6 Ways Design Thinking Leads to Successful IT Projects

August 28th, 2013

Design Thinking is a pretty trendy phrase in the SAP ecosystem right now. There are plenty of calls as well as daily sessions taking place all over the world on the topic and everyone wants to get it on the action. Even in high level management presentations the term is used in order to make everyone passionate about otherwise dull subjects. But how does this concept add value to the management of IT projects?

pdagroup_design_thinkingIn most people’s minds, design has more to do with the appearance of a physical object, such as a smartphone, rather than a service or a software product. This predisposition often leaves people in the IT industry scratching their heads about whether Design Thinking can really be applied in their field. However, after delivering several Design Thinking workshops to SAP as well as SAP partners, I identified six areas where Design Thinking adds real value to IT projects:  

  1. Trust Close engagement between the project team and the client during a Design Thinking workshop leads to better communication, better mutual understanding and, most importantly, trust. When workshop participants trust one another, they’re more likely to share their ideas openly. This is exactly what’s needed for delivering revolutionary, innovative solutions in an industry that is continuously changing.
  2. Common Understanding of the Problem Before coming up with a solution, a basic first step in Design Thinking is to identify the problem. However, individuals view a problem from their own unique perspectives and, while multiple viewpoints is one of the great benefits of Design Thinking, during a workshop individuals need to come together as a team. Achieving a common understanding of the problem means that insights need to be shared from both the IT organization delivering the solution and the customer. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and that the IT service or solution is exactly what the customer needs.
  3. Involvement of Key Players In order to ensure support for a project, key players need to be involved throughout the process—not just in the research phase or in prototype and mock-up presentations. Key players should be involved until the final stages, including presentations to the key users of the software within the customer organization and that organization’s management. The constant involvement of the key players will push the Design Thinking team to incorporate their ideas in the creative process, guaranteeing that the expectations of the customer are met by the proposed solution.
  4. Risk Identification It’s always hard for a project manager and his/her team to identify the potential risks of an IT project; there are always some unpredictable obstacles that pop up right when everything seems to be sailing smoothly. The framework of Design Thinking enables a team, together with the customer, to identify potential risks at an early stage and collect valuable feedback when presenting the prototypes to key users and top managers.
  5. Common Success The focus of Design Thinking is to develop a solution to the customer’s problem as a group, with group members hailing from both the customer and delivery organizations. This structure makes the success of the project more important to members from both organizations, as each individual now bears personal responsibility—both to their team members and their organization.
    two, sport, sportsperson, climbing, team, team work, safety, risk, problem, challenge, close-up, outdoors, nature, sky, support

    Source: Shutterstock

  6. Management Support Management support is key for a successful project. The Design Thinking approach involves management at the research phase in order to define the problem and later again to receive feedback on progress. At a later stage management also attends a presentation of the prototype, which provides a basis for approving further realization of the project.

The framework, tools and methods provided by Design Thinking can help an IT services or solutions provider overcome the most common obstacles to success in project planning and realization. However, the methods used to sell specific products or services to customers also need to be adapted and involved in the Design Thinking process. By involving management at the beginning of the project and in the prototype presentation, this process ensures greater support from management throughout the implementation phase. Ultimately, applying Design Thinking to IT project management leads to customers being more engaged during the project implementation, a reduction in the number of change requests and, generally speaking, more successful projects.

About the author:

Dominik Neuner is certified Project Manager (IPMA) and Scrum Master (CSM). As Head of Project Management at PDAgroup GmbH, he is responsible for managing the project portfolio. Furthermore he is currently engaged in research on how to optimize project management, increase the number of successful projects and adapt methods to enhance effectiveness in IT project management.

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