Design Thinking for Change Managers

The September 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review devoted an entire section on design thinking. Among the articles was a great piece by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, called Design for Action (subscription needed), where he argues for using design to drive change. Tim Brown is a well-known guru of design thinking and his company, IDEO, has not only helped develop some of Apple’s most iconic designs, but has also been contracted to help design new processes and lead change for municipalities, country governments, and non-profits working in the developing world. Two of core ideas that Brown draws on to develop his point are that 1) design is not so much a physical process as it is a way of thinking (Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial) and 2) design is not only for developing products, but also solving complex problems (Richard Buchanan, Wicked Problems in Design Thinking).

Brown discusses “designed objects” and the challenges of introducing a new design to an organisation. A designed object might be a new product or service, but it could also be an internal process or an idea. When the design is tangible, as in the case of a new product for launch, then the adoption of the design is fairly simple and low risk. Stakeholders can see how the new product will drive revenue, how it’s an improvement on the old product, or how it can open up new markets.

However, the less tangible and more complex a design is, as with a new work process, the risker the introduction of the design becomes. There are ripple effects as stakeholders perceive risk to the established order, risk to their jobs, or risk to their powerbases.

In these cases, designing the “intervention” (the introduction of the design to the users) may be more important than the design itself. After the team has created the new design, the leaders need to apply the same type of thinking to plan out how the design will be introduced to a wider audience. This is the very essence of change management.

Key steps in planning the intervention could include:

  • Using empathy to think deeply about your stakeholders - how will they use the new process and how might they be impacted by it?
  • Developing a prototype (i.e., pilot) to test the design with a select group.
  • Gathering feedback and reflecting on the performance of the design.
  • Refining the design and retesting to make sure you get it right before the official launch.
  • Design is an iterative process. Rapid prototyping and feedback are keys to refining the design and addressing gaps that might otherwise lead to unintended consequences.

Can you think of any examples in your company in which that process has failed?

Design thinking is not just for designers. Simitri offers design thinking workshops to help teams and leaders solve problems, lead change, and drive business results. For more information please contact us.