“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” — Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO
There’s a lot of praise for Agile methodologies. And for good reason: Agile offers a (still) innovative approach to software development, one that not only keeps organizations competitive through continuous improvement, but also empowers people. Developers and stakeholders both are more engaged through Agile’s much-lauded process of collaboration.
However, when it comes to not developing but successfully implementing software rather than developing it, using Agile alone has its limitations. For example, organizations that rely on Agile to design talent management processes often encounter unexpected roadblocks, e.g., the tools work in theory but not in practice with human beings. While iteration — Agile’s strength — is a great approach to creating new (or improving existing) software, it’s not the best way to align that software with unique, real-life user scenarios.
The focus of software development is creating the most useful tool; the focus of implementation is identifying how people within each unique organization will use that tool on a day-to-day basis. That means that a successful implementation can’t (and simply won’t) happen through continuous improvement alone.
For example, a large manufacturing client’s human resources team created a time intensive, lengthy annual performance review form to collect annual feedback, but no more than 48% of managers completed it. The team took an iterative approach and added on features they thought managers and employees desired. But they did not collect feedback from managers or employees. The end result was a cumbersome, time consuming process. This caused them to ask: if Agile alone isn’t ideal for executing a successful implementation, what is?
Design thinking has one powerful goal: To find the balance between what is desirable from a human point of view, what is technologically feasible and what is economically viable.
Instead of relying solely on a continuous improvement cycle to discover what works, design thinking starts with a strong, non-negotiable discovery process. This discovery process is used to investigate the context, the business and the user in depth. This means the design of a solution, i.e., implementation, is based on actual, user and manager feedback.
In the case of the manufacturing client and the lengthy annual review, when they interviewed users and managers, they discovered that creating four reviews per year with each review taking 15 minutes to complete increased completion rates to 98%. Investing in an in-depth analysis period — a core tenant of design thinking — also helps organizations anticipate and cater to future needs by understanding the humans who use the talent management tools.
When only a high level discovery is conducted, details can be missed that create greater risks for the schedule and budget of a talent management deployment. Often clients and consultants hurry though the discovery phase and then soon discover during the design phase that something that was assumed, does not exist and rework has to be redone. A quick service restaurant, ready to go live with a new solution, discovered their managers would not have access to a report that was critical to their business, delaying the launch as a result. Managers relied on the report for compliance, yet during a rushed discovery phase, it was missed.
Agile does have a key role in the design thinking methodology. Post-discovery period, design thinking turns to the iterative methodologies of Agile to prototype and test processes. This enables organizations to review and adapt the design of the solution until it satisfies unique and contextual business requirements around their talent management processes.
This article originally appeared on ReWork, a publication exploring the future of work.