Design Thinking Dives Deep into the Future People Really Need

For people and organizations learning to use design thinking in their strategy and innovation work, there is great advice and tools in Designing for Growth: A design thinking tool kit for managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie.

Where was this resource when Signature i was developing Forward Design as an alternative strategic planning approach? I just read this book in conjunction with a Coursera class with Liedtka and I will be applying their tips and tools in my practice. The authors use a few association and nonprofit examples amid the many corporate applications affirming what we’ve discovered in our work. For the right question and the right situation, design thinking is a great methodology for associations and nonprofits to know and use.

The heart of the Liedtka and Ogilvie approach is a simple rubric that lines up very well with our Forward Design approach. 

  • What is? In this first step you dive deep into current reality through primary and secondary research.  Liedtka and Ogilvie particularly like ethnographic research to get a deep understanding of customers and stakeholders and recommend a process they call journey mapping.  It’s exactly what it sounds like: reconstructing the experiences and interactions people have with your organization or product.  We do something similar in our leadership framing step:  listening deeply to what matters to volunteer leaders and other key stakeholders.

We stress the need for people to analyze and make sense of what they are learning. They propose doing this through what they call mindmapping. We get to a similar place by creating an  opportunity or problem statement.  Both processes make a shared understanding of the strategic opportunities and priorities explicit and easier to discuss.

  • What if?  This second step envisions a new future.  Forward Design tries to answer this question from the outset through environmental scanning of key trends and issues.  Then we turn to ideation or brainstorming to explore what if as Liedtka and Ogilvie recommend.  We agree that groups need to define their design criteria to focus this brainstorming.  They offer a good design criteria tool that would be effective in product and service development.  For strategy development and strategic planning, we are finding the opportunity statement and design criteria are sufficient to arrive at a shared vision of the future.  Their napkin pitch tool with some adaptation for situations other than product and service development could be very handy. You really can’t have too many ways to summarize and clarify when groups are engaged in sense making.
  • What wows? This step tests the future in the present.  They propose assumption testing at this stage to surface what customers and stakeholders need and want.  We insist on assumption testing from the outset and use strategic questions liberally in our methodology. We cycle back to the design criteria to make sure teams haven’t lost sight of their own design criteria once they get caught up in generating ideas and options.  And as Liedtka and Ogilvie stress repeatedly, design thinking requires visualization throughout. Nowhere is it more important than in rapid prototyping.  We have had great success using metaphors and analogies in our work; we will be trying storyboarding and persona creation after seeing how Liedtka and Ogilvie recommend using them. 
  • What works?  This final step goes into the marketplace to test ideas and solutions. Liedtka and Ogilvie make a compelling case for customer co-creation. They put prototypes before customers, observe their reactions, and iterate to an improved offering.  Our Forward Design method also has a lot of “marketplace” pragmatism built into it. Strategic plans that emerge from our method mix novel and aspiring elements with the practical stuff that keeps associations and nonprofits delivering their promised value.  And we now see that our preference for a strategic framework rather than detailed plans takes into account this need for customer co-creation. The best ideas and new initiatives require iteration and adaptation for a changing world.  That’s why their idea of using a learning launch is sound advice. The learning launch is an experiment conducted in the marketplace to test what people value.  We just might start talking about strategic plans this way from now on. Let’s do a learning launch and engage members and stakeholders in determining what wows and works as we implement a new strategic direction.

When we first started learning and writing about design thinking, we described it as learning and thinking by another name and approach.  Now we can thank Liedtka and Ogilvie for a systematic approach to changing how we think and what we perceive as possible as we dive deep into what our members and stakeholders really need in the future.