Design Thinking: Inspiring Innovation through Empathy

  • May 02, 2018
NTT DATA Services SAP Advisor Design Thinking Blog Post

Albert Einstein is credited with defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” One might apply this definition to the traditional business (and IT) response to today’s uniquely challenging market conditions. Reactionary and siloed department approaches, such as cutting operational costs, increasing capital investments or upgrading technical infrastructure/software, only provides incremental benefits. True business transformation, requires a departure from rigid “waterfall” methodologies, and a renewed focus on the business process and empathy to the user.

Re-Enter Design Thinking – an intensely end-user focused, highly collaborative, iterative process for rapidly producing solutions that effectively address complex problems. In general, the Design Thinking process, with origins from the 1950’s to 1960’s, consists of bringing together a small team of individuals with different backgrounds who work together to identify a problem through close observation of a worker and/or work process; rapidly develop a prototype for the solution to the problem; and continually refine the solution through repeated testing and development of new iterations of the solution.

Why is “Design Thinking” applicable now? Today’s business processes are now measured in minutes to seconds, not days. Combining today’s interoperative technology stack with collaborate business process is now the standard. Adopting “Design Thinking” methodology to even a subset of your business problems increases a company’s ability to create innovative solutions.

Design Thinking and the transformation imperative

More disruptive technologies have emerged in the world of enterprise IT during the past two decades than perhaps ever before. In-memory columnar storage, mobility, the cloud, IoT, AI and big-data analytics top the list. Individually, these disruptive technologies create new business opportunities. Collectively, they drive a frenetic pace of innovation and business transformation.

At NTT DATA, we hear it all the time from our SAP customers: How do we embrace new technologies (i.e. SAP Leonardo) with my existing SAP investment? What is the business benefit? How will this technology impact my business partners (i.e. customers, vendors and employees)? Where is the business value? Where do I start?

Design Thinking has something to say on these issues

Today’s challenges and opportunities demand innovation through business and technology collaboration. In this article I’ll outline the three major tenets of Design Thinking and how they differ from traditional IT development practices.

But first, let’s dispel a few possible misperceptions about Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is not a substitute for standard development tools and project-management practices. It is not a rigid process or set of templates. It does not necessarily replace core systems, essential to run business. Core business functions will remain; RFP’s will be issued; product demonstrations will continue; and business cases will still be evaluated and approved or denied. Design Thinking can incorporate all of an organization’s existing product development practices. It is best thought of as a creative framework for more effectively utilizing everything at our disposal to drive innovation.

Design Thinking is a proven and repeatable methodology for addressing complex, often intractable problems. It is a structured, problem-solving framework that brings method (and productivity) to the madness created by today’s deluge of disruptive technologies, difficult problems and boundless opportunities.

While there is a tremendous amount of content and nuance around Design Thinking, we boil the differences down to three main categories: (1) customer empathy, (2) multidisciplinary team-based activity and (3) process acceleration.

Customer empathy

Design Thinking is intensely end-user focused. It centers on close observation of how a person works, on the pains a worker deals with daily, on the workarounds every employee devises to get the job done, on their thoughts about what works, what doesn’t work, what might work, and what will never work. Team members need to listen and learn from actual customers, documenting the process without regard to the technology stack.

Customer-focus is not mere lip service in Design Thinking. It is front-and-center at all times. Successful product (or application) design can only be achieved by developing a deep understanding and genuine empathy for the end-user. This means understanding how services and products appeal to both the rational and emotional sides of people.

Today’s business users demand a consumer-grade experience -- fast, easy, intuitive. The consumerization of technology also has acclimated business users to expect incremental product enhancements. Design Thinking’s hyper-iterative process for prototyping and product development lends itself to continually increasing a product or services’ value to the customer.

Multidisciplinary teams

At its core, Design Thinking is a social, collaborative exercise -- leveraging insights across different departments and operational areas, fostering discussion, and maximizing the complete value of an organization’s workforce and data assets.

Multidisciplinary collaborative teams are vital to Design Thinking. Everyone from end-users, designers, IT leads, line of business heads, customers, and partners participates in identifying problem areas and discovering opportunities for innovation.

Each individual on a Design Thinking team is expected to contribute, and each individual’s perspective is heard and valued. By drawing on a broad array of domain expertise, Design Thinking fosters a creative environment.

Process acceleration

Because Design Thinking is more of an ‘inclusive’ than ‘exclusive’ methodology, one might get the impression that product-development speed slows down. This is not the case. Within the Design Thinking framework, speed is of the essence, with teams tasked to have tangible product prototypes ready for end-user testing within days or hours.

In the beginning, frequent failure can be a consequence of dramatically accelerating the product development process. But Design Thinking embraces failure early on, putting into practice the truism that we often learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.

Rapid prototyping, continuous user feedback and hyper-iterative development keeps all team members and product stakeholders invested and aligned during the product development process.

Embrace design thinking today

Today’s competitive and complex environment demands an empathic approach with cross-domain collaboration. Companies humble enough to know their limitations and willing enough to embrace change truly have untapped potential.

The future success of your business may depend on your ability to innovate within the SAP Platform, leveraging the latest S/4 HANA and SAP Leonardo elements as components during your Design Thinking workshops.

At NTT DATA we believe inspiration drives innovation. What do YOU want to build today?

Contact NTT DATA today or stop by our booth (#701) at SAPPHIRE NOW to learn how our Design Thinking and SAP experts can help you identify high-value initiatives that deliver outcomes that matter.

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Jay Monahan

Jay is a results-driven executive combining more than 25 years of experience in leading consulting lead transformation initiatives across shop floor, ERP and supply chain initiatives. He is passionate about innovative approaches to manufacturing challenges and building new offerings integrated across a spectrum of IT/OT/ET.For more than 20 years, Jay has been focused on designing, delivering and managing software solutions, from the ERP to the Shop Floor. With a passion for the manufacturing process, Jay revels in the opportunity to both help and learn from customers through plant tours and customer strategy sessions.

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