Design Thinking Finds Its Place In Project Management

Design thinking is a human-centric approach that allows companies to define problems and improve creativity.

Design Thinking Finds Its Place In Project Management

by Nadine Rochester

Posted on 11-18-2019

Businesses are taking various steps to improve the quality of project management, from investing in agile courses, which can help to make projects more adaptable, to offering DevOps training, which can reduce systems development lifecycles. However, one of the most effective strategies is to embrace the concept of design thinking. 

Approaching projects in a similar way a designer would can be appealing for a number of reasons, including greater clarity, improved creativity, and a potential for a reduced level of risk.

Let’s take a closer look.

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Defining Design Thinking

Design thinking can be broadly defined as a human-centric approach to problem solving. As Brigham Young University - Idaho pointed out, it is a means of defining a problem through the process of empathizing with the people who are affected or impacted by it, and then using that information to inform solutions.

It is important to understand that people do not have to have the expertise of a designer to think like one. Ultimately, design-thinking training is intended to help members of a project embrace innovation and creativity, while also making decisions based on human needs. Design thinking goes hand in hand with the agile methodology, which allows changes to be made quickly, assumptions to be challenged, and for projects to adapt to new information or evidence.

Stages Of The Design Thinking Process

Contrary to how it might sound, design thinking is not a loose theory but is instead a defined methodology, with clear stages. Here are the five different stages of the design thinking process:

1. Empathize: Understand the way people feel about a particular problem, on a human level. This often involves immersing members of the project team within customers’ experiences or observing how they are impacted.

2. Define: This stage involves creating a clear outline of the nature of the problem that needs to be solved. This outline should be based on information obtained during the empathize stage.

3. Ideate: During the ideation phase, the project team will come up with ideas for possible solutions. Crucially, the team should feel free to propose any ideas, even those outside of the box or potentially risky.

4. Prototype: The prototype phase is intended to see ideas brought to fruition via rough drafts or low-fidelity versions of the final product. From there, teams can establish whether an idea is likely to solve the problem.

5. Test: Finally, during the testing phase, the prototype is taken to the next logical stage, where it is tested with users or the intended customers so that their responses can be observed and assessed.

“Align on identifying the real problem to solve before coming up with solutions,” advised UX consultant Yasmine Khan. “Getting authentic human stories at the centre of your strategic narrative creates a touchstone for alignment, which is the first step in working together to identify the right problem to solve.”

Key Benefits Of Design Thinking

A major advantage associated with design-thinking training is the ability to create solutions for problems that are initially difficult to define or pinpoint. This is because the approach allows project managers to gain insight into real human needs, based on first-hand insight, rather than assumptions or suppositions.

Design thinking also provides businesses and project teams with the opportunity to apply ideas practically, see how they actually work, and then make adjustments, according to UI/UX consultant Prince Pal. This also complements agile courses and DevOps training, and improves a project team’s ability to change paths.

Furthermore, the design-thinking methodology has the benefit of facilitating truly creative solutions to problems, allowing for more radical ideas to be voiced or for solutions that break from the traditional way of doing things.

“Continuing to develop and foster an environment where people are allowed to question the way it always has been done and take risks has powerful implications—this is design thinking, which drives innovation,” wrote Lindsay Scott, director of training specialist PMO Learning. “Design thinking is all about how we can do things differently.”

The Final Word

Design thinking is a human-centric approach in which problems are defined and resolved by empathizing with users, understanding how problems affect them, generating ideas, creating prototypes, and testing them on the intended end users. Within project management, it can facilitate greater creativity and innovation.

Benefits of design thinking include the ability to gain greater clarity over ill-defined problems, the opportunity to make changes after seeing a project in action, and the chance for project teams to ideate truly original solutions, even if they break from the established norms.

“We learn so much by seeing experiences in the field,” said Tonya Bakritzes, CMO of Isobar US, in an interview earlier this year. “Companies should understand that they need to employ teams that are constantly measuring, gleaning insights, and optimizing to meet consumer needs.”

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