By James Beeby, Associate Director
Strategy is an approach to solving problems and human-centred design thinking is another methodology that helps inform strategy development and implementation.
The origin of design thinking as a strategic methodology was explored as organisations grappled with the complexity of integrating modern and emerging technologies, with business operations and people.
The challenge, according to John Kolko in 2015, was that people needed help to make sense of these new technologies and needed their interactions with technology and complex systems to be ‘simple, intuitive, and pleasurable.’
What’s the journey?
Human-centred design to drive change and innovation
There are two ways organisations tend to build a case for change – an argument based on logic or an argument based on rhetoric.
We’re familiar with the logical approach:
- Quantify the business opportunity or problem to make informed decisions.
- Define the parameters to select the best outcome.
- Using data to inform the future.
But sometimes there are problems or issues that keep returning– and the reason why is not logical. The data continues to validate the existence of a problem – poor employee survey data, increased safety incidents, declining product sales, increased customer complaints or disengagement or increasing shareholder activism.
Or that you’re grappling with a ‘wicked problem’, trying to drive innovation, disrupt your company or think differently to keep ahead of the market.
That’s when it’s worth looking at different methodology – taking a rhetorical approach and trusting that the best people to come up with a solution are the ones already in the system.
The methodology involves conversation-based interviews that uncover what’s ‘really going on’. These are Conversations that deal with ambiguity and help unravel complexity and the emotional messiness that underlies human behaviour.
There are three main features to a design approach to problem-solving:
- Collaborative conversations – where conversations are held with people within the system – employees, suppliers, stakeholders, customers – to determine the ‘truth’. That journey starts with exploring intent, discovery or design, synthethis, credibility and testing.
- Encouraging divergence – recognising that innovation and solutions can fall outside known parameters and expectations, divergence against the norm is encouraged.
- Human-centred – People are at the heart of an organisation, purchasing decision or relationship – and are driven by human needs, emotional connection and need for identity.
It is an iterative and immersive process aimed at discovering what’s really going on, building a comprehensive understanding of the problem, creating a hypotheses, testing and refining it and developing the design or solution.
What is human-design?
Human-design is often misunderstood and associated with other forms of research.
It’s not about collaboration, consultation, surveys, or focus groups; asking or giving users what they want or expecting users to provide the design solution.
It’s about recognising the value of what you have and making it better – simpler and more human.
The driver for human-centred design is to help you decide if a solution meets your customers’ needs. They incorporate both what a solution should do, and why that type of solution meets the needs of the customer.
Good design principles should help you evaluate the business models because they are the first tool to critique how well the ideas will meet customer needs.
If a concept doesn’t address a design principle you should ask how it could be changed to meet that principle. And if it cannot be changed to meet that principle, it should be discarded.
And the sticky notes?
If you’ve observed or been involved in a co-design workshop, you’ll see a lot of sticky notes adhered to walls, windows and doors.
We do this to get ideas and responses out of people’s heads before they can self-censor or overthink their answer.
Once it’s written down, it becomes an objective piece of information or insight that contributes to our overall body of evidence. And it allows people to have a conversation and creates trust because there are no wrong answers.
It’s about capturing those insights developed from experience, gut-feelings and light bulb moments. We can then group those insights, analyse them and use them to inform a recommendation or solution. And along the way participants are engaged and take ownership of the solution.
Where has human-design been successful?
An insurance company was losing its customers to its competitor.
It had conducted data analysis to identify the problem and discovered that the business was losing hundreds of customers to industry super funds because of low fees, low frills and good returns.
In response, the insurance company developed an identical product to its competitor and launched it to the market. But it didn’t work and the insurer incurred huge financial loss and brand damage.
By taking a human-design approach and investigating customer behaviour and sentiment, the reason behind customer losses and the new product failure was revealed.
Although low fees, low frills and good return products was desired, the main reason customers left was to do with ‘tribalism’. It was important to the customers to belong, identify with and support ‘others who are like me’ (for example, construction workers) and not betray their ‘tribe’. The iterative nature of design thinking allowed the insurance company to prototype new and comparable products to de-risk the implementation.
What are its limitations?
Human-design is not the solution for all the strategic challenges facing an organisation. The reality is that Executive Teams and Boards require data and evidence to make informed decisions about investments, maintain shareholder confidence and comply with reporting and governance requirements.
They can be sceptical, unsupportive or dismissive of the human-design process and findings – especially when these challenge their world-view of the organisation. Smart CEOs and leaders will value these insights and solutions but what next?
The prototype or solution developed through a human-design process will need to operationalised. Whether it’s a cultural change program, a new product, a new business model or strategic framework. There is still the need for project management, change management, sales targets, measurement, financial controls, risk management and alignment to corporate strategy.
Strategy realignment and organisational change can also be triggered by external factors – economic; market changes (such as, takeovers); time critical; crisis or issues. In these cases, a response may need to be created and executed in a matter of hours or days.
However, when it’s time to assess the response and measure its impact on employees, customers and stakeholders – bring in the human-design team.
Why an integrated approach can be the answer
At Third Horizon, we believe in applying the best methodology to the suit the circumstance. Our integrated approach is unique as we use both analysis and human-centred design to understand and test assumptions.
By using human-design to raise the questions which analysis must inform; and using analysis to raise answers that design must consider, our clients sharper and more holistic insights of what’s really going on. This enables leaders to be more confident in their decision-making.