Beyond the Hype: Evaluating the Impact of Design Thinking

It's been a while since we last posted - seems the Easter Break as just too tempting for slowing down - but todays post has been on my mind for a while. As could be expected with any new methodology, there have been more and more vocal critics of Design Thinking over the last few months. So it seems useful to share a recent study delivered by Jeanne Liedtka (University of Virginia Darden School of Business) that outlines the various benefits of this mindset in addressing some of the most pressing organisational innovation challenges of our time.

The paper has a fitting title in that it explores Design Thinking "in action" and not on a theoretical level where there is no "real-world" impact beyond academic discourse. Jeanne mentions a few key practices that underpin design thinking in action:

1. Development of a deep empathic understanding of peoples needs and context. This mindset drives other practices e.g. by providing user-driven criteria for ideation, encouraging a reframing of the problem, aligning team members’ perspectives, enhancing the ability to alter course and “pivot” as well as building emotional engagement and buy-in at a deeper level. 

2. The formation of heterogeneous teams. This second critical innovation practice supports conducive behaviour e.g. by building alignment across differences, expanding the repertoire of teams, building local capabilities to solve new problems, broadening access to networks and resources as well as enhancing willingness to co-create.

3. Dialogue-based conversations that focused on problem definition first and allowed for the emergence of new solutions. This third practice encourages fostering alignment, allows for emergent solutions, creating a “social technology” as well as building engagement and trust.

4. Creation of multiple solutions made tangible through prototyping that were then winnowed through real world interaction and experimentation. Here it gets interesting as she points to issues like: reduced visibility of failures, mitigation of decision biases, attracting solution champions as well as encouraging a learning mindset and action orientation.

5. The use of a structured and facilitated process. This practice seeks to support: increased psychological safety, managing cognitive complexity, involving key stakeholders as well as improving confidence and quality through coaching.

In strategic projects these practices flow into one another and teams will move iteratively between different stages, but ultimately they contribute to favourable outcomes as Liedkta points out: 
1. Design Thinking improves organizational innovation outcomes by producing higher quality solutions.
2. Design Thinking improves innovation outcomes by reducing the risk/visibility of failure.
3. Design Thinking improves outcomes by improving the likelihood of implementation.
4. Design Thinking impacts innovation outcomes by improving adaptability.
5. Design Thinking impacts innovation outcomes by the creation of local capability sets.

Even though it takes time to master some of these skills and achieve a higher level of Design Thinking maturity, we can already see some of the benefits in smaller test projects - which then help to "sell" the approach to other stakeholders that might still be sceptical.