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6 design thinking steps that will rock your agile teams

Jennifer Bonine Co-founder and CEO, PinkLion.AI

Customer satisfaction and brand loyalty are the ultimate measures of your product’s quality, and client loyalty is key to building and maintaining your product’s market share. That’s why understanding your customers’ needs and being a proactive voice for them is critical to delivering a quality product. You can deliver excellence in your product by adhering to a design thinking practice model.

Design thinking is a human-centric process for creative problem-solving that focuses on the people your company makes its products and services for in order to create better products, services, and processes. The basic structure of design thinking is straightforward: define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn. IT empowers empathy, enabling a process of discovery, creation, and the delivery of excellence.

The key is design thinking’s discovery phase, when developers step into the mindset of their customers by observing and monitoring their behavior and uncovering customer processes (as in how concentrated service units such as technology, finance, and operations relate to other company departments, and, more importantly, how each department relates to the customer).

In design thinking, you learn by observing the customer, sussing out patterns, and applying design principles to your finished product. When you apply design thinking, you become more empathetic to the customer’s needs at the beginning of the product development lifecycle. Developers create customer personas and avatars, opening the door to an understanding of actual customer needs, rather than what you presume those needs to be.

Design thinking adds a methodology to your use of data and analytics, transforming the results of quality assurance and team testing. Here are six design thinking approaches that will rock your agile teams.

Understand the customer’s pain

At this stage you need to understand what is causing customers’ pain. Then your developers can build a product that addresses the customers’ concerns.

Take, for example, the use of design thinking in creating a series of measuring cups. Not long ago, consumers used different types of cups to measure dry versus liquid ingredients, because a single measuring cup capable of accurately measuring both had not been invented. A cup manufacturer engaged an outside company to research this problem and asked it to apply design thinking to the problem. It created focus groups and, through the process of observation, creation, and implementation, developed an understanding that allowed it to produce a single measuring cup that could accurately measure both dry and wet ingredients. 

Identify the problem

Once you’ve identified the customer’s pain point, you need to observe and perform data mining, or the simple process of “mining” large blocks of raw data to understand customer patterns and trends. This step is also part of the discovery phase.

For example, a company looking to streamline grocery store traffic patterns and avoid “cart chaos” might initiate a major redesign of its shopping carts. It begins the process by observing how 10 customers use shopping carts in a grocery store during peak business hours. It soon discovers that, due to congestion and cart navigation issues, customers tend to park their carts when selecting items in the produce aisles. In order to add a head of lettuce to the cart, for example, the shopper typically abandons the cart, searches for the lettuce, selects and bags it, grabs several more items within close range, and then returns to the cart, juggling the produce.

This causes unnecessary pain to the harried shopper, and additional frustration for other customers who must navigate around the neglected shopping cart. The company, after observing cart chaos in action, empathizes with its customers, comes to understand the issues involved, and begins working to solve the problem.

In order to serve customer needs, it is critical to engage with the customer and start a dialogue so that you understand the customer’s wants and needs. Without a human understanding of or empathy for the customer’s concerns, behaviors, and habits, it’s impossible to build something that is truly helpful and useful. These kinds of direct customer interactions arm you with the knowledge required to target the need and create a solution. It’s about direct interaction, input, feedback, and resolution. And it’s painless.

Brainstorm the solution

After the discovery phase, it's time to fix the problem. There are two parts to this: definition and ideation.

  • Start your definition by gathering the information revealed during your discovery phase.
  • Clearly summarize the customers’ point of view, and put it in the form of a problem statement that includes a distinct outline of each issue. Tackle one problem and one problem statement at a time.
  • State and define the negative aspect of each problem so you can carefully address the solution.

Then it’s time to brainstorm possible solutions. Create idea after idea to establish the greatest possible number of possibilities. Do not place any limitations on ideas that people can suggest. Any idea, no matter how far-fetched, should be possible during this phase.

Silently select

In the final phase of the delivery process, each team member should anonymously and silently select the three to five ideas they consider to be the best. Silent selection is critical to ensuring that there is no manipulation of or undue influence exhibited over any team member. The majority wins, and each team is then tasked with implementing the winning ideas.

Prototype and test

Once your teams have identified their top three ideas, they should create a tangible working archetype—a model of what will create and influence a positive outcome.

Consider the shopping cart problem described above. You spotted various sizes and shapes of shopping carts racing around the grocery store during rush hour, so through observation you can determine which model is the most efficient and streamlined to navigate those crowded aisles. A prototype provides insight and data that leads to a working model that the customer can engage with. It’s never just one concept that solves a problem, but several, or a hybrid model that ends up being developed and tested.


This is the implementation phase of your solution to the problem. You’ll rely on product design, manufacturing, and the data analytics aggregated from data mining to determine if your working prototype is viable. Pricing, quality control, contractors, management, corporate responsibility, governance, and field testing are all integral to the realization process. So are marketing, distributing, and valuating the product for the consumer.

Your product testing should include the same consumers your company sought out to begin this process as well as broader, more diverse testing groups. Without such testing, the process will be incomplete and you’ll have to start over. Accurate testing using targeted and diverse consumer groups allows you to refine the product to increase your chances for success.

Understand that the problems you're addressing aren’t as simple as they might seem at first. For example, the shopping cart example might seem like a simple issue to solve, but one visit to a grocery store during peak hours will show that this is still a problem. That’s why taking a design thinking approach is so critical.

Next steps

If your organization is exploring the design thinking process for the first time, don’t let the process overwhelm you. Design thinking methodology has been around for decades and is well documented, and the process steps are clearly laid out.

Finally, diversity is an integral part of the design thinking process, so make sure you observe a diverse consumer population and gather diverse teams to ideate, implement, and learn. Without an understanding of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies, your design process will be more likely to fail.

Join Jennifer Bonine at the STAREAST conference, which is now virtual. The event takes place from May 4-7. Register by April 3 using promo code SECM to save up to $200.

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