Something wonderful happens at Design Thinking Workshops
2019 marks the 9th year of Rocksauce Studios. Over that time, we’ve conducted countless design thinking workshops for clients. Whether it was for a Digital Transformation Enterprise Project or Gonna-Change-The-World Entrepreneurial App, something magical happens: divergent viewpoints align to a singular solution.
Team members from opposite ends of the spectrum come into the workshop. Each has the unflappable belief they are the only ones who know how to fix the problem. From a foreman working on the ground to the VP of Operations, each is looking for someone to listen.
By the end of the workshop? All align on a completely new approach. Firm agreement that this is how to solve the problem.
Magical is the only word I can use to describe it.
How Did They Get So Far Apart
Everyone sees a problem through our own experiences. It’s natural. We would all like to see problems from other’s perspectives, but it’s tough. We bring our own biases into the equation. Even those that started at one position and moved up the ladder, get disconnected. It’s human nature to see the world through our current circumstances. The importance is relative.
Problems for a data clerk on the 23rd floor are very different from those that the Fabrication department deals with.
These disconnected individuals are often trying to solve the same problem. Each tackling it from their personal perspective.
The data entry clerk thinks the solution is a new piece of software she found on Google the other day. The VP is weary of purchasing software. She feels accountability is the real problem. And the Foreman? He tells everyone he knows that the issue is really an ROI/incentive problem.
One of them may be right. But, also, everyone may be right! Often, once a problem has occurred, there is a cascading effect. Could be that the ROI/incentive problem has generated poor performance, leading to accountability issues.
Solving just one of these doesn’t fix the problem. Providing incentives for doing an expected task is a temporary bandage. In 6 months, more compensation could be requested.
Can a Workshop Really Solve Something This Big?
Yes! That’s all that’s necessary! Buy one today! Fix every problem!
Okay, in reality, no, a design thinking workshop will not solve anything on its own. That’s not the nature of workshops or other similar activities. Time after time, we find that these events bring people together. Sometimes for the first time ever.
Workshop rules will break down many of the walls teams have put up.
Teammates discover they are open to new ideas, new ways of approaching a problem, and very often, embrace a brand new solution.
So what are the nitty-gritty necessities of a design thinking workshop that get this done?
Outside Facilitation: People inside a group know too much at the beginning. The Creative Director of a Startup knows that the CFO hates certain interface paradigms, so they never try them out. Even if that would be a magic bullet to solve a major hurdle people are facing. The Director of Innovation knows there is a corporate mandate to cut software usage by 25%. So he never recommends software options, even if they’d work best.
Workshop Facilitators aren’t served by this data. Identifying the core problem matters most. Solving it the best way possible is their job. This means not bringing in predetermined corporate biases. It means helping the assembled team see the problem from multiple angles, so they can all agree on an approach forward.
Broad Cross Section of Stakeholders: Bring in executives who see things from the macro level. Invite peer-level individuals who are dealing with the fallout of the problem. Tap engineers who develop the code or financial experts who track daily efficiency. It’s about getting a diverse group of people to analyze the issue from as many perspectives as possible.
Have an Internal Champion with Clout: Change can be expensive. Sometimes the most difficult person to get in the room is one of the most important. Sometimes it’s the cost of an outside facilitator (like Rocksauce!) or other times it’s the cost of labor for people to be participants.
Choose a champion and have them in the room. Typically, someone who is high up on the decision-making ladder. As a participant, the champion will understand what drove the solution. Someone who can help managers and employees feel comfortable with taking time to participate.
Honesty matters: High-value stakeholders, like VPs or champions, will intimidate folks. Facilitators help instill equality within the room because all ideas matter at this phase. The data entry clerk may have the best solution. But if he’s too intimidated by the VP of Operations, then he will keep it to himself.
Participants need to feel heard. And they need the ability to speak freely about what they think the problems are. Without fear of reprisal. As long as their honesty is appropriate, of course.
How to Make Magic Happen
Reading this is a good start. It shows you’ve got a problem that needs solving, but the efforts you’ve taken haven’t worked. You’re not alone. Even with our own internal projects, Rocksauce participates in Design Thinking Workshops. As the Founder and brandmaster, I have a lot of ideas on how we should be tackling things. My job is to use our own tools to ensure that we aren’t facing our own breed of tunnel vision or circular logic.
Next, you’ve got to find a facilitator who can help coordinate, manage, and, well, facilitate everyone in the room. Someone to keep the people track, and keep the loudest voices from drowning out the best ideas. Reach out to your networks, search the Googles, and find some groups that are experts in these areas.
Chat with them about their approaches, and engage with a group, like Rocksauce Studios, that you personally like. After all, a Facilitator’s job is to boss you around a little bit to help you achieve your goals. Best to have someone you like doing that, right?
Also published on Medium.