Innovation Needs Waste! – Workshop at XP Days Benelux 2011

Here’s a new post on design thinking. As promised in my previous post, some more details on what the presentation at XP Days Germany together with Dirk Lässig (@djlaessig) was about. In fact, we just delivered the same material in the format of a workshop at XP Days Benelux, where, rather than talking too much, we let the participants experience what design thinking could be. Here are the slides presented:

While agility has improved the way a product is being developed, design thinking addresses what comes before the IT department: how do we get innovative product ideas? How do we envision products that our customers will love and that will have a margin over the competitors?

You might be tempted to answer by simply saying “brainstorming”, but, in fact, design thinking is much more. Let’s have a deeper look into it…

First of all, design thinking is a body of knowledge and, I would say, an attitude to developing a product. As a body of knowledge it collects ideas and methods coming from different disciplines and puts them into practice for the purpose of designing innovative products. In this sense it’s similar to the way agile puts together tools and methods used in software development in the past and makes them work synergistically to improve the way we develop software. While looking into design thinking you will definitely recognise several things you have seen in the past. It’s their systematic usage in an innovation-focused environment that will bring out the full power of these methods.

Also it’s an attitude. It’s a way of living product creation as a continuum of ideas that flow through the development, a few of them making it to the end stage and being released, though the vast majority of them being canned along the way: a waste of ideas that is needed to develop a truly innovative product.

In order to do this, the central part of design thinking is what is called “Ideate”, i.e. the generation of ideas. Traditional brainstorming will help here, though there are also other creativity techniques that might give also better results.

After having generated many ideas, the selection process starts: how do you “converge” to a few options to try out? The convergence process continues also with getting customer feedback on the first prototypes to refine the idea until it will be produced.

The major difference here is that the whole organisation is involved! In many companies I’ve seen, the feedback process involves only the engineering department, i.e. the concept is envisioned by somebody before it can be checked whether it’s working or not. In some cases the feedback goes back to the product visionaries, but only to be adapted and not to be radically changed.

What if the feedback cycles used in agile were also applied to product creation? What if a product idea gets re-evaluated, re-discussed and goes again through a creative process, taking into account all the feedback collected through the development and test phases it went though? Will the product be better then? Sure enough it will! Will it cost time to do so? Yes, it will cost time, and it’s the price to pay to achieve a truly mind-blowing product!

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