How can Design Thinking be extremely useful during the Digitalization process in traditional industries?

(Algarve, Portugal) – The digitization of traditional industries reveals major challenges that imply consensus between many and different parts. Defining a vision, a strategy, a program or a set of projects is per se a huge challenge.
Other more concrete challenges go through gathering, intelligently, requirements and translating them into functionalities valued at the client, optimizing processes and motivating workers. Ideally producing measurable, noticeable and relevant improvements. Ultimately producing innovation.
I would like to share with you my thoughts on what Design Thinking is and how it can be useful to accelerate effective results during scanning processes, especially in traditional industries.

A few years ago, doing some academic research, I had the chance to learn some design principles and techniques, which influenced my approach to complex subjects on different occasions for different projects in different industries. User-centered design and design Thinking theory had definitely a strong contribution, training me for recent challenges related to digitizing the industry.
The lack of experience in concept design of digitizing functionality is, in my opinion, one of the biggest challenges for traditional industries. Here is where I see it as a huge potential contribution of Design Thinking as a facilitator method for traditional aspiring industries to reinvent their business by digitizing their work processes.
We should consider that in those traditional industries, software engineering began as a supporting activity and not as a central activity. The most experienced engineers are systems engineers, production engineers, factory process specialists and non-software engineers, UX engineers, or IT business analysts. Sometimes even for those that is difficult to produce good usability software, specify smart, simple and optimized features. Thus, we can imagine the challenge in the perspective of communication between the mentalities of it and the mentalities of industrial products.
Design Thinking is a methodology based on a solution approach to solve problems with different natures and identified in different areas, this method is the efficiency proven especially in a context with a high number of variables Unknown.
Design Thinking is driven by understanding human needs, taking the target user as the main driver for the process of brainstorming exploration, allowing the start of a hands-on and progressive learning process. In each interaction with end users, the design thinker is collecting data to create what will be a possible solution. It is a man-centered method where trial and error are mediated by learning in consecutive prototyping, testing, feedback and improvement.
We can describe Design Thinking in 5 stages where complex problems are addressed by:

  1. Empathize: To understand the problem and the human needs involved. I would say that empathy and an immersive experience are fundamental requirements for the design thinker. In addition, it should consult industry experts, engage with target users, understand their motivations, needs, issues, values and believes. A design thinker produces outputs based on observations and facts, not based on assumptions. In the digitization of industry this is extremely important. We are demanding IT professionals to support various engineering fields, complex processes and workflows, creating new features. No one has a valid contribution without seeing how reality works in these specific domains. When strategic consultants build the scanning strategy, describing important goals to be achieved at a management level, it is absolutely critical for those who will implement this strategy in tools and services Tangible software to understand what will be affected, what will be improved and whether the effort and priority given by the software development team correspond to the need, expectation and use of the end user. The language of the strategy has a different level of abstraction of the language of the resource, and this is the language understood by the software development team: the resource language. A strategic goal that says “all product information should be available between the value chain to enable product improvement with worker inputs, between the full value chain” means what in a resource perspective? Can it be made requirements available to all taxpayers? Can it be in sharing platform ideas where all contributors can suggest product enhancements? Maybe it’s a backlog to write stories? What feature are we really talking about?
  2. Defining the problem in a man-centered way-after having all the data collected, as explained earlier, the design thinker will analyze and synthesize this information, formulating the main problems, doing it in a man-centered way. This is a very similar formulation as we can do it when we are formulating epics, in Agile, where the main actor is one who will benefit from the solution. Example: Based on my immersive experience driving around Sri Lanka, I observed a high risk of traffic accidents with school buses (= problem). If I formulate this statement “the bus drivers of Sri Lanka should have better driving training, examination and supervision to reduce the risk of traffic accidents with children within the bus”, I would be identifying the problem and possible ideative Solutions.
  3. Ideate: Corresponds to the phase in which many possible solutions are listed for the identified problems or even possible new business opportunities or enhancements are identified in a “kind of” brainstorming sessions. Once the problems are listed and analyzed, it initiates a spontaneous process to produce ideas to establish resources, functions and any other elements that allow them to solve the problems or, at a minimum, allow users to resolve the Problems with minimal difficulty. From the stage set to the ideate, the natural transition happens by asking clever questions that can help to look for solutions to solve the problem: “How can we… Encourage bus drivers from Sri Lanka to drive more carefully if transporting children? “. Creativity and free thought should be stimulated, to broaden the problematic space, allowing research on potential ideas, possible solutions, stimulating innovation.
  4. Prototype: If Ideate is important, the prototype is even more important in my personal opinion. Once you have ideas, you often do not have time and budget to move in prototype with everyone. Then you need to select some ideas to invest your prototyping capabilities. Prototype is the hands-on approach par excellence, an experimental activity and is part of the product development cycle, it supports any project with high level uncertainly to assess whether an idea has value to “deserve” to move more. There are multiple natures of prototypes (you can prototype a concept, an idea, a resource, a subfeature), you must decide the level of detail that you will represent, how close to reality conditions your prototype will be. The Test and evaluation prototype can also be done by a larger or smaller group of users (for example, within a team, within a department, several departments, within a client cluster, within a region or a country, etc.). A prototype is the time to learn and improve the best solution to the problem. We can say that a prototype has its own life cycle, because often a prototype can die without becoming the problem solution. A life cycle prototype goes through the following phases: Research, change, acceptance, improvement or rejection.
  5. Test: The test phases refer to the product test or the solution test itself and not to the prototype test, described in the previous phase. This is a fundamental step, to collect final product/solution feedback and a form of continuous improvement. Testing should be a regular task each time a change is released on the product. The final product should shape the accumulated know-how generated during the prototyping phase on different problems: understanding of users, conditions of use, materials, assembly, etc. Even during this phase, changes and refinements are made in order to discard problematic solutions and derive so deeply an understanding of the product and its users as possible.

We must understand that the thinking design method does not imply the respect of a sequential order and repetition of the sequence. The same phases can often occur in parallel and be repeated in an iterative way. Each phase should be repeated as much as its potential contribution can add value to the solution, project or product.
Design Thinking should not be seen as a concrete and inflexible approach to design.
In order to get the purest and most informative insights for your particular project, these stages can be exchanged, conducted simultaneously and repeated several times in order to expand the solution space, and restrict the best possible solutions.
One of the main benefits of the five-stage model is how the knowledge acquired in the later phases can be forwarded to previous stages. The information is continually used to inform understanding of the problem and solution spaces, and to redefine the problem (s). This creates a perpetual loop, in which designers continue to gain new insights, develop new ways to see the product and its possible uses, and develop a greater understanding of users and the problems they face.

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