Over the last few years, as the focus on doing things smarter, faster, and better has continued to increase, the way we work has slowly transformed. Design thinking and agile are two approaches that have gained real traction over this time, but they are generally viewed separately.
But there is a compelling argument that these two approaches are better together. Not only do they follow similar principles, but they’re incredibly complementary, and any organization that solves problems with smart solutions must understand how these two approaches can be combined.
Design thinking views innovation through the lenses of desirability, feasibility, and viability, with empathy, experiential learning, and collaboration all key principles. These principles also apply to agile.
Empathy is the key to uncovering customer desires. It is also very effective in agile when defining and delivering value, which is really the heart of the approach. Value is different for everyone, so we must be able to put ourselves in our customer’s shoes to understand what it means to them.
An experiential approach – learning through experience – is very useful when developing prototypes and building solutions. In agile, key learnings are gained one iteration before being incorporated into the next, which enables rapid continuous improvement. Co-creating prototypes and solutions with customers also helps to further develop empathy.
And like design thinking, agile is infused with customer collaboration, from defining requirements to validating solutions.
Furthermore, design thinking takes a holistic approach to innovation. If we also take a holistic approach to agile, we can scale innovation to the enterprise. Scaling agile unleashes the power of the approach; operational agility transitions to strategic agility and true business transformation takes place. This is how organizations such as Amazon have reinvented themselves.
Combining design thinking with agile
The design thinking process is customer-focused – from having deep empathy with customers and gathering insights, to involving customers early in the testing process:
- Customer empathy/insights
- Creative problem definition
- Solution ideation
- Solution prototyping
- Customer-based testing
It follows the Design Council’s Double Diamond design methodology, where each diamond represents a process of exploring (divergent thinking) and then taking focused action (convergent thinking):
An agile approach is perfectly suited
In agile, the customer also becomes part of a cross-functional, self-organizing agile delivery team, so organizations benefit not only from fast product delivery but from having their products tested by their customers.
Solving key business problems using design thinking and agile
Design thinking can be used to identify the right problems to solve, and agile can increase the success of solutions targeted towards solving these problems. In short, design thinking is doing the right things, whereas agile is doing things right.
In today’s digital economy, the customer is the boss. Design thinking uncovers the right problems to solve by focusing on the customer. “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”
Innovation is the key to digital disruption. Design thinking is making organizations think about how to move faster. Problem-solving plus deep customer empathy equals better user experiences and more disruptive products.
Enter agile. Agile is a mindset that focuses on delivering value fast, so it marries perfectly with design thinking.
Once design thinking has uncovered the right problems to solve, agile can be used to iteratively build solutions to solve these problems. An iterative agile approach enables fast delivery of solutions with early and continuous customer feedback, vastly increasing the chances of successful projects and solutions.
How Cognizant pushes employees to be better
To help our associates become better design thinkers, Cognizant offers a three-hour instructor-led introductory workshop to design thinking. It walks through the philosophy, the stages of the design thinking process, and how it solves business problems.
We also offer useful resources on our Cognizant Learn platform, including developing a design thinking culture, using design thinking for business innovation, and how design thinking works in specialist areas such as microservices and DevOps.
Cognizant also helps female tech employees to grow and upskill. The organization recognizes that the future of work is inclusive, and is committed to elevating the experience of work for women through its Women Empowered (WE) program.
The WE program brings women together through forums, executive client dinners, and book clubs. The WE book club recently read Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, which explained that women face more challenges in securing transformational mentorships. Highlighting and understanding these sorts of problems is the first step in solving them, which Cognizant is committed to doing.
This commitment extends far beyond the WE program. Cognizant sponsors MAKERS, an organization dedicated to telling the stories of today’s trailblazing women to inspire the changemakers of tomorrow. At the 2019 MAKERS conference, Cognizant pledged to employ at least 100,000 women around the world by 2020. All this work saw Cognizant Australia recognized as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality in 2018.
Does your organization use design thinking or agile, or both? If so, how?