November 11, 2019 //

Design Thinking and the Agile Leader

Just like Business Agility, Design Thinking (which is also not a new concept) has been gaining a lot of attention recently, and Agile Leaders should be very excited about that!

So, what is Design Thinking?  It’s an iterative process in which the Design Thinker seeks to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems…all in an effort to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding.

Linus Pauling (2-time Nobel Prize winner, and one of the founders of the fields of quantum chemistry and molecular biology) famously said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” This is one of the foundational elements of Design Thinking. The philosophy encourages participants to consider every idea, only paring down the list once every avenue has been explored. It often takes the shape of a week-long working session, where each day is dedicated to a slightly different avenue, which generally includes customer interviews, idea creation, prototyping, and testing.

But moreover, Design Thinking revolves around a deep interest in developing an understanding of, and EMPATHY for, the people for whom we’re designing the products or services.

Given that, it should be apparent that Agile methodology and Design Thinking can, and should, be implemented side-by-side at every organization – the two philosophies inherently run parallel to one another.  Every product/service starts with a problem you want to solve. Design Thinking is the process by which you discover the shape of that problem’s solution; while Agile is the method you use to refine the solution once it’s been found.  But keep in mind that there isn’t a moment of hand-off where you context switch from Design Thinking to Agile. Rather, it’s a layered process, a soft slide from one to the other.

More importantly, if you step back (all “methodologies” aside), Design THINKING is Agile Leadership THINKING.

The hallmarks of BOTH MINDSETS… BOTH CULTURES… are:

  • Embracing customer and team-member collaboration
  • Ongoing experimentation
  • Iterative implementation
  • Testing
  • Pivoting

And they both keep 3M in business through the liberal use of Post-It Notes.

Here’s my challenge question for you?  Has your company taken a hard look at Business Agility, Design Thinking and/or Agile Leadership?  If so, why not?    How long do you plan to hold onto outdated mechanisms of keeping your employees and your customers engaged in innovative solutions to problems?

So if you’re looking to update the WHOLE Culture at your organization (not just IT)…there’s no time like the present.  Check out one of our Agile Leadership courses at…and in particular our (one-day) Leading Cultural Transformation Kickstarter and see how.

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