Changing expectations and the pressure to attract and retain talents are prompting organizations to shift to an Agile methodology. The methodology entails constant cooperation with stakeholders and continuous improvement at every stage, including creative thinking and management. And one of the approaches that help companies become more agile is design thinking. Let’s see what the design thinking process is, how it works for HR, and why it’s essential.
Design thinking and the main points of Agile methods
Design thinking is an approach to solving problems through innovations based on human-oriented design. It relies on observing, with empathy, how people interact with their environments and employs an iterative, hands-on approach to creating innovative solutions.
Although this approach appeared a century ago, perhaps even earlier, it gained popularity in the modern business world after Tim Brown, the CEO and president of design company IDEO, published an article about design thinking in the Harvard Business Review.
Tim Brown suggested using design thinking to implement creativity in your business or your HR strategy. He also shared the example of 19th-century English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was looking at his business from the design thinking point of view. Brunel said that the railway isn’t just a road passing farther and letting you go faster from one end of the country to another. He wanted to provide an experience for his passengers of floating across the countryside, to make it look like a trip. To do this, he had to create a railway with flatter gradients than had ever been conceived of before, with massive, long viaducts over the rivers and valleys. Design thinking results in a holistic idea of the goals a company wants to achieve. Those ideas were thought up a long time before the design profession emerged.
Design thinking is about applying creative principles and implementing Agile methodologies for any project or idea.
Design thinking and Agile methodology in cooperation
According to IDC research, 30% to 35% of projects fail because of a reluctance to try creative new approaches. Organizations often turn to Agile methodologies such as Scrum to solve this problem, as they can increase success rates by promoting better collaboration and communication. However, Agile methods provide only part of the solution. So how can we solve the problem completely? That’s where design thinking comes into play.
Combining Agile methods and design thinking is no simple task. It requires a change of culture — getting used to a new way of thinking and acting. But once you do, you’ll see how your teams improve their productivity. Agile methods and design thinking value people, not processes. Organizations should identify the right people for their projects, ensure cultural coherence between teams, and coordinate Agile methods with the design thinking process.
The combination of design thinking and Agile methods can help change HR at its core. It helps companies to develop a human-centric mindset that focuses on creating meaningful experiences. This combination results in an iterative approach to solving complex problems, where the employee is placed at the center of the process.
Six approaches to design thinking
We have identified six steps in the transition to design thinking. The first move from concrete to abstract thinking and back as the process repeats. So how can the design-thinking approach help HR manager?
Imagine you have complex problems from one side and issues that affect people on another. First, empathize with people in the organization. Ask them what makes them uncomfortable. What are their frustrations? Then define the most urgent problem you want to tackle. Second, brainstorm the best ideas and define the solutions you came to. Finally, think about creating a functional, easy-to-change model of this idea you brainstormed. Do it to test what works and what doesn’t. The design thinking process also helps you scale and ensure that the model of your planning or development is adaptable and quickly implements Agile methods.
Here’s how developing a project or strategy according to the design thinking process looks:
- Empathize with people. This step involves understanding why people in your company behave the way they do, what motivates them, and their needs. It includes defining behavioral patterns, asking questions, and challenging assumptions. Empathy is powerful because it can reveal problems that you, as a manager, may not have noticed.
- Define the problem. Understand the needs based on the organization’s goals and the workforce or candidate. In this way, you can move on to the third idea step (brainstorming) by asking relevant questions to encourage people to develop ideas or solutions.
- Brainstorm ideas. Techniques such as brainstorming and mind mapping will help you better navigate ideas and find alternative solutions.
- Prototype. HR prototyping, or simulating situations, helps you with recruiting, talent assessment, and interviewing. Say you want to expand your business and need to find staff in other countries. Working with data, you can simulate or prototype recruiting efforts and find how to attract candidates in a particular location (or culture), or determine how many specialists you will need.
- Test. Find out how effective your actions based on design thinking are. Feedback from your workforce is vital because it helps you get suggestions or solutions to improve your plan.
- Scale. Evaluate how successful your strategy is with design thinking. Make sure you develop a precise workforce planning strategy and that your employees understand the goals and skills you’d like to develop in the organization.
While most frameworks and ideologies are broken down into steps, the design thinking process doesn’t require that these steps be taken in a precise order. You can switch between cycles and processes as you see fit until you reach the right solution and design.
In what HR areas can you apply the design thinking process?
Design thinking differs from other processes related to innovation and ideas because it’s solution-based and user-centered rather than problem-oriented. This means it focuses on solving the problem, not the problem itself.
For example, suppose a team has difficulty moving to remote work. In that case, design thinking encourages thinking about increasing employee engagement or moving to a compromise workplace, such as a hybrid work environment.
Design thinking in recruiting
You can use design thinking in different aspects of HR. For example, you can apply it to recruiting to improve the candidate’s experience. Design thinking allows you to understand how your ideal candidate’s journey for a job looks and what candidates use to evaluate and compare companies and opportunities. So first, design thinking provides insights into what people want and need their experiences, and the touchpoints that allow HR to create a better candidate journey.
Design thinking in the onboarding process
Another application of design thinking in HR is onboarding. To put design thinking into action here, you can leverage various tools. For instance, an empathy map can help you identify moments that matter in the hiring journey and assess potential roadblocks or detractors and opportunities to make a great impression.
Design thinking in learning and development (L&D)
Design thinking in L&D opens the possibility of understanding and implementing solutions that align closely with your employees’ needs. An essential element of design thinking is involving the audience (employees or job candidates) through co-design workshops.
Design thinking in human-centered innovation
Using design thinking, you can innovate and continuously improve your workforce planning process with the help of talent market data. Instead of relying on theoretical research or historical experience, you can use real-time feedback gathered from your target audience to adjust, refine, and improve your hiring methods.
Why the design thinking process still matters
Companies are looking for talents with design thinking skills. As of November 2021, 29,648 vacancy announcements in the United States listed design thinking skills as necessary, 153% more than in November 2020 and 637% more than in November 2017.
One of the significant benefits of implementing design thinking is that it stimulates innovative ideas, and inspiration, often touching on each cycle several times as you develop new ideas and explore new solutions.
This process is helpful in any complex system (not only in design systems) because it:
- Leads to more innovative solutions. People cannot imagine things they believe are impossible, so they cannot ask for things that don’t yet exist. Design thinking can help you identify unknown sore spots that would otherwise never have been known.
- Solves problems that are ambiguous or difficult to identify. The design thinking process is a problem-solving mindset. Through close observation, HR managers can identify problems based on skillset analytics and job requirements.
- Makes organizations work faster and more efficiently. Instead of researching the problem for a long time without results, design thinking helps you find a solution and effective results to your hiring shortcomings.
Design thinking embraces rapid technological change with a positive outlook that considers any opportunity, no matter how out-of-the-box or creative. This attitude will become increasingly important as companies find new and exciting ways to use new technologies.