Nate Andrews, Sr. Director Technology & Product Development, Mobile & Shopping, Internet Brands
The consumerization of IT services in the past 5-10 years has taken place with breathtaking speed. While it’s critical that IT accommodates a company’s critical talent retention and creative collaboration goals, failed EMM initiatives and deployments leave gaps in security that can cost millions to clean up. To help ensure successful deployments, as technology executives we can use design thinking principles to manage a human-centric approach to defining EMM problems, raising the likelihood that programs and deployments align with employees.
Definitions of the term “design thinking” are legion. To give structure and clarity for our present purposes, we’ll be using the definition and structure provided by the renowned user experience researcher at the Norman Nielsen Group:
1. Empathize -Research users’ beliefs and behaviors, which is fundamental to helping them.
2. Define -Distill your research into clearly-articulated problems your users face.
3. Ideate - Come up with as many solutions to those problems as possible. Blend and adapt these ideas to create more solutions.
4. Prototype - Get representations of your solutions in front of real users. Watch your users try to use your solutions.
5. Test - Iterate through your prototypes, asking for feedback every step of the way.
6. Implement - Turn your test findings into tangible, completed solutions.
Note that these six steps are only sequential when moving forward. For example, if testing reveals you’ve completely misunderstood user needs, you might go all the way back to step 1 by initiating an ethnographic study, where shadowing people in their everyday usage of your systems might uncover additional insights.
Often underemphasized, the first step, empathy, is where product managers and designers often find the most surprising insights. In 2016, James Vasquez, Associate Dean and CIO at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, brought in innovation consultancy MO Studio to initiate a design thinking process to better understand the USC Annenberg students, using a qualitative approach to supplement Annenberg’s traditional quantitative surveys. MO Studio initiated a bottom-up review of how— and more importantly, why—students use technology in their daily school lives.
In some cases, articulated problems lead to obvious design solutions
To foster empathy, they hosted ideation sessions with students and full-time team members to frame and inform areas needing exploration. Using these insights, MO deployed a comprehensive survey to students both online and offline.
Having reached out to their internal stakeholders to create empathy, MO and the Annenberg team could move on to defining problems. The survey exposed a wide variety of preferences held by Annenberg students. Students revealed they wanted better awareness of current technology offerings more than they needed additional options, and that the disjointedness of current offerings hindered their ability to get the most out of them.
With insights distilled into drivers of student behavior, MO Studio helped Annenberg group several issues and corresponding opportunities into themes. After defining the problem areas, Vasquez and his team were then able to ideate around offerings they expect to better align with student needs. For example, they designed new content and delivery tactics for software training to serve their student customers in a more meaningful, outcome-oriented manner.
With these ideas in hand, Annenberg can move on to the prototyping and testing phases of the process, phases so intertwined it’s often difficult to distinguish them. For example, to address the diversity in students’ learning styles, they might put together a menu of training programs that include or expand on existing programs while retiring others. They could follow-up with students to vote for two or three they’d like to see implemented. By benchmarking the chosen solutions against the existing solutions in the list, they can gauge interest in the more novel solutions.
These prototypes, and iterations thereof might reveal additional insights that drive further value for students, including debunking presumptions about how value has been delivered in the past. And if in fact that’s true, it’s a massive win for the process. Consider the typical alternative: a conscientious group of managers, interviews, and surveys a vast swath of their co-workers, and from the responses identifies a number of problems. For each problem, they identify a solution and go about initiating programs to solve it. But by jumping from problems and ideation straight to implementation, they’ve missed two important opportunities: the opportunity to use prototypes to verify that their solution solves the problem better than how users were already solving it, and the opportunity to iterate on those initial ideas to come up with better solutions. Not only is the design-thinking process a way to creatively solve new problems, it also manages execution risk by placing small, manageable bets to test which solutions best meet the needs at hand.
In some cases, articulated problems lead to obvious design solutions. While students rated Annenberg’s overall technical delivery very highly, qualitative survey feedback revealed persistent problems with Wi-Fi access and awkward interaction with various software solutions provided by the university. Improvements to Wi-Fi delivery and seamlessness within balky software integrations will almost certainly go unnoticed, but the overall experience will support use cases Annenberg’s technology teams hadn’t previously been aware of. By following up on Wi-Fi improvement efforts with open-ended surveys, sheer silence on the matter of Wi-Fi is something Vasquez and MO Studio would count as success.
Great design is often invisible. Most product designers will tell you that a simple product that works as intended is vastly superior to a richly-featured product that is overbuilt or behaves inconsistently. By using a multi-disciplinary team with members from various functional groups and different perspectives, everyone can contribute to solutions that meet users’ actual needs, not the needs that well-intentioned managers and executives hypothesize. By standing up and shouting “no” to all the solutions that don’t meet your goals or user needs, by highlighting solutions that may not have even emerged from traditional procurement and solutions processes, the design thinking mindset lets you allocate your budget and focus to the solutions that will help you differentiate your business from those operating under traditional models.