Lean Product Management – Why Design Thinking is the next step to successful products?

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Design Thinking and Lean Startup are totally popular, although these practices exist already for years. Gartner IT research estimates that by 2021, more than 50% of established corporations will be leveraging lean startup techniques. Which will be applied at their business level to increase the pace and success of the business transformation. Industry leaders like IBM or Procter & Gamble have trained their whole organization with the disciplines of design thinking, to become more innovative and especially customer-centric.

There are clear indicators that a transformation of organizations and especially operations towards a more customer-centered approach is happening. Design Thinking, lean product management, and other human-centered methodologies like Lean Startup or Lean UX have become mature. In this article, I’m going to look at management practices and why we believe a new era has just started.

Design Thinking Generation

Digital disruption is present in every industry!

What is digital disruption? In a nutshell, digital disruption is a disruptive innovation that drives innovations from scratch, driving up the value of existing markets, driving down prices, forcing change towards previously unused markets, and changing how IT organizations do things, specifically choosing to leverage emerging technologies and tools, to deliver new competitive advantages. Some of these technologies include software as a service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), platform technologies, and virtualization. In all cases, innovation requires a higher-end or specialist hardware platform.

Technologies are facilitating the design and manufacturing process of products. Mobile devices, social networking, cognitive computing, and the Internet of Things are changing the way companies design, manufacture, and deliver almost every product and service. It also significantly increased the pace of change in business as a whole, requiring organizations to become agiler.

Lean Product Management – Why Design Thinking is the next step to successful products?

This, of course, has a disruptive impact on Product Development and Innovation as a whole. Traditional industries with dominated market position and business models (keeping prices artificially high) don’t work in a digital world, with shorter and more frequent product development cycles, global competition, and the rise of freemium services.

Customers and users are now connected via social media, which allows updating people in seconds about their experience with products, services, or companies. An increasing number of consumers depend on their purchasing decisions on reputation and reviews. Shitstorms can ruin brand reputation within a couple of days, what marketing departments have built up over the years.

Digitization forces an organization to deal with completely new challenges and market preconditions. I know this isn’t highly advanced research, but I want to emphasize the new requirements and settings for businesses and their organizations.

Why Digital Transformation should receive more consideration?

Digital transformation, therefore, has far-reaching implications for many businesses across the board, and these changes are occurring at an increasing rate. Many organizations are now beginning to implement digital technologies into their day-to-day operations, in order to improve productivity, reduce costs, and boost competitiveness. The pace of change is staggering, and organizations must embrace digital technologies in order to ensure that they are prepared for the changing digital marketplace. As a result of the rapid adoption of digital technologies in business, many businesses are now implementing enterprise digital transformation or ECT.

Digital Transformation is one of those buzzwords, that you hear from almost every company, although every transformation is going to be different for organizations.  You can define it, as the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business.

You can define digital transformation, as the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business.

It results in a:

  1. a fundamental change of how businesses are operating and how they deliver value to customers.

  2. the cultural adaptability that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment often, and get comfortable with failure.

  3. transformation of organization and practices, going away from long-standing business processes that companies were built upon in favor of relatively new practices that are still being defined.

To handle these changes, many different management approaches have evolved, claiming to be the best and most efficient way. Companies have understood that linear methodologies like Waterfall, which follow a sequential and linear process of development, doesn’t work. The model originated in the manufacturing and construction industries, both highly structured environment where changes can be too expensive or sometimes impossible.

How Agile can help in Change Management?

With the need for shorter product life cycles as well as higher flexibility during development, agile project management has become the standardized way of managing projects. Agile refers to a manifesto, which was published in February 2001 by 17 software developers, who have to discuss lightweight development methods. It is based on an incremental, iterative approach, instead of in-depth planning at the beginning of a project like a waterfall. Changing requirements are expected over time and constant feedback from end-users is encouraged. The goal of each iteration is to produce a working product.

Lean Product Management – Why Design Thinking is the next step to successful products?

While Agile was traditionally created for software development, it can also be used in many other projects and industries. Many practices in Agile, like stand-up meetings and visual management, are so common and can apply to any industry. It’s important to remember that Agile software development was born from the principles of Lean manufacturing and organizational learning.

There are subsets of Agile, like Scrum, which is one of the most popular process frameworks for implementing Agile. It follows a set of roles, responsibilities, and meetings that never change. But as agile, scrum also has its limitation on considering and integrating customer problems and needs.

Human-centered (Lean Product)Management:

During my interviews with leading enterprises like SAP, BMW, Lufthansa, and many others, to identify their philosophy of doing the digital transformation. “Our tech teams are applying Agile, product teams are trying to integrate Lean and with the increasing need of the customer- and user-centricity we want to combine everything with Design Thinking.”

But which one is the best?

While agile and scrum helped teams to gain flexibility, speed, and the ability of continuous improvement, this generation of project or product management is limited in its capability of understanding and integrating the customer in team activities. Human-centered development approaches add the most crucial dimension to the success of any company activity — the customer!

Put the customer at the center of everything — focus on customer value if you’re struggling to get an alignment as a team. Ask yourself on a regular basis:

  1. How do we know we’re shipping something users care about?

  2. And how do we find out?

  3. Why does that affect what we prioritize?

Why Design Thinking and Lean Startup have come to “be”:

Design Thinking helps teams to emphasize customer problems and needs. While Lean Startup helps with its build-measure-learn loop to identify the best-fit solution for the identified problems. Be aware that none of these methods are sufficient alone and only reveal their full potential in combination.

Successful companies nowadays neither stand out because of their most efficient production, nor their best engineers, sales managers, marketing commercials, or whatever. It’s more their dedication to understanding the customer as well as their strong commitment to serving customer problems and needs.

Amazon is the best example of executing these practices in perfection. What helped them to achieve best-in-class customer satisfaction ratings. And has enabled them also to dominate multiple markets (E-commerce, cloud web services, E-book readers). As more companies understand the real value of customer insights, the better they can target their business activities like product development, marketing or strategy in general.

Applying human-centered correctly helps companies not only to become more agile or flexible in their product development. It allows also to reduce waste in developing the wrong products as well as helps to avoid investing money and resources into not required solutions. We believe human-centered has the opportunity to reveal the full potential of every organization and especially its employees. It helps them to align their teams towards customer value which will help to create successful products and services. This is why we believe no company can afford in the future to disregard the relevance of customers and to avoid using human-centered methods in their organization.

How Design Thinking and Lean Startup can be implemented:

Neither Design Thinking nor Lean Startup nor agile or user experience (UX) is new for companies. To become successful in the future, I believe it´s a matter of how well companies combine all of those practices. Efficiency will be measured in how well teams have a common understanding of their customers, as it allows them to target their work more precisely towards the desired outcome. Designers teams can create better user concepts, development teams can prioritize better on features based on the customer value and the manager will gain more confidence in taking the right.

What remains open is the question of how Design Thinking generates an interpretation of user needs. Which are so trivial and non-complex, that teams can build on this insight in further processing Agile mode. Is an interface between Design Thinking and Agile imaginable, which allows simple planning and makes sequential processing possible?

There is good news — Pyoneer is going to building this interface!

Pyoneers is going to build an SaaS-Solution for innovators who want to deliver products that solve real problems. You can sign up at pyoneer.io to get insider first looks at the product and updates on our upcoming release.

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