Design Thinking for Effective Project Management

Someone who has managed projects knows what it takes to achieve the final objectives, keep everything on track, and manage deadlines. That’s where a project manager steps in. They are responsible for all aspects of project management while handling time and budget constraints.

An experienced project manager knows how to plan and execute deliveries to accomplish the project as desired and meet the stakeholders’ goals. They deploy several components to make the management part easier. One of these tools is design thinking. With the help of design thinking, it gets easier for project managers to lead their teams in the right direction. Let’s learn more about design thinking and its importance in project management.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a simple concept. It’s a problem−solving method that focuses on the three essential pillars of successful project management−collaboration, innovation, and acceleration. To ensure your audience gets the best value from your project, it’s important that you implement design thinking at every stage of project management. Its goal is to make your team and processes more creative by identifying the problems at different stages and finding solutions that meet the stakeholders’ needs. Let’s check out the five crucial stages of this concept.

1. Empathize

Design thinking is a user−centric concept that focuses on the end−user. So, it goes without saying that the first step of design thinking is understanding your audience, their needs, and their goals. You can’t deploy a solution until you understand the user’s problem. Research your user’s demographic, the problems they encounter, the type of solution they are looking for, etc. This will give you a better idea of what the ideal solution for your audience is. Thorough research on your audience will help you put yourself in their shoes and empathize with them.

2. Define

Albert Einstein believed that when faced with a problem, you should devote most of your time to understanding the problem rather than finding solutions. For example, if you have an hour to solve a problem, you should spend 55 minutes understanding the problem before brainstorming the solutions. That’s what the define phase of design thinking is about. You may have to conduct interviews, surveys, and face−to−face inquiries to get to know your audience better.

This phase helps you understand what your customers expect from the ideal solution. Based on this, you can come up with a product/service that doesn’t only meet the best quality standards but is useful for your audience. You must factor in all the variables that will affect your product development. This includes time constraints, budget, resources, suppliers, and stakeholders.

3. Ideate

After the define phase, you will know your audience's pain points. Now, it is time for action. The ideation phase is where your team’s creativity and innovative approaches are to be used to think of an effective solution. Suggesting a solution that might help resolve your users’ problems won’t be enough. You are supposed to brainstorm ideas using your creativity. Lateral thinking is an effective way to think outside the box and come up with a solution that delivers the best results. Note that mastering the ideation phase is what sets an average project manager apart from the experienced and competent one.

4. Prototype

Once you have picked a solution, the next step is to create a prototype−a 3D model of the proposed solutions. A simple blueprint or rough design will be fine if your budget doesn’t allow a 3D model. The goal is to prepare a tangible solution based on your proposed idea so that the people involved in the project will know what your design looks like in the real world. Once your prototype is ready, you can request users’ feedback.

Prototyping is an important step in design thinking, as it prevents you from deploying solutions that might not generate your desired results. In other words, prototyping helps you refine your project management ideas so that the end product turns out exactly as you planned.

5. Test

Testing the prototype helps you know if your design offers your intended solutions. You can conduct this step in multiple ways. For instance, if you have created a product for your customers, you can release its prototype to a selected number of people and request their feedback.

Conducting surveys and interviews will be a good testing strategy if it's a tangible product. Either way, testing aims to have your solutions tested by the audience. This ensures that you get accurate feedback about where your product is lacking if there’s any room for improvement, and what features you can add to make it better.

Implementing Design Thinking in Project Management

Knowing different stages of design thinking and how they are executed will help you in project management. The question is how you implement the process in your daily business activities. The above−listed steps may or may not apply to each project that you work on. Some might require a better and more comprehensive approach, while others need the standard procedure.

The right technique for design thinking depends on the complexity of the project and the type of product you are launching. If it’s a software application designed for businesses, developing an online prototype will do. Tangible products, however, require face−to−face interactions with your target audience. Likewise, each step might vary, but the goal remains the same.

The concept poster is the most commonly used one of the several methods you can use to make design thinking effective. This tool shows your ideas using visual elements, like graphics, pictures, timelines, and sketches. Concept poster is designed to help project managers convey their message to the stakeholders and keep them informed throughout the project life cycle. You can tell them why you are working on a specific project, what are your users’ expectations, and how you plan on achieving them using your creative solutions.

These were the five crucial steps for design thinking. Hope you know why they are important and how they can help you in project management.