We’ve talked a lot in The Prototype Blog about the many similarities (and differences) between agile and design thinking. Both of these innovation frameworks put customer needs at the center of design decisions; both take a rapid-fire iterative approach to testing and improving on big ideas; and both have been proven to deliver measurable business benefits.
But where agile recognizes the need for customer feedback as an important element of good design, design thinking takes it further by teaching teams exactly how to listen to customers, ask the right questions, and capture feedback that points them toward the right problems to solve. That’s one of the reasons executives rank design thinking as the best framework for creating innovative products (beating out agile and other innovation methods.)
When agile teams integrate the design thinking strategies outlined below, it can help them improve their agile methods, and give them the edge they need to deliver even better, faster, and more profitable projects.
Start With The Customer, Not The Problem.
Agile methods put a lot of emphasis on gathering customer feedback at key milestones throughout the project. But these feedback loops often start too late in the process, or are so structured that stakeholders don’t have the freedom to share their real opinions. When you present a customer with an idea and then ask them what they think, it prevents them from pointing out all the ideas you never thought of, or the things they want in your product but don’t know how to articulate. Instead, before even coming up with an idea for a new product, spend time watching how end users use their current product or workflow so you can identify hidden pain points they may not even be aware of. If you are going to talk to them, ask open-ended questions that let them tell you what they want, rather than explaining your idea and why it will totally meet their needs. If you make this time upfront to quietly listen you will be amazed by the inspirations that emerge. These customer-driven insights will help you choose the right problem to solve and give you a framework for solving it.
Watch And Listen.
Once you have a basic prototype to test, go back to end users and listen once again. Give them only the most basic instructions on what your design is and how it works, and then watch what they do. Are they using it the way you imagined? Are they searching for buttons that aren’t where they should be? Are they scrolling for information that you didn’t think was important or ignoring data you thought they needed? Quietly observing is the best way for agile teams to uncover what customers really think of their iterative designs, and to figure out where they’ve gone wrong.
Talk to People Who Hate Your Product.
One of the most effective strategies in design thinking is listening to extreme users. These are the customers at the extreme ends of your customer population spectrum — the ardent fans and the relentless critics. Both groups can tell you things about what makes your current product line-up great and horrible, and can help you uncover hidden opportunities that mainstream users wouldn’t think of. Agile teams tend to ignore these extreme customers in their feedback loops, turning instead to a core group of mainstream users, or stakeholders intent on getting the project done. While these core users can tick the feedback box, they don’t tend to deliver the most unexpected insights. If you want brutally honest feedback, talk to people who hate what you do. They won’t hold back and their insights just may inspire you to do better.
Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.