Design Thinking Success on The Factory Floor
March 21, 2019 | Design Thinking
by ExperiencePoint

How one manufacturing team saved a client relationship with a customer-centric approach to problem-solving

Design Thinking Success on The Factory FloorIf you think design thinking is only for the creative teams in your company, think again. As one of our favorite facilitators Drew Marshall likes to say: “Design thinking is a practice, not a title or role.”

Marshall, like all of our facilitators, works with all types of employee groups that most people wouldn’t think of as “creatives,” including accountants, physicians, actors, sports agents, small business owners, human resources professionals, senior executives, and even factory floor line operators. In every case, teaching these groups how to let go of preconceived notions about what customers need so they can engage with them on their own terms, yields powerful insights that helps them solve previously frustrating dilemmas.

One of the biggest challenges in design thinking is teaching teams how to leave their assumptions at the door so they can actually listen to customers, and gain empathy for what they need. Too often teams fall into the trap of thinking they know more than the customer, thus dismissing their perspective. Why? The notion of being an expert is demanded of us all as we navigate organizational life — we are rewarded for taking small amounts of data, applying our knowledge and experience, and making quick decisions.

However those decisions, while quick, may not always be right. That’s where design thinking’s unique customer-centric approach comes into play. This is because design thinking is a universal leveler that, when practiced well, creates a perspective shift where people take on a beginner’s mind.

Watch and Learn

A group of line operators in a manufacturing plant were struggling to rescue a “lost customer relationship” and decided to leverage design thinking methods to save it.

They wanted to see how the customer was using (or not using) the product they were shipping to them and as part of the “gather inspiration” step in the design thinking process – which is when teams spend time with customers to understand and empathize with their needs — they asked their customer to take video of shift changeovers and materiel changeovers on the production line.

By reviewing three short videos, the line operators were able to discover the problem at the root of the customer dissatisfaction, and work to solve it in hours. They also discovered three unexpected opportunities to further improve the customer's use of the product.

Going through this process delivered exactly what the manufacturing company was hoping for. In first asking for the videos, they proved to the customer that they cared about the problem and were actively working to solve it. When they were then able to implement multiple solutions that solved the problem and enhanced the customer’s experience, it transformed the relationship. The customer went from a state of zero trust to openness and willingness to work on future partnerships.

This is an ideal example of how the application of observation and empathy-informed insights (both core to the design thinking process) can rapidly solve problems and create a new foundation of trust between customers and providers in any industry.


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