Why design thinking is critical to achieving effective digital transformation

Alex Aspinall CX Practice Lead Linkedin Profile
Why design thinking is critical to achieving effective digital transformation

Australian organisations are embracing digital transformation at an unprecedented pace and scale. Digital solutions are increasingly being used to unlock efficiency across the organisation – from sales and marketing, to finance and operations.

Yet the reality remains that many digital transformations fail. A study by McKinsey shows 70% of transformation projects don’t meet their intended goals. Successful digital transformation only happens when the people, the process and the technology are aligned.1

And according to a global survey by PwC, while 90% of C-suite executives believe their company pays attention to people’s needs when introducing new technology, only about half (53%) of staff say the same.2

Where does design thinking come in?

Design thinking is the process of designing and/or adapting a particular piece of technology based on users’ needs. This means keeping the problems that users are solving as a core focus, rather than just the functions the systems need to perform. It’s about understanding exactly how people work, and the design elements that can help them work as efficiently as possible.

When applied well, design thinking can deliver several important benefits when it comes to achieving successful digital transformation and overall business transformation:

  • Enhanced efficiency – when provided with intuitive, logical tools which match their preferred ways of working, employees can complete tasks in more streamlined, effective ways.
  • Improved collaboration – with easy-to-use, logical tools, workers are often more able to readily collaborate and communicate with colleagues – leading to better outputs.
  • Opportunities for innovation – when workers aren’t impeded by the software and tools they are using, there’s more time and scope to unlock innovation and creativity.
  • Better employee and customer experience – when provided with quality software that’s focused on their needs, employees are more likely to report a positive experience. This can have a significant flow-on effect in terms of the level of service they are able to provide customers.

What are the risks of not using design thinking?

Conversely, when an organisation doesn’t prioritise user needs, the risks can include:

  • A poor user experience which impedes productivity and efficiency.
  • A frustrated and possibly disengaged workforce.
  • Slow, inefficient customer service.
  • Unreliable and sporadic collaboration and communication.
  • Reliance on overly manual ways of working, or employees finding their own workarounds to processes that don’t suit their needs.
  • Clunky, rigid systems where the business has to change its processes to meet the system – not the other way around.
  • Missed opportunities for innovation and growth – which can often be found in the minor details around how someone works.
  • Knowledge of a workflow or system residing only with a certain person or group of employees, which becomes problematic when they leave the organisation.

What sort of technology projects can it be used for?

Design thinking can – and should – be applied across a broad spectrum of technology projects. Outcomes can vary in scale and impact.

Recently, for instance, we implemented software for a client with a number of field employees, which brought all aspects of the business’ operations into a single solution. It became clear the system’s standard ‘scheduling’ feature wasn’t going to meet users’ needs when in the field. Using design thinking, we completely redesigned the interface of this component so it was tailored around existing workflows – significantly enhancing its usability and success.

Sometimes, design thinking can just mean small things – like shortcuts, or personalised behaviours – that make a system feel easier to use and can consequently make a big difference. This may include ensuring menus and fields are grouped appropriately, or using the right terminology/language throughout a system to ensure clarity and familiarity.

A few years ago, we delivered a small-scale design improvement for Queensland Health which resulted in a significant productivity improvement. Time-poor doctors were using an existing system to review individual child health cases and determine next steps. Each case file needed to be opened, saved, and closed individually, which was proving time consuming. Upon review of this process, we implemented a ‘save and next’ button, enabling doctors to skip directly from one file to the next – saving considerable time and improving outcomes for all.

How does design thinking work?

The five stages of Design Thinking, according to the world-renowned d.school, are as follows: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Our approach to design thinking leans heavily on the first two stages, as these are critical to keeping people and their processes as a core focus.

  • Empathise – we start by observing exactly how employees are working, and the tasks they fulfil on a daily basis. We take into account any ‘cheat sheets’ which employees rely on, or manual processes which slow things down or increase the risk of error. This allows us to understand any limitations or functional flaws with day-to-day workflows.
  • Define – we then conduct a range of interviews and observation sessions to define the requirements for every user group – mindful that not all users will interact with a particular solution in the same way.
  • Ideate – in this phase, we think creatively about the solution and how it can best deliver against users’ requirements. We look for opportunities for business process automation, and where processes can be as streamlined, logical, and user-friendly as possible.
  • Prototype – once we know exactly what we’re hoping to achieve, we bring our vision to life with a working prototype.
  • Test – in this vital phase we test the prototype with various groups of users, then refine and modify the solution based on feedback received.

As a process, design thinking helps capture feedback from a broad range of stakeholders. Those in the business domain can share their experience and knowledge of how they work – what works for them, what doesn’t, and the practices, nuances, and edge cases that define their working lives. With the increased empathy and understanding that typically comes from keeping human experience as the core focus, technical talent is also better placed to use their skills to suggest innovative or more efficient ways of achieving goals via technology. Overall, design thinking ensures the conversation stays focused on how we can add value, rather than which “cool” technology we can use.

How can you get started?

Design thinking can play an important role at any stage – whether you are implementing an entirely new solution or want to revise an existing system or interface. Even if an existing system is working relatively well, it can be worth undertaking an assessment to see if there are further efficiencies to be gained. Even the most minor process improvements can add up to significant gains.

Whether you follow the stages above or discover your own process, the most critical part of design thinking is to step back and focus on the end user and their experience.

Brennan’s Business Process Innovation (BPI) Analysis is a proven technique for identifying opportunities for improved operational efficiency. Based on the principles of Design Thinking, we assess your existing business applications and processes, building a clear picture of the key areas that need attention. We work with you to identify the key goals for success and deliver a practical plan to help you improve efficiencies.

If you are interested in learning more about BPI Analysis and how it can be used within your business, get in touch.

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