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Design thinking: Helping enterprises evolve and remain innovative

To drive customer-centricity and agility, organisations need to short-circuit problem-solving, create alignment and base decisions on tangible insights – this is design thinking in a nutshell.

Johannesburg, 27 Nov 2023
Sophie Laher, Senior Solutions Consultant, Entelect.
Sophie Laher, Senior Solutions Consultant, Entelect.

There is little doubt that the digital revolution and information age have altered the way customers view their interactions with businesses. Today, customers demand seamless experiences, personalised solutions and lightning-fast responses to their constantly changing needs.

What this means is that companies now need to position themselves to properly respond to such customer demands. The challenge here – especially for large enterprise organisations – is that they are slow to move.

This is not surprising, suggests Sophie Laher, Senior Solutions Consultant at Entelect, as the larger the company, the more complex the processes and technologies, while they also have to deal with a larger workforce and a broader customer base.

“In order for these organisations to adopt a customer-centric approach and embrace agility, they need to find ways to simplify problem-solving, create alignment and swiftly make decisions based on tangible insights. Such an approach will help to foster a culture of innovation,” she notes.

“One way for enterprises to achieve this is to collaborate across the business, eliminating silos and bringing everyone – tech, marketing, finance, business, product and sales agents, from people on the ground to senior executives in the boardroom – into the same room. This will help them empathise with their customers and, more importantly, each other. It provides an opportunity to surface the most important insights, and help them respond quickly to changing customer needs.”

Achieving this agile approach to problem solving and innovation is possible, thanks to design thinking, claims Laher. She suggests that design thinking creates an environment where problems are explored broadly. Not every question will find a complete answer, but every area of the problem will be surfaced to provide just enough context.

“The most urgent solutions are prioritised so that organisations can move swiftly. As a result, design thinking creates momentum, and momentum is everything. Getting caught up in the details can lead to analysis paralysis, which results in requirements becoming outdated, as markets are forever evolving. Swift decision-making is imperative to staying ahead of the curve.

“This is achieved through three principles: Timeboxing, participation and test and learn. Timeboxing is a structured approach to exploring various aspects of a problem, without getting bogged down in exhaustive details. The goal is to explore various aspects broadly, rather than delving deeply.”

The second principle is participation, she says, and is key to success. This is done by bringing together cross-functional teams to foster collaboration, align on different perspectives and ensure a shared understanding of the problem.

Lastly, there is test and learn, an approach that promotes a culture of experimentation and learning from failure. It brings the voice of the customer into the conversation early, and enables teams to validate assumptions with customers, as well as provide meaningful insights to drive customer-orientated decision-making.

“The traditional methodology of the ‘design sprint’ takes place over five days, with active participation from all stakeholders throughout. The result should be a well-understood and validated product, idea or process, which can be built quickly. Design sprints at an enterprise level require an adapted approach. Stakeholders have to balance busy calendars, high-priority work and business continuity. Innovation requires effort, experimentation and time. A luxury executives and decision-makers don’t have,” she points out.

“An adapted approach helps navigate the constraints of large enterprises. It avoids disrupting the entire organisation, while still getting the benefits of thinking like a start-up. By embracing the design thinking principles, these organisations can also build a culture of creativity, collaboration and continuous innovation.”

Laher indicates that, from an Entelect perspective, the company has adapted the ‘design sprint’ approach for larger enterprises, so that it takes place over a period of three weeks, facilitated by a team of design thinking experts to guide business stakeholders. This adapted approach, she adds, helps organisations unlock their creative solutions and shape their next big idea.

“The key aspect of design thinking is really what it leaves behind – an understanding that you can have structure, without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail; that you can bring everyone from across the organisation together to share ideas, unpack problems, and debate about how to solve something; and that experimentation and failure are not always bad things, as long as you learn and improve from them.

“Ultimately, it brings everyone from across the organisation together. They get to share their ideas, unpack the problems and debate about how to solve something – it infuses hope and fosters universality. The whole experience creates a sense of shared experiences for similar issues.

"By ensuring that the organisation’s people become more cohesive in their goals and aspirations, it ensures that larger enterprises can also continuously evolve and remain innovative,” concludes Laher.