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By Mohammed Safder
Although the design thinking mind-set and approach is not new, it has become a business buzzword of late. At the same time, it remains a practical framework, adopted across a variety of industries, enriched with other proven approaches. It is used to develop reliable and repeatable products and services that resonate well with customers, consistently produce financial rewards, and build brand loyalty.
According to the Design Management Institute (dmi.org), many publicly traded companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble, and others have integrated design thinking into their corporate strategy.
Currently, there is a surge in interest with respect to design thinking, as it is an inspiring framework for initiating and driving a customer-focused and business-centric digital transformation. As a practitioner of design thinking, I want to inspire industry leaders to innovate and create more meaningful products and services to improve people’s lives and their work environments.
A design thinking approach has a strong focus on customer needs and faster iterations, with multidisciplinary teams, to provide real-world solutions that are wrapped around meaningful innovation. This approach is used for designing and re-designing products, services, processes, and business models with a deep understanding of external competition and the cultural landscape. It encompasses concept development, prototyping, and experimentation to create solutions from the user-need perspective versus force-fitting solutions. It is a means to an end that brings “thinking and doing” together in a fast, iterative way to solve customer challenges.
Being systematic means having a structured approach to solve a problem. When you have a challenge or problem, you don’t necessarily need to know the answer right away. Perhaps, you don’t even have to start knowing the answer. What is needed is a creative process to find the answer or potential solution by first exploring and uncovering the problem, then defining the problem, creating a plan to solve it, and executing the plan to achieve the desired outcome.
To be successful, innovation must solve three key challenges: desirability, feasibility, and viability.
Desirability: Is the desired product or service addressing a real unmet or hidden customer need?
Feasibility: Can a solution be developed that is technically feasible, prevailing over one’s competitors?
Viability: Is there a viable business model encompassing this product or service?
First, the product or service must address a need – it requires people to recognize the same need in their terms, making the solution desirable. Second, we should be able to solve the challenge in a technically feasible way by leveraging the appropriate resources. Finally, there must be a viable and sustainable business supporting it. If the business cannot generate enough revenue to repay the investment, then it is not viable.
You don’t have to solve all three dimensions initially. However, you do need to solve them eventually. You can start with one. I often think about the technical solution first and if it doesn’t solve a real customer need (and there is no demand from the market) then it is not going to work. If you are unable to address one or more of these challenges, then generally you can’t have successful innovation.
Potential solutions are assessed for desirability by testing with real customers. Feasibility is checked by engineers and developers through analysis and prototyping. Finally, viability examines the overall value proposition from a business perspective. By analysing cost estimates, such as engineering, tooling, and production readiness cost, as well as revenue forecast from product sales and services, we can craft a business model for each product offering. This allows us to evaluate which one may be viable from a business standpoint.
It is crucial to understand that the business thrives on innovation. To develop a successful and innovative new product or new solution requires a team with the technical, management, and design skills to create a competitive offering in the global market of goods and services.
In business today, the term design thinking is used broadly to describe the process of creating solutions using creative problem-solving techniques. The key here is that design thinking uses a structured process, and that process has multiple stages or phases. To create products and services for clients using an innovation process, it is important to understand the design thinking in some depth.
We don’t start with creating solutions, we start with exploring the problem. Design thinking is a human-centred approach. The crucial skill that effective innovators have is their willingness to set aside their own initial conception or understating of what the problem is, and truly see the problem from their customer’s perspective. They listen to and study their customers, they observe their patterns, and they notice how customers experience the problem in the real world. Ideally, they develop some empathy for their situation, and what creates value for those customers.
A key skill to apply in the creation phase is considering the entire solution space. In other words, leveraging brainstorming and other techniques to explore not just one solution, but many. Brainstorming brings fresh energy, new perspectives, and new thinking to the opportunity. It is a known fact that creativity thrives in a free environment. Much of the process is about collaboration. Focused exploration and individual deep thinking are also critical to the development of meaningful concepts.
A mistake most of us make is to think about one solution and then to run with it. You might have a decent solution in mind and maybe you can get it to work, but it’s not likely to be the best solution – it’s typically not that easy. In the creation phase we use a process of iterating across a collection of possible designs before we select one or more paths to follow in more depth.
In the implementation phase, the key skill that designers and creative people have is the ability to focus on the details by understanding what makes a product truly great. This is usually a lot of the small elements that create high quality.
These are some of the key skills that effective designers, innovators, and other creative people utilize. Most of us don’t have all these skills in abundance.
The most effective approach is to build on the ideas of others to further explore the solution space broadly. This means having multiple ideas to leverage in an open multi-voting process for down selection. The key to open multi-voting, unlike secret ballot voting, is that each vote is identified with a person. With this approach you can easily internalize who favoured a particular idea, who thought it was really promising, and the right direction to move forward. Based on the vote, you may have some indication about why they selected it.
Finally, what makes this process work so well is a creative team with cross-functional capabilities that embraces the culture of design thinking and who collaborate effectively. Within my own organization, where we’re responsible for designing services and solutions and bringing them to market, we often use design thinking. It is particularly useful where the solution has organizational and cultural complexities. For example, the HPE Transformation Program for Cloud followed this process.
The key element to understand is that the support and encouragement from the organizational leadership and positive culture can empower teams to keep innovation alive in the organizations.
Mohammed Safder is a global business services segment manager, HPE Pointnext Services. He is accountable for solution incubation, commercialization and life cycle management of high-value services and solutions.