Digital Transformation: Is Design Thinking Failing us? No, We Are Failing It | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On October 4, 2017

In addition to Everest Group’s work with enterprises on design thinking, I have recently participated in more than a dozen design thinking-focused discussions and analyst events with digital service providers, including as design companies, system integrators, and consultancies.

All the providers talk about the great work they have been doing with clients leveraging design thinking. But it is very clear that they are missing the larger context of design thinking. This, in turn, is impacting the value they can generate for their clients. And unless they embrace a different approach, they will not be able to help their clients become world-class digital adopters.

Three issues with the way design thinking principles are leveraged in client work

  1. Obsessed with persona: Most digital service providers focus on solving the problems of one specific persona in an enterprise – e.g., doctors, sales agents, pilots, or shop floor managers – and largely ignore the ecosystem around that persona. Realizing the solution they designed for that persona, creates complexities for others in the ecosystem, they design solutions for each of those personas. This becomes a never-ending loop that not only frustrates the client but also fails to create the intended value. In the worse cases, the digital solution designed is impractical, and cannot be deployed by the enterprise. This defeats the entire design thinking initiative, and wastes considerable time and money investments.
  2. Over-focused on the “known”: Most design thinking workshops focus on users’ evident, current problems, but fail to address unarticulated needs. There are three reasons for this. First, because the workshops typically carry a crunched timeline. Second, because the digital service providers believe it can be difficult to explain and get funding for unarticulated needs. Third, because the users themselves are more focused on their tangible challenges than issues they cannot visualize. But this sole focus on the known limits the impact a truly successful design thinking initiative can create for an enterprise.
  3. Driven in closed rooms: Only 20% of design thinking workshops are carried out in users’ real working environments. As the rest are conducted in closed conference rooms, user input based on memory and perception, rather than real time observation of their day-to-day activities. Thus, the resulting solution cannot help but fall short of expectations and address only part of the problem, when it is implemented in the real world.

Aspiring world-class digital enterprises must make design thinking the epicenter of their transformation initiatives. To gain all the benefits and value of design thinking, I strongly recommend enterprises:

  • Have a broad perspective of the problems they are trying to address, rather than obsessing on specific user requirements
  • Require their service providers observe their users in in their real working environment, and draw a map to the other stakeholders with which they frequently engage
  • Tie the digital service providers’ financial incentives to the outcomes of their digital initiative

Have you run or attended a design thinking workshop? Experienced a highly successful, or miserably failed, design thinking initiative? Please share with me at yugal.jo[email protected].