An article written by our expert in Product Consulting, Raluca Piteiu-Apostol


If somebody would have told us a few months ago that we will be working from home and we will not be living our lives as we have up until recently, we would have called them crazy. But now I invite you to use the uncertain times we are living in to take a step back and revisit the way we've been approaching digital product development. 

Digital products typically aim at solving wicked problems, which are tricky and ill-defined, as opposed to the "well-defined" problems which are solved by applying rules or analytical approaches. 

So, what if I told you that there is a simple, structured way, which applies to services, enterprise products, B2C or B2B products, which will help guide your innovation process of solving wicked problems and getting from idea to product fast, and with minimum investment? 

Being customer-obsessed: the mindset to success 

As a big number of new businesses fail since there is no actual need in the market, here's one thought. What if you first identify the problems the customers are facing and come forward with a solution to solve that specific, real problem instead of investing tons of resources in making people need your product? 

The perspective shift we are looking for is called Design Thinking. What is design thinking you may wonder? Well, here's a great definition by Tim Brown, president, and CEO of the design consultancy IDEO: 

“Design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” 

While IDEO started using design thinking since the 1990s, design thinking has been around for much longer than that. The first mention is attributed to John Dewey in 1935

Aside from working with the Product Management triad of desirability, feasibility, and viability, design thinking also requires a mindset change, as well as investing your time in a slightly different way than you were used to. 

It's no longer about lengthy periods of drafting endless requirements documents, but a condensed time of iterative co-creation and collaboration where we put the user at the centre of the whole process. 

But what's in it for you, you may ask? Well, a study performed by Forrester suggests that design thinking can have an ROI of 85% or greater. While the ROI can vary based on the maturity of the design thinking practice, and various other constraints, it is clear that it can have multiple benefits and substantial measurable returns. 

A structured approach to building products customers want in an enterprise setting 

Ford famously said when building the automobile that if he would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. Innovation is all about discovering unmet needs and solving them in a new way. 

This is exactly what the Design Thinking process enables us to do. 

We usually employ this process by going through a Discovery workshop with our customers in which we work in cross-functional teams (Product Consultant, UI/UX Designer/Product Designer, Technical Lead/Architect and Delivery Management on our side, and from the customer side we will have the sponsor, the Product Owner or Product Manager, a Technical Lead / Architect where applicable, and representative of the users/roles impacted by the problem). The workshop is led by the facilitators on Accesa side who make sure we are going through the process in the right way and create the right frame & context to do so (fun and energizers included). 

The workshop starts by getting everyone in the Design Thinking mindset and explaining that in the first two stages we are exploring the Problem space. That simply means we will not think about solutions yet. To build something valuable, we want to make sure we have all the background and context information needed to move on. So, let's see what each step is about, then:

Step 1: Discover 

In this phase, we aim to understand the current company context, which led to the idea, as well as map all relevant stakeholders & think about the users we will be addressing. Once the information is clear to the whole team, it is time to map the user's journey and identify needs & pains, as well as opportunities. 

  • Tip! As mentioned above, this step can only be done while having a user present or having someone who knows the users very well together in the room. From our experience that can either be someone from sales if we are talking about a B2B product or a Subject Matter Expert. 

At the end of this step, we have a lot of gathered information mapped in a visual way, which is easy to follow for everyone in the room, so it is time to narrow down and see what we want to focus on next. 

Step 2: Define 

Out of the gathered information, there may be some problems which are more important or which we think may work well in our context. The whole team takes the time to go through them and vote, thus helping in the prioritization process. 

  • Tip! The recommendation here is to pick one problem and explore it further. If you would like to explore more, then we recommend going through the process later for the second problem. 

The final part of this step is framing the actual problem. Our recommendation here is to be careful to not have a too narrow problem, but also to not have it too broad. The problem framing stage is a key point on our journey, and it enables us to have good results along the way. 

Step 3: Ideate 

Once the problem statement is there, it is high time to leave the Problem space behind and enter the Solution space. In this step, the team goes through an ideation process employing various techniques to come up with multiple ideas on how to solve the problem defined. 

  • Tip! At this stage, a lot of ideas arise, some of them not having anything to do with the actual product we want to build, but to other aspects of the client's business such as tools, processes, marketing. Do not dismiss them, add them to the protocol and give them to the customer after the workshop. Chances are the ideas will be analyzed further and further developed within the customer's company. 

To get the most out of the ideation phase, we need to invest time and allow the participants to get out of their comfort zones and come up with new ideas. That's why the key in this phase is quantity over quality. We may even employ some fun energizers to foster creative thinking. 

The last leg of the journey in step 3 requires the group to vote and prioritize the ideas by using the impact/effort matrix. 

This is the stage where our workshops usually come to an end. The next step happens in the post-workshop phase. 

Step 4: Validate 

Once an idea has been identified and some priorities have been devised, it is time to build a prototype. In the enterprise context, a prototype can mean many things: from a paper prototype to validate an idea fast, to a high-fidelity clickable prototype which mimics the real product or technical PoCs to validate some technical assumptions or integrations. 

  • Tip! It is very important to define the goal of the prototype during the workshop to define what kind of prototype is needed for the current situation. It may be that you need to get further funding for your idea, in which case we would need to insist on a high-fidelity prototype, which is more attractive than some paper sketches. 

The last part of Step 4 is the moment where we get feedback on the prototype from actual users. In support of this, a user testing plan is devised beforehand to make sure we are validating the right things. It is best to find out sooner rather than later if you have defined something which is going in the wrong direction than invest in building the product and finding out after 6 months of development effort have been invested into it that your customers don't even care about this solution or would not want to buy it. 

And repeat 

Even though it was presented linearly, the design thinking process is an iterative one, where you go back and forth from one stage to the other until you get to the desired result. 

So, you see how a structured process can take a process which usually takes months, streamline it and bring it down to a couple of weeks, the typical length of the workshops we are having together with our customers. 

At the end of each iteration of the process, you not only have the relevant information mapped out but also a better idea of what digital product you want to build and what problem it addresses. Aside from being on the right track towards development & delivering the product, the output of the workshop should give your marketing team enough input to start thinking about Product Marketing activities. 

The one thing to always remember is that no matter what, it is crucial to always be obsessing about the customer to build products who solve real-life problems, making them products people will want. 

And you know what the cool thing is? You can use the same process to develop any kind of product or service, not only digital ones.

If you have an idea but are not sure whether it could translate into a valuable product, or if you want to find out more about our trained & certified (NN Group, Design Thinkers Academy) facilitators and our discovery workshops, do not hesitate to contact us.

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