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Whether you are a product development professional in a giant corporate or a deep tech innovator in a fledgeling startup, if you are hunting for the secret recipe to develop products that stand the test of time – you are not alone. Did you know? The vast majority of startups fail because they make products that nobody wants.

After delving deep into the development of core technology products for over fifteen years, we can tell you this: the bad news is that there is no secret recipe and no shortcut to building products that last. The good news is that the three popular principles of Design Thinking framework and Lean Agile methodology can be applied in tandem to make the product development process robust and ensure success in the long race of survival of the fittest. Here, we share with you our proven practices in converging the trio and the pitfalls to avoid along the way.

Getting Started

Let’s start with a quick overview of Design Thinking methods as well as Lean Agile principles. Simply put, Design Thinking refers to the comprehensive and systematic approach of exploring, identifying and mapping a customer problem correctly. Lean development methodology envisages building the right products for the customer’s problem in the most efficient manner. It refers to minimizing uncertainty and wastage of efforts by co-creating products with customers and integrating their feedback into the development process. The Agile methodology brings dynamism and changes into the equation. It refers to building the products right in the face of continuous change by adopting incremental innovation. By combining the three, we abandon the former linear approach and adopt a cyclical process of product development instead.

Gartner’s Approach to Combining Design Thinking, Lean and Agile

Gartner, the global frontrunner in research and advisory support, propounded the following enterprise architecture with a view to integrating Design Thinking methods and Lean Agile methodology in your product development process.

Image Source: www.gartner.com

Interpreting the Gartner Framework

One of the fundamental principles that Gartner’s approach establishes in the above diagram is that there is a continuous, cyclical flux between ‘Abstract’ (idea) and ‘Concrete’ (product), as well as ‘Problem’ and ‘Solution’. This forms the cornerstone of the intelligent product development process – every innovation is incremental until the next wave of change comes.

Thus, as you read on, keep in mind that the steps below are not chronological – they are simultaneous, cyclical and feed critical inputs to each other. Together, they constitute the dynamic canvas to capture the essence of robust product development.

  1. Identify Customer Problem Using Design Thinking – Empathize, Define & Ideate:
    The first step towards getting a unified view of the three principles is to acknowledge that every product is a solution to one or more problems. If there is no problem, there is no product – simple. So, what is design thinking? Design Thinking model is your underlying framework to explore the problem contextually (empathize), identify the missing gaps that are causing the problem (define), and streamline your understanding into an actionable problem statement (ideate). An actionable problem statement brings out the possibility of specific solutions to resolve it.
  2. Form a Lean Startup – Experiment, Learn, Build, Measure, Pivot / Persevere:
    Now that you have identified the problem correctly and clearly, what do you do next? You solve it by developing a product that can fill the missing gaps and solve the problem for good. Lean project management envisages how you go about doing this in the most efficient manner by ensuring continuous feedback loops from target customers, i.e. getting the best-fit product with the minimum possible cost, time & resources. For this, you must brainstorm ideas, try them out into prototypes and MVPs, measure the extent to which they are solving the problem and pivot, if required, or else stick to the current course. Adopting Lean startup approach will help you cut through the clutter of uncertainty faster and visualize solutions that truly work in the given scenario.Now that we understand what is lean, let’s explore what happens when the scenario itself changes.This is where Agile project management tools enter the scene.
  3.  Adopt Agile Methodology – Review, Increment, Execute, Sprint Planning & Product Backlog:
    Whether we like it or not, gone is the era of finished products. By applying Agile project management training, you not only welcome change but also build the possibility of adapting to change quickly into every product you build. As the market requirement changes, you evolve or even pivot your product proactively in order to remain relevant and useful. Every time you build a product, assess it critically by being proactive about the changes you can anticipate in the near future. Innovate incrementally to combat these changes and keep planning time-boxed design sprints for the future. Think of this as an innovation pipeline for your product that you keep circling back to, time and again. Sometimes, change will happen at blinding speed, leading to product backlogs. Don’t be disheartened. Keep innovating – it’s just another day in the roller-coaster.

Key Metrics and KPIs

Management Guru Peter Drucker once said, “you cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Now that we know our way around unifying and integrate Design Thinking, Lean Agile principles in our product development process, let us identify a few metrics that can help us stay on track.

Design Thinking:

  • Did you begin problem discovery by interacting with your customers and understanding their problem from them?
  • If yes, how many customers did you interview? Is this number enough, or should you speak with more customers?
  • Have you spoken to at least one customer from each market segment that you have identified?
  • Is your problem well-defined into an actionable problem statement?
  • Does your problem statement give you an idea of the potential solutions?
  • Is it necessary to further breakdown your problem into sub-problems?

Lean Methodology:

  • Is your solution/prototype/ MVP based on the problem statement you have identified?
  • Have you brainstorm possible solutions first and then followed a selection-elimination approach to cull out the best ideas from the pool?
  • Were the criteria used for selection echoing your customer sentiments?
  • Did your design sprints lead you to the best possible product in the short possible lifecycle?
  • Did you test your product extensively with target users across all the key stages of development?
  • If your product development required multi-disciplinary knowledge, were you able to get subject matter experts for each to optimize product?
  • Did you streamline the cycle between user feedback and product iteration?

Agile Methodology:

  • What are the potential changes you foresee in the near future in the marketplace?
  • How do you expect your customers’ requirements to change?
  • Are you following them regularly?
  • Do your re-visit your customer problem often?
  • Is your product architecture flexible enough to accommodate the rapid turnaround of incremental innovation?
  • Are you constantly striving to stay ahead of the curve?

We hope that the above discussion has helped you understand the fundamentals of design thinking steps and what is lean agile methodology. Let us now explore some of the pitfalls that can trap you in your journey.

Risks and Challenges in Integrating Design Thinking and Lean Agile Methodology

In their essence, Design Thinking model, Lean project management and the various assortments of Agile project management tools are mindsets and not just frameworks to be blindly applied.

One question, however, looms.

These concepts are not new to us, and even if they are, there’s no rocket-science involved – anyone can grasp them quickly. Yet, why do we struggle to apply and unify them in real life product development?

Let us bust a few common myths that are stopping us from getting the best out of these, and how we can avoid the pitfalls by mitigating the risks and challenges involved.

Myth 1: Design Thinking process and Lean Agile methodology are mutually exclusive & not related to each other:
One of the biggest mistakes that even the most seasoned product strategists make is to assume that you can either apply Design Thinking, or Lean, or Agile, at a time. Nothing could be more delusional. So, what’s the right approach? Replace or with and – voila. You have the equation right now. In reality, as we saw in our discussion above, the trio is so interrelated that it is counter-productive to implement one without the other.

Myth 2: These are rigid frameworks that need to be followed to the letter:
Fortunately or unfortunately, these are not rigid concepts for you to cram and apply step-by-step. You are the MasterChef creating the recipe, not following a set of cooking instructions given to you. The concepts are fluid – and so their application. In fact, there is no one-size-fits-all approach on the horizon at all. You will have to take the postulates of these principles as the compass and not the map, and then experiment to discover what works for you and what doesn’t. No shortcuts there.

Myth 3: There is a definitive end to the product development process:
In fact, it’s just the opposite. Unlike a race, there is no finish line in the marathon of product development. This is why staying tuned to the changing requirements of customers and evolving products incrementally is at the heart of gleaning synergy from Design Thinking steps, Lean project management and Agile project management training. Users and their feedback are integral to the product development process – and critical to the successful convergence of Design Thinking and Lean Agile principles.

Insights from Digi-corp’s Desk

One of the many ways in which we materialize our vision to develop world-class tech products is by developing our own pipeline of innovative products that meet the changing needs of the global market.

Over the years, we have fine-tuned our approach of building products from our innovation pipeline from scratch by working closely with talented entrepreneurs and innovators. Along this process Design Thinking methods, Lean project management and Agile software development have been at the core of our processes/ We commence the process by capturing the core idea behind the product in a lean canvas that presents a 360-degree view of the business, such as the problem statement, customer segments, proposed solution, business model and so on. At the end of this 1-2 hours exercise, we are able to identify and zoom in on the riskiest aspects of the idea cum business model.

For example, we recently developed Vastra App – a smart digital assistant for apparel manufacturers. We began by identifying the problem and mapping the real needs of the customers through a basic customer survey across the target segments. It helped us to validate the initial assumptions underlying the problem we are trying to solve. At this stage, we also factored in the market size and the opportunity cost inherent to the model.

Lean startup approach was built into the designing of our survey itself. E.g. after explaining the value proposition of the product to our customers, instead of asking them if they would be willing to pay for our app, we asked them if they would be willing to pay a certain amount for it. This helped us validate our hypothesis with high accuracy and benchmark our pricing strategy better.

Along with Design Thinking framework, our Design Sprints encapsulated Agile methodology by identifying the top 3 problems of the customers and carrying out a 5-day exercise to test our idea extensively by seamlessly shifting gears between idea, wireframe and proposed solution. We then developed a prototype based on the highly refined wireframe and once again went back to the customers for feedback. This way, we were able to have in place a working product within 2 weeks, thereby drastically reducing our go-to-market time. New features are added incrementally in our subsequently planned design sprints, in the order of priority of the customer’s needs.

We hope this post answered some of your questions on what is Design Thinking process and how it works together with Lean Agile methodology. If you liked this post, stay tuned to our blog for more stories like this!

  • Posted on July 9, 2019

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