Three Things that Drive a Successful Design Thinking Session

Over the last 17 years of leading design thinking sessions, we have been amazed at the unique actionable solutions that are developed, delivered and prioritized in one day.  While design thinking sessions have changed to accommodate the speed of agile environments, three guiding principals have stayed true to making sessions successful: Clear Starting Points, Integration of Play and Customer Collaboration.     

Clear Starting Point

Design Thinking sessions are a great place to generate solutions and even refine insights but not ideal to define the problem.  Before you kick off a design thinking session, make sure you have an understanding of the opportunity area to focus, the targeted customer/user, the internal employees needed, and set expectations for session outcomes.

  • Problem/Opportunity identification: Opportunities can be inspired by customer pain points, competitive forces or transformational forces from trends/technology.  To focus our sessions, we often start our clients with a quantitative “Demand Driven Innovation” process to help frame and prioritize the customer/prospects’ challenges long and short term.  Clients also bring existing market research or leadership key objectives to aid in selection. 
  • Employee Selection: We provide Demand Driven Innovation insights to our company partners prior to the session.  This will help to identify which internal employees are needed in the session and provide context to the objectives of the session.  An internal meeting prior to the session is suggested to review session focus and identify employee stakeholders that need to participate.
  • Customer Selection: Demand Driven Innovation uses quantitative market driven data to not only identify the opportunity, but also the ideal customer profile and we include these targeted customers in the session.  We will discuss the value generated from co-collaboration between the customer and company team in the “Inspiration Through Customer Explanation” section below.  
  • Set Expectations: Finally, when you walk into your design thinking session, be sure you have two or three market opportunities to resolve.  Be sure to explain to your group before the session that broad opportunities typically yield broad, more abstract solutions and specific opportunities typically result in more tactical ideas.  If you want a quick punch list of solutions for quick results, be very specific in the opportunity to be addressed.

Play is Powerful!

Adults in professional environments can be judgmental.  Nothing limits creativity and risk taking more than the subconscious mind restricting us to improve peer judgment.  Play breaks this construct.  It makes the abstract, silly and often profound solutions to problems encouraged.  During our sessions we use a combination of toys, mental exercises and physical movement games to put participants in a childlike play state where judgment is withheld.   Each of the games are also designed to simulate creative thinking.  The results are profound.  Participants are energized, focused and creatively immerged throughout the day.  Look for these creative design thinking games and include them in your sessions.  They really work!  For more research on the impact of play, see the Psychology Today link below.  

Inspiration Through Customer Explanation

It’s faster and easier for design thinking sessions to be internal team meetings only.  Try to avoid it and include the end customer.  There is a powerful element of having the customer/user of the proposed solution in the room and co-developing with you.  Beyond the real time feedback of what works and does not work, their explanation of “why” things are good and bad adds definition to your user insights.  It will limit the testing cycles of your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and accelerate the time horizon to build a market viable solution. 

Additional Reading to Consider:
Psychology Today:
Harvard Business Review:

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