Time to make ‘Design Thinking’ a habit

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Enterprises increasingly recognise they need to put users at the heart of their product and service design. A study by Alfresco and Forbes in 2017 found that nearly nine out of ten (87 per cent) leading digital enterprises plan to increase their user experience investment by at least 10 per cent in the next three years. Are you planning your product development around your users?

The aim of design thinking is to find user-centric solutions to problems. When applied to software development, design thinking enables us to focus on identifying and fixing issues from the user’s perspective to help improve user experience (UX).

With design thinking, end users – such as employees, customers, citizens or stakeholders – are engaged throughout the process. They provide feedback, insights and ideas in a collaborative format. They feel a sense of ownership over the future of a product or service that they will be using, and the developer knows that their software really is honed for public use.

Benefits of design thinking

Design thinking is standard practice at many leading businesses, such as GE, Airbnb, Citrix and SAP. By placing users at the heart of the design process, organisations can obtain valuable first-hand experience from users, increase returns on technology investment by driving user adoption and productivity, and improve IT efficiency but reducing the risk of building a solution that does not address user needs.

Given that half (50 per cent) of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) deployments have lower-than-expected user adoption (Systemscope) and more than one in five (22 per cent) organisations say users don’t like using their current ECM system (AIIM), it is clear there is a business case for applying design thinking.

The application of design thinking

The limitations of legacy ECM systems and an insufficient focus on user experience have meant that traditional ECM projects often haven’t lived up to expectation. This is because many have been approaching development the wrong way around. With design thinking, the objective should always be to empower people with a simple, seamless user experience that solves a specific content-related issue, not simply just trying to drive adoption of an ECM system.

With the traditional model, UX is often an afterthought. Features are checked off a pre-ordained list and one product is designed to address many needs. Users have to retrieve content from a repository and the value of content in general remains largely untapped. In short, the ECM system is a bolt-on.

In stark contrast, design thinking presents a golden opportunity to understand what end users want. What are their objectives? What do they need to achieve their business goals? What frustrates them? Where are they least productive and how can your solution help them? With design thinking, user experience and business objectives are front-and-centre, resulting in a much-improved experience and return on technology investment.

Design thinking in action

McDermott International Inc. is an engineering and construction company focused on the energy and power industries. This Alfresco customer deploys design thinking as part of its digital transformation to increase operational efficiency and customer value.

“Design thinking has been very effective in generating momentum around our transformation efforts,” says McDermott’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), Akash Khurana. “It gives users clear direction on what solution will be developed, even before a single line of code is written.”

McDermott’s cross-functional design process takes in stakeholders from engineering, supply chain, fabrication yards and marine operations, focus on a specific challenge and typically take one to two weeks to complete. Design sessions criteria includes:

  • Desirability: Does the solution address the users’ pain point?
  • Feasibility: Can the solution be built within time and budget constraints?
  • Viability: Does the solution have a broader business case?

Khurana adds; “The overall process is a very cost effective and time effective way to test and validate these potential solutions before a significant investment is done.”

How to build a culture of Design Thinking

Design thinking changes the mindset from “we build apps that meet functional requirements” to “we build intuitive user experiences that solve a problem.”

Once you truly understand the nature of a problem, you are most of the way towards defining a solution, and it’s a total misconception that design thinking is a time-consuming process. You’ll spend far more time correcting errors if you get it wrong first time.

Here are five steps to follow to apply design thinking:

  • Categorise and prioritise your users: Who are you developing for? Understand your users’ expectations, concerns, and work demands. Remember, no one size fits all.
  • Assemble a cross-functional team: Bring a wide range of perspectives and disciplines to the table, including IT, UX design, line of business users and customers
  • Assemble a cross-functional team: Bring a wide range of perspectives and disciplines to the table, including IT, UX design, line of business users and customers
  • Create rough, rapid prototypes: Breakthrough solutions come from quick ‘design-test-repeat’ cycles
  • Know when to pivot: Don’t be afraid to change course if user feedback says you’re on the wrong path – it will save you time in the long run

The benefits of design thinking come to life when you hear users describe their experience in their own words. Users should not experience complexity. Design thinking starts with understanding how users work and continually evaluating what they’re doing to support those needs. It’s a simple concept that’s working for enterprises around the world. Have you adopted design thinking yet?

John Newton, CTO and Founder, Alfresco
Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio