The scope of enterprise innovation is extending beyond technological accomplishments. It is also about discovering and adopting new organizational models that encourage collaboration, conversation and co-creation in the dynamically changing business environment. Two of the most popular methodologies that can be paired are Design Thinking and Agile Development. Combining these two approaches empowers businesses to sustain the momentum and rapidly deliver the right solution. This white paper takes a look at how design thinking and agile development work together to accelerate business innovation.
According to various studies conducted by the leading data organizations including IDC, more than 40% of IT projects still fail. One common factor cited as the reason behind this failure is the misalignment of the projects with the user and business needs. Many IT leaders believe that it’s the need of the hour to bring fundamental changes to the way projects are run. Ability to collaborate, innovate and apply customer-empathy determine the effectiveness of a business. Two of the methods- Design Thinking and Agile Development- are transforming product development, process and delivery in those directions.
Design Thinking and Agile Development are two different concepts, but they complement each other in multiple ways. Although these concepts have been around for years, their application, adoption and coexistence in today’s enterprises are happening at a slow pace. The question of “Design Thinking vs. Agile Development” also exists among organizational leaders and business practitioners.
In their effort to solve old problems using new methods, businesses often come up with these questions:
Our take on this topic is to combine the best of Design Thinking and Agile Development, since both are crucial for business innovation. Through this white paper, we try to analyze how this incredible intersection benefits forward-looking organizations.
Both design thinking and agile development have their own individual sets of benefits. However, combining them will leverage digital transformation and business innovation. Prior to exploring their joined benefits, it’s crucial to have a fair understanding of both the concepts.
Design thinking deals with the why of a project:
It starts with exploring why the problem exists, understanding the users and their concerns, churning user data into insights and generating ideas to resolve the challenges. Design thinking redefines a problem so that solutions or alternate workarounds to resolve the problem can be discovered quickly. Design thinking is founded on a simple, yet powerful logic: a product should be designed to meet its user’s expectations. This requires a great deal of empathy, imagination and patience.
Design thinking process involves five stages:
Until you solve the problem or until your user is satisfied with your product, you can go back to the previous stages and revise the whole process. Design thinking, hence is flexible, solution-focused, iterative and incremental method to solve business challenges.
Agile development primarily deals with the how of a project:
In Agile, project plan happens in phases or chunks, rather than as a whole. Agile development works by focusing on smaller bits of the larger project, meaning that development happens in iterations. It empowers organizations to deliver value quickly and make changes based on real-time feedback. In agile development, a large project is divided into smaller tasks called sprints. Each sprint is completed in cycles or iterations, and assessed frequently. The scope of work varies, while time and quality remain fixed.
A key difference is that agile development is focused on improving process efficiency and product delivery, while design thinking revisits the entire process ecosystem to redefine the problem, resolve challenges and boost innovation. Agile works on streamlining the process, that is, how to execute the solution systematically, while design thinking emphasizes on the feasibility of the solution.
Design thinking is the what and why of a project, such as the methods, techniques or exercises followed to execute the project. Agile development deals with the how of a project, that is, it talks about the process that is followed.
Design Thinking and Agile Development work fine on their own, but putting them together amplifies your innovation. When combined, they can create a mutually reinforcing environment focused on user-centricity and frequent iteration in order to accomplish the best outcomes. If agile is an excellent method to incrementally deliver solutions, design thinking brings a strong user focus throughout the design and development process. While design thinking tries to understand the user’s need and generate a creative solution to address it, Agile serves as a way to build and deliver that solution to the market.
Design Thinking and Agile Development aren’t necessarily opposed to one another. Actually, both share many of the same objectives; such as streamlining processes and operations, perceiving things from customer’s point of view, and incremental delivery of solutions.
The best way to combine both is to start with design thinking- using its five stages to recognize the problem that needs to be solved and identifying the possible solutions. Once the solution is decided, enterprises can use the agile approach to complete the task in fast and efficient cycles.
Compared to the projects that follow the traditional waterfall model of execution, agile projects have a higher success rate. In agile there is more focus on increased communication and collaboration. Despite these merits, agile alone cannot consistently deliver engaging and impactful solutions.
Hence design thinking and agile development are better together.
How Design Thinking and Agile Development relate to each other becomes clear when you look at it through the lens of culture. Culture in this context refers to the norms and principles that guide the way people interact at work. Any new practice or methodology will succeed in a long-term only if the underlying organizational culture supports them, to which Design Thinking and Agile Development principles are no exception.
It is important to note that both methodologies emphasize people and interactions over processes and tools. Hence an organization looking to implement design thinking and agile development must ensure that there is an enterprise-wide cultural compatibility and a stable environment where the culture can flourish. If the companies are able to welcome this culture shift, it will lead them to a more productive zone.
If your organization is planning to leverage design thinking and agile development together for the first time, here are a few recommendations to keep in mind:
The combination of design thinking and agile development becomes successful only if the team is composed of people with different skillsets, creative ideas, diverse backgrounds and multiple perspectives who can collaborate and share their thoughts with each other. Everyone should get a chance to take risks, should be exposed to other teams and their work, and must engage in fruitful team discussions. The purpose of combining design thinking and agile development is to derive innovative and cost-effective solutions to address challenges in minimal time.
Imagine a group of children aged 7-10 trying to build a tent. In the beginning it appears too chaotic, but you can discover the logic hidden in the frenzy. Compare the activity to a contemporary project management scenario. It will be amazing to see the children grouping and regrouping in seconds, having quick meetings with each other, and everyone performing one or other task towards attaining a common goal.
Similarly, design thinking team cannot view its work as completely independent of the agile team. While both design thinking and agile development retain autonomy in their area of specialization, there is enough opportunity to collaborate in an innovative environment. Allowing teams to self-manage and take smart risks, brainstorm and bring up innovative ideas, and facilitating cross-team collaboration can help you gain the advantages of both the methodologies.
Design thinking and agile development are becoming the “wave of the future”. To realize the powerful advantages of each, enterprises should look at the ways to harmonize them, starting with a cultural shift. Leveraging design thinking in conjunction with agile development to optimize user-centricity, productivity, innovation, and profit making is not just limited to software development. It can be applied in every type of business, at every possible level. Each method offers its own benefits, but combining both from concept to implementation can amplify the associated benefits.
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