category: UI UX Design

Ramp-Up Your Design Thinking in the Enterprise

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Ramp-Up Your Design Thinking in the Enterprise

Ever thought about how user-oriented your organization is? What challenges will you face when spreading user-centered practices beyond your UX team? Where would you start?

Design thinking has become a popular term in the industry over the past few years as agencies and businesses look for ways to generate new and innovative ideas.

Whether you're looking to develop a new product, create an end-user experience (UX), brainstorm a new advertising campaign, or develop a promotional proposal, Design Thinking can help you get to better opportunities and helps you to create something meaningful and unique.

In this guide, we'll explain how our design and development agency is helping to create a more innovative culture in Applied Design Thinking. We've broken down the process into three main steps that you can ramp up or down according to your organization.

let's get started!

Design Thinking Beyond Buzzwords


When you practice design thinking every day, outsiders see it as magical thinking. To charm others about the practice behind the buzzword, you need to connect it to business and show some real examples of its value.

First, let's understand Design Thinking in 30 Seconds of Value Propositions.

Design Thinking in 30 Seconds


Design thinking can be complicated by overuse, but it's a very straightforward concept and the fundamentals are fair:

  • Paying attention to customers' problems first,
  • iterating over ideas, and
  • Seeking feedback to focus on and refine those ideas.

At Think360, we have broken down the design thinking process into key activities within the stages of empathize, ideate, and prototype. Because we know; through structured activities, we can teach people to focus on problems that matter to customers and improve the bottom line.

Instead of stopping at the first solution, we can better evaluate multiple options before committing resources. Multiple options are better able to avoid the vicious cycle of incremental efforts with minimal customer impact.

Because design thinking is a problem-solving strategy that employees can learn to improve their business processes. With the right people teaching it, companies can see more profitable and innovative alternatives when making decisions that can cost a lot of time, money, and energy.

Design Thinking in Action


In many organizations, UX teams become initiators and coaches of the Design Thinking movement. They have helped their colleagues and employees in other roles learn this new way of dealing with problems.

But before you lead design change, you must:

  • Understand how design thinking fits into current systems and culture.
  • Know what you're pitching and how it will benefit the bottom line.
  • Know where to find the critical points of impact that will make or break your efforts.

It is very difficult to encourage change in process and perspective without a strong fan base. To successfully implement Design Thinking in your organization, you must first align (or create) a process for the execution and collection of results. And then you'd need to quantify the results.

Some Straightforward Tips for Successful UX Design Processes


Step 1: Recruit your core supporters


Cultural change is not one size fits all, and it only happens with conscious efforts and constant supporters.

We love the adoption of Agile in engineering organizations. but, we take it for granted that most product development teams follow agile processes. But, the reality is that this has been possible only through solid leadership, training, experimentation, and adaptation.

You would need to get executive buy-in and embed well-resourced influencers in the ranks.

List key leaders and influencers in your organization. Ask questions like, where do you see the seeds of innovation growing? Who wants to engage more with your customers? These people are your early adopters.

At Think360, our strategy is to bring some senior leaders on board quickly. Once they got involved, other leaders started coming to us, for more learning and to get their teams involved.

Pitching to Leadership


Leaders only need to know two things: What is Design Thinking and How it meets business goals.

When you contact them, explain everything in layman's terms with lots of supporting information. Highlight relevant examples of the business impact of design thinking. Then, make connections between examples from other competitors and the challenges facing your organization.

Did stakeholders recently suffer a failed product launch? Are users complaining about a product? Your product has a new opportunity or market emerged?

You don't need to be the messenger yourself, and it doesn't necessarily have to be in the form of a PowerPoint deck. Many companies have cultural currency, so don't tell your story longer than 8-slides and practice your pitch.

  • Outline the challenge or opportunity facing the organization in the current quarter.
  • Explain the 3 principles of Design Thinking, then dive right into the elevator pitch.
  • Speak to the pain of your audience. When you validate specifications through prototyping first, you reduce the risk of delay and cost.
  • Demonstrate how competitors or similar companies have used design thinking to solve that problem (include stats to show results).
  • Point out how design thinking applies to your company.
  • Create a trial pilot project, ideally a project of 3 months or less so that you can come back with the results. Either estimate desired business outcomes or emphasize that you will speak with all stakeholders to formulate clear business goals.
  • Seek executive support only for the pilot.

Know where your organization fits in the 8 Stages of UX Maturity and adapt your approach accordingly. As a universal best practice, focus on quick wins - don't scare away potential champions by unveiling a grand plan for UX.

If the executives still oppose your pitch, don't give up just yet. It's normal for people to reject ideas until they see at least a little evidence of success.

Try breaking down your existing product into small units, then shop around a new vision for a unit with any UX collaborators outside of the design team. Essentially, run your own little Skunkworks project.

Once you build some consensus, try prototyping new ideas and testing them with 3-5 users in 30-minute sessions. Hold a quick session with the stakeholders where you summarize the usability results and your recommended action plan.

Teaching Leadership


Once you have buy-in, it helps to teach the lead some introductory design thinking.

At Think360, we provide executive boot camps to many of our leaders; From Insights to Innovation and Customer-Focused Innovation. We also ran customized Design Thinking introductory workshops. These programs connect executives and senior leaders with our end users, giving them firsthand experience with the tools of design thinking.

Of course, you may lack the budget to hire outside consultants for the workshops. Fortunately, you can also run mini-workshops of 90-120 minutes with 4-8 executive stakeholders.

These "events" are a variation of our user testing practice. The goal is to help participants experience a full design thinking cycle from empathizing to prototyping in a short amount of time.

  • Briefly, participants start in pairs and interview each other about a topic you provide. We usually choose a non-work topic like preparing our partner's morning routine before work.
  • Then they draw the ideas and prototype them. The big reveal is that they test ideas with their partner.
  • For the remaining 30 minutes, lead a group discussion to discuss how empathy, prototyping, and testing can be applied to actual projects in your company.

After an introductory workshop with our internal IT team, the Senior Technology Director interviewed some of the new hires to help them create a better employee onboarding experience.

Build Your First Employee Fanbase


Once you have a few leaders, prioritize the first groups or teams you want to influence. Start small and run a few pilots, and learn from your experiences as you grow. Treat evangelism as a design project - you must be prepared to iterate on your approach.



First, you need to introduce design thinking to employees. The training should be combined with helping to implement it in an actual project. Adopt a learn-by-doing philosophy so that training is hands-on and immediately applicable to real-world problems.

Use these patterns of the Design Thinking workshop to introduce them with minimal investment.

Before you get too far into training everyone, you want to learn how well people can apply their new techniques to real projects. Therefore, you would have to alternate between training activities and applications of Design Thinking.

Project Work


You will also need a first success story, so you need to start and do a project.

At Think360, our first project was working on an educational app. The client wanted to improve their existing app offering. As our first internal client, we led them through an introductory Design Thinking class. Over the next few months, we continued to coach and mentor his team as they implemented concepts to redesign their features.

In the introductory section, we guided the team through the entire Design Thinking cycle during a 2-hour "Design Thinking" workshop. It helps to teach concepts using a topic unrelated to everyday work, helping people to assimilate ideas with an open mind.

A good start allows creativity in the area of project solutions. It should be something important to the business, but not so broad that you are 'boiling the ocean'.

When working with your pilot team, create a short project brief before going too far. These key questions help guide the discussion toward actionable insights:

  • Why do you think the challenge is worth tackling and why now?
  • Who are your target users? Who can benefit from the project or the product?
  • Are there any dependencies on other groups? (You may want to include a representative from that group on your project team.)
  • What obstacles will the team face? (Time, Budget, or Technology)
  • How will you measure success? (you can set small goals like - Reduce churn by 6% in the first quarter")

Adapt to Microcultures


At Think360, we've found micro-cultures in our Canadian and other global locations means that some teams require more or less guidance tailored to their needs. We like to describe this as doing an internal ethnography of our work culture. Just as you develop personality, pay attention to the dynamics of different teams and venues.

You'll probably start to see some patterns across the teams:

  • What does the team value?
  • Are they a hierarchical or flat group?
  • How do they make decisions? Unanimously? by a leader?
  • Are they attracted to structure and rules or do they forge their path?
  • Do they have a many of contact outside the company or are they insular and introverted?

These characteristics help you determine which aspects of Design Thinking will be easy and which will require more follow-up.

Teaching and coaching are both important in building the design thinking movement. Start with a well-scoped project or two and use them to hone your approach as you learn about your organization.

Step 2: Converting the Organization


So how do you go from scaling design thinking from a single team to an entire organization?

Try a mixture of formal and informal activities.

Formal Activities and Events


Take advantage of any or all of the existing internal systems in your company. Watch your corporate calendar. What upcoming events can you sign up for, give a quick 15-30 minute talk, or run a 30-minute workshop? When are employees naturally brought together?

What are the communication channels in your company?

Here are some successful strategies we use at Think360:

  • Two of our designers/editors wrote short monthly articles on the company intranet about the progress and results of our design thinking.
  • As we exposed individual employees in different departments to design thinking, We talk to meeting leads for 10 minutes to get an overview of Design Thinking, and requested employees sign up for training classes. You can use the executive pitch deck as a template, and add a few more slides for success stories.
  • We also held "Taste of Design Thinking" sessions at our annual sales kickoff events, our annual customer service meeting, and Think360 customer conferences (where we invited real users to participate and learn).

When it comes to formal training programs, if you have the budget, it's also a good idea to hire a consultant to help you create the training.

  • IT personas
  • High-Level Journey Maps
  • High/Low and Opportunity Travel Map

Even if you don't have the budget for an outside firm, you can find plenty of resources and toolkits online.

Here are some of our favorites to build your design facilitator toolkit:

  • Stanford D-School Methods
  • Coursera's online course for Design Thinking for Innovation
  • Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit
  • Extreme by-design resources
  • IDEA's Design Thinking Resource

Informal Activities


In addition to formal training experiences, we have developed some unique informal learning programs.

The idea was to take advantage of lunch in our cafeteria for a pop-up design studio. Finding time to train employees is always a challenge, so lunch is the perfect time to learn something. This technique works for office spaces of any size.

  • We have designed a series of small activities to engage employees in the key concepts. To connect them with an immediate project, we engaged our HR team to provide them with insights for onboarding and corporate responsibility projects.
  • We created a pop-up design studio in our office cafeteria. With some whiteboards and simple materials, and then our pop-up design studio came to life.

If pop-up sessions aren't possible, you could try a simple lunch-and-learn. Once a week, hold a 30-minute session during lunch with the department to explain the practical value of Design Thinking.

You can modify the benefits to suit the department. Mention any inspiring products (and any relevant metrics), then ask attendees which products they like and why. If you run a side-by-side prototype experiment, show the before-and-after results in the session.

Commit to a Plan and Train Others


As you teach more people about Design Thinking, you need a plan for scaling your efforts.

Set goals for how many employees and which groups of employees you want to reach the goal each year. For what roles? Where can you start making the biggest impact the fastest? These questions can guide you about the roadmap toward real business goals.

As we worked, we quickly identified our passionate employees who were natural evangelists of the design thinking process.

We added an apprentice model so they can progress from attending a workshop to training a team and finally leading the training.

For those who wanted to become instructors, we asked that they help with a workshop a quarter (a 2-3 day commitment). Initially, there was no incentive for participants.

The following free resources are helpful for such practices:

  • Good kick-off meetings
  • How to Plan and Run the Perfect UX Workshop
  • Great Streamline Design
  • Facilitating Collaborative Design Workshops: A Step-by-Step Guide

Step 3: Teach Others to Create The Right Solutions


Design thinking helps everyone focus on the right problem to solve. Design thinking starts with user empathy, reaches multiple ideas, then culminates in prototyping.

If your idea is a digital product, you can prototype it with your team in a collaborative platform, or, if it's a service, you can run a limited pilot.

Working with educational and other digital products, and from our customer empathy work, we learned that IT professionals need more context before thinking about implementing a product. They needed to consider various deployment options and assess their existing infrastructure to optimize the deployment approach.

Here's how to put a design thinking approach to work for your established organization:

  • Start Small - Corporations are inherently immune to change; don't be afraid to compromise early. For smaller projects, we adjusted the timeline to the realities of the enterprise, which is why it takes months instead of weeks to optimize the experience.
  • Open Estimates Immediately - wrong estimates can cost millions. Initially plan 30-minute sessions to reveal knowledge gaps. Activity helps people to experiment. You can ask: What must be true for our ideas to be realistic and successful?". Often, people don’t believe their ideology until they see them numbered in front of them.
  • Not all prototypes are created equal – stakeholders may not understand that prototypes do not always reflect the intended build, you can explain to stakeholders the context of each prototype and experiment.
  • Be open about your efforts to your manager - In a corporate environment, it is almost taboo to admit that you will fail. Set realistic expectations with your manager by explaining desired time frame, cost, and desire to learn about each experiment. In each subsequent 1:1, communicate specific insights from user interviews or usability tests (and how they helped invalidate potentially costly ideas).

While UX testing focuses on design improvement, Think360 tests not only the product but the business model and market fit. So while the product may be very useful, you may find that the original target audience is not interested. You either have to change your prototype or change your audience.

Similarly, you can try to incorporate different business models (subscription, license, freemium, etc.) into your prototype to see which one resonates with your audience.

An easy way to do this is to create a website prototype that matches your concept.

In 30-minute to 1-hour sessions, encourage users to think aloud as they explore marketing materials, business models, and any existing approaches to your concept. triangulate the response against your user interview learning - then you'll have input on both your idea and business model.

Ongoing: Measuring Success


As you start pilot projects, you will need to measure success to spread design thinking and its effects across projects.

Circulate initial goals with all stakeholders, then update them periodically until the project is over.

Measuring Design Thinking Outreach


To measure the reach of our Design Thinking effort, we tracked:

  • Number of trained manpower.
  • Number of locations/offices reached.
  • The total number of working hours in a year.
  • Number of trainers/evangelists across the company.
  • Number of views generated.
  • Number of experiments run.

Measurement of the Bottom Line in Design Thinking


To measure bottom-line impact, we examined a variety of project-level metrics:

  • Money saved by the organization as a result of increased productivity.
  • Change in NPS Score.
  • Change in call support volume.

You can also use other measures such as sales, product reviews, or new markets over a specific time (30, 60, or 90 days).

You can save time, save money, and reduce the number of customer complaints or service calls. Every business cares about those metrics.

In an e-commerce project, we used before/after measures of Net Promoter Score and call support volume reduction to show improvement (10 points and 66% reduction, respectively).

Circulating the Results


As you work with teams on their projects, or even as they run the projects themselves, we recommend that you track the benefits they bring to the company. Celebrate your victories and publish them in the office.

After each project, we wrote a short article for our intranet outlining success metrics and highlighting staff efforts.

In addition, with the project leads we partnered with, we presented the results (usually in a 1-hour meeting) to their executive leadership. This lets us craft a memorable narrative, but also helps promote project leads in front of their owners.

Leadership saw how the lead quickly applied new skills to improve a real business project, and we deepened our advocacy with the lead.

If executive leadership can't make time for a 'one-hour’ meeting, a simple email works just fine. Showcase the designer as the facilitator, and lead the project as the hero:

  • Summarize the key activities, the overall process, and the overall timeline.
  • Describe challenges and how project leadership used key activities to reveal insights.
  • Bullet out business results.
  • Conclude the email with a specific suggestion for the leader's team processes.

Final Words

Growing design thinking in UX to a company's core competency is a journey and there isn't a right or wrong way. As you determine, adapt your tools and approach to suit your company's unique culture and UX maturity.

Track the success and present ROI to the people who matter. Along the way, integrate design thinking with other key approaches to ensure successful follow-up.

And, when all else fails, trust the process.

The key role of design thinking is understanding what your audience needs. The best way to go about this is by exploring and empathy interviews that should feel more like a conversation and less like an interrogation. Conducting an empathy interview can help you with insight into what’s important to them.

Use the Customer Empathy Tool to learn about your organization. Do Your Test and Iterate Design Thinking Rollout Plan. Keep learning from your failed experiments and never forget to celebrate your successes.

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