Is Design Thinking a fad?
If you have been employed in a large organization you have seen management trends come and go. First we centralize, then decentralize. First we organize functionally, then divisionally – ooh, then in a matrix with dotted lines!
You could be forgiven, then, if you thought all this hype around Design Thinking was a fad, and that it may eventually fade from prominence. After all, a great deal of human progress has been ushered in by the planful approaches like project management that Design Thinking seems to undercut.
DesignThinking connects with Project Management
Design Thinking (and its kin, Agile Development, Lean Production and Lean Startup) seeks to shorten the time between the user input-prototype-feedback-recreate cycle. Spend enough time listening to Design Thinking’s adherents and you might think they can design a new product in less time than it takes to prepare a Gantt chart.
This is throwing the baby out with the bath water. If Design Thinking is taken to its zenith, the individual prototyping steps taken are so small that “project management” may exist entirely in an individual’s head, but this is far from universal.
Imagine your team is designing a new stapler. Using Design Management methods, you start by observing and listening to people who would be your customers, developing a deep understanding of their needs. Then you produce a prototype. Then you gather feedback on that prototype. And repeat.
Each one of these phases is a project, whether it is managed with Project Management methods or not. Each involve several people and several steps. Rational sequencing of those steps – identifying what can be done sequentially, who is available when, what equipment will be occupied when – will all contribute to a faster turnaround time by shortening the critical path.
The lesson is that Design Thinking isn’t a substitute for planning, it is a complement to it. The two work together.
Pace of change is accelerating
In the days of long product cycles, an inefficient product development cycle was less costly overall. Absent Design Thinking, Project Management begins with the assumption that everything can be known up front to take the new product and service from concept to delivery with a single plan. Design Thinking counters this by calling for short projects that have a greater likelihood of success.
Fast product cycles are the new normal. Design Thinking makes fast cycles effective.