Design Thinking isn’t bullsh*t. The way you apply it is.

Lately, I have seen some talks, articles and gotten some questions from people who are struggling with or just downright angry at using Design Thinking and/or Design Sprints. It’s something I’ve been able to use with a lot of success throughout my career so I reached out to some of these teams to understand what was going on. In this episode, we will look at why Design Thinking and/or Design Sprints getting beaten up, why do people feel this way, and in many cases, why I think their frustration is justified.

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Lately I have seen a few talks, articles and gotten some questions from people who are latching on to the Design Thinking and/or Design Sprints are bullshit bandwagon. It is an attention grabbing line and does it’s job to get people to stop and listen. You have people like this in your company, on your team or you may even be one of them. I think things like this always happen with anything that is popular and there is no reason why this should be any different.

But instead of doing what too many people do and dismiss those who have a different opinion or think something I love is wrong – I wanted to lean. So I reached out to some of these teams and people to understand what was going on. In this episode I want to take a look at why Design Thinking and/or Design Sprints getting beaten up? Why do people feel this way? Any in many cases, why I do think their frustration is extremely justified?

The big problem.

I found there was one large overarching problem that could then be broken down into a number of smaller problems. DT / DS are no different than a recipe – if you skip steps and leave out ingredients the final results is a mess and appeal to no one. And then there is very justifiable anger that this feels more like madness than a method – because when you skip steps it is. So this is why I don’t fault MOST people who are writing these articles and saying things like this. I also know there are some people who just like to take an opposite opinion to what is popular – and I get that too.

The small problems

They want the answers before the process starts.

I have said it countless times before but if you want to do creative work of any quality then you need to start with a problem to be solved – not a solution to be vetted. This is a huge problem when I teach DT/DS that people want to run to the fun parts – the ideation and executions. As a creative person you are their guide on this journey and so you need to make sure that they stay open to the process, the insights and multiple ideas.

They only want to use the shiny and fun parts.

This means that when I talked to some of the companies, teams and people I found that they only used part of the methodologies and those were usually just cliched popular parts like using Post-It notes, doing group brainstorms, calling any process or anything a Design Sprint and more. Like I said before, these methodologies are like recipes. Recipes only work when you use all the ingredients and follow all the steps. This was probably the biggest reason why I have found frustrated teams and angry people because they are going through these neutered and mutated versions of the methodology, getting horrible results and then blaming the process and nothing but junk.

They don’t want to change the processes that surround and intersect with DT and/or DS

If you want to make DT/DS successful then you can’t start using it and leave the rest of your process and thinking the same as it always was. Every time I teach it I tell the team that within the next week they need to do a DT/DS exercise on their process to see what it is that they are going to change. This way you are giving it a chance to be successful, to support it the right way , sure everyone is on the same page.

Other teams of people still want to be the main source of truth.

One of the main parts of DT/DS is using customers as the source of truth and this is the other huge part that most of the companies didn’t follow. They struggle as executives, product team, tech teams and design teams who are the source of all the ideas and insights. This leads to the conflict and opinion war I have talked about before which is not productive. Making customers the course of truth puts the focus where it belongs. It give your work a real sense of it is solving the right problems and if it will have a real impact.

Final thought

The thought I want people to walk away here is that any methodology is fallible. You can mislead it, influence it, skip steps, and so many other things that can send it off the rails. This is why I continue to say that anyone can teach you DT/DS but that is such a small piece of making it successful. How it is positioned, how we change our existing processes to adopt it, how we make it unique for our teams, and so much more are what will really define its success.

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