability, where the relationship between cause and effect is not clear.

Pennsylvania State University states – with complex problems, there may not be agreement on a definition of the problem itself, because the problem can be approached from different perspectives. This makes it important to take your time and encourage diversity of thought.

“Let us consider why we make decisions. To get results and outcomes. To commit to a course of action. To affect future progress,” says Alaina Burden, in a previous post for the PMO Perspectives blog. “In complexity, [the PSC Model] has the intentional methodology to slow our thinking down as opposed to jumping to bias or past action/reaction.”

The Last Word

Investing in design thinking training can assist project leaders by providing them with a clear methodology for re-framing problems, solving complex issues and putting user needs at the forefront. The design thinking approach itself allows you to empathise, gain valuable insights, generate new ideas freely and then test those ideas. By following these steps, projects become more likely to deliver value, not only for the end-user, but also for your own business.



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