Lather, rinse, repeat: Why design thinking is great for business

Published on the 20/03/2018 | Written by Jonathan Cotton

Business Analyst Forum_Dan Thurston

Design thinking evangelical says that a human-centred approach is the key to lightning-speed iteration and ultimately wild business success...

“We live in a world where everything is accelerating,” enthuses Dan Thurston of creative design agency Thurston Crow, “technology, product life-cycles, even consumer expectations, so we need to break out of our ‘old flow modalities’ and be much more nimble.”

Thurston, who is presenting at the 2018 BA Forum taking place on 28-29 May at Auckland’s Crowne Plaza, believes in the gospel of fast iteration, fast implementation and even faster self-correction.

“There’s no point in doing a one year strategic plan – it takes too long to develop and it’s out of date before you can implement it,” he says

The solution, says Thurston, is new kind of ‘design thinking’ informed by Agile business methodology, which produces an iterative process in which businesses do just enough planning to implement a product or service, then work ferociously to refine and evolve the product, based on market feedback.

“We need to be able to speed up the feedback loop of understanding what the market wants and delivering our best version of that. Then the challenge is to understand whether that’s really satisfied them and what improvements need to be made. The key is to put the user at the centre of the equation, rather than your operational capability”

Which sounds good in principle, but the first step is, as always, cultural.

“Success is built on the happiness and contentment of the stakeholders you are working to satisfy,” says Thurston, “so it’s not about looking at what you have and what you can do, it’s about asking ‘what does the market want?’ and ‘how can we organise everything, from our supply chain through to our training practices, through to our product development process to centre around this external thing: the marketplace?’”

“You need to design it so all your inputs are coming from the market; all of your understanding around developing your product and all of your operational efficiencies need to be based on what information is being collected from outside.”

“All of your understanding needs to be based on what information is being collected from outside.”

And these feedback loops are where technology both drives and delivers a lot of design thinking, says Thurston.

“If you ask a consumer what they like and what they don’t like, that’s very different from observing them fly-on-the wall,” he says.

“Consumers behave differently from what they tell you in research. It’s not dishonesty, it’s just when they are being asked questions about their behaviours, they are disconnected from that behaviour. But if you can observe the behaviour for yourself, then you can see what they truly do.”

“It’s about knowing if you’re delivering what the customer wants and that means research, but not in the old sense. It means data collection. You want to be continuously collecting information that helps your people understand the market that you’re dealing with.”

The key is then responding to that data in good ways, he says, but therein lies the challenge, as such data-centric systems often clash an all-too-human desire to second guess the process.

“Everything is a blessing and a curse and our humanity is just the same. We still need our ability to make intuitive leaps, but it can work both for and against us, depending on the circumstance.”

“It can be very hard to get past staff who insist on making assumptions instead of responding to the data,” he says. “Being open enough trust the market – in the sense of iterating and gathering feedback and not driving the process yourself, thinking that you know better – is difficult.”

“You have to throw your heart out there and follow it, rather than building too much insurance into the process.”

Click here to find out more about the new and improved 2018 New Zealand Business Analyst Forum

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