Design thinking in project management or why does a project manager need creative techniques

Yes, but really, why should the project manager take over the tasks of design thinking? The project manager is already busy coordinating, accelerating and prioritizing everything that cannot move without it.
This article was inspired by the experience of my colleagues, plus my own reflection on the project manager for the implementation of SAP eWM (Extended Warehouse Management – a system for automating warehouse management) and part-time end-user of many other projects.

What is the main value of design thinking? This technique allows you to not forget simple and almost free steps that are often missed or de-prioritized (especially in large projects), but then they shoot very loudly during launch.

When does it make sense to apply design thinking? In any situation where there is uncertainty. Did you gain unexpectedly + NN kg? Work ceased to please? Looking for new automation ideas? You can try to apply design thinking. This methodology has become popular recently, but many of its tools we have used in our work for a long time.

What, then, is the uniqueness of this methodology? Design thinking structurally approaches the process of creating a new one, which allows you to quickly and effectively come to a business result.
Unlike the traditional analytical approach, when the task is posed, solutions are developed and the best one is chosen:

the design thinking methodology prefers to focus on the end user, quickly creating the first prototype of the product, for example, the paper screen of a smartphone, and testing this prototype with end users to get instant feedback:

Thus, what used to take months can now be done in one day. This is especially true in our rapidly changing VUCA world.

At Mars, we use an adapted design thinking methodology consisting of six stages, each of which we can adjust to a specific business problem.

I propose to go through all the steps using the example of the launch of the SAP eWM project (we changed the SAP BIOS in the warehouses of our factories from Novosibirsk to Rostov-on-Don). In the project it was clear WHAT to do, but the question remained HOW to build an effective team interaction, which is based in different time zones and is already engaged in operational tasks.

First Stage: Frame. Here we define the real problem by expanding the scope of the search by rephrasing the problem in “How can we …?” And digging deeper into the famous questions “Why?” And “Why?”. In the SAP eWM project, the problem was initially clear: “How can we get around the“ rake ”of the previous project and take all the best out of it so that it starts in the planned budget in a year?”, So I will share another example from the IT automation team, where I had to dig up the problems (and later I will show the final results of the SAP eWM project). Initially, the IT automation team wanted to increase the number of ideas, but after three “Why?” The guys realized that the problem was not the number of ideas on IT automation, but the increasing flow of requests that needed to be processed by existing resources. Accordingly, the problem was reformulated in “How can we find hidden reserves in our current work?”

Stage Two: Explore. Here we leave the room, put ourselves in the place of the user (we go through his way of using / gaining experience) or just ask what he likes, what “hurts”, what works / didn’t work, trying to understand the true needs of the user. In the SAP eWM project, we did this in the format of reflecting the previous experience and the hopes of each participant: one fear (“rake”) = one sticker, one wish (best) = one sticker, this allowed us to speak out the previous experience in a friendly atmosphere and formulate success criteria together . In the example of IT automation, we asked colleagues what they like about their work and what they would like to improve. No matter in what format the dive occurs; important – the number of insights that are collected as a result.

Third Stage: Sense-Make needed in order to translate the number of insights into quality, summarize the results of the study and form our vision of the deep needs of the user. I use a group of similar insights, there are also techniques for creating personas and maps of the user’s path. Usually, at this stage, the initial problem is reformulated, taking into account the real needs of users. For example, in the SAP eWM project, the initial problem “How can we get around the“ rake ”of the previous project and take all the best out of it so that it can start in the planned budget in a year?” Transformed into two questions: “How can we organize the work of the remote project team most effectively combining operational and design work? ”and“ How can we replace the WMS (Warehouse Management System) in factories, invisibly to end users, clearly on time, most efficiently and effectively with the single most simple and transparent for the horse GOVERNMENTAL user processes, without losing important details and keeping the focus of the business stakeholders? “.
If the time for a design thinking session is limited, then the first three steps can be done in offline preparation.

Fourth Stage: Create. Here we begin the standard brainstorm session on the problem identified in the previous step, the results of which select ideas for implementation in the prototype.
The prototype is what returns us to childhood when money was cut out of paper and the house was built from chairs and blankets. All these were prototypes of real situations. In the world of design thinking, a prototype can be made from the contents of the trash can, from the fact that it costs nothing.
An example of a prototype for IT automation:

Fifth Stage: Learn – This is testing a prototype with end users, getting quick feedback, finalizing the prototype taking into account feedback and again testing, feedback, finalizing to an acceptable result.

Sixth Stage – Pilot: launch of the bombing product, because users themselves participated in its birth, development and revision!
Another plus of design thinking is that the process is very flexible and it’s not necessary to go through all five steps. You can stop the process at any point or, if necessary, loop it.

This approach has its drawbacks:
– It is difficult to digitize the benefits of using technology;
– Often the session of design thinking is perceived as “had a great time” and its results will most likely simply fall on the table if there is no obligation about the first demo product in 3 weeks and a step-by-step plan with those responsible.

I also want to note that design thinking is more than a session or a technique, it is the thinking of a project manager who understands the needs of end users and takes them into account when making decisions. Of course, design thinking does not negate the classical techniques of project management, and only increases the likelihood of a successful project with the necessary resources.

So how does design thinking help the IT project manager? From my own experience and the experience of colleagues from other regions, I realized that design thinking adds a new dimension to the project – the end user. Most often, the customer of the IT project is the senior leader or board of directors of the company and the problem that the project solves is formulated at this level together with the project manager without taking into account the experience of end users. Usually, the project team successfully solves this problem with the help of IT tools, and after implementation, everyone realizes that now it is necessary to change existing business processes, and this can be quite painful for the company.
Attracting end users even at the stage of problem formation, we can “see” the problem of senior leaders through the eyes of a real business and choose a more accurate and suitable IT solution.
Attracting end users at the design stage, we can understand how our IT implementation will affect the business process, and initiate changes in current processes in parallel.
By testing with end users, we help them advance through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining and making a new decision, making them their ambassadors before launching (if a colleague says that the guys from IT make a cool chip, then everyone wants to try it right away) .

In conclusion, I want to remind once again that design thinking works well in situations of high uncertainty when at least one of the project team members has a conscious desire to use this approach and the project team (together with the leader) can calmly listen to alternative points of view.

Listen with an open heart, watch carefully, speak with love and do not forget about the innermost desire of users: “so that it works by itself!”

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