Everybody needs somebody, sometimes.
One of the great superpowers of design thinking is that it’s a methodology that anybody, or any organization, can learn and deploy, quickly and efficiently. As proof, one only needs to look at the growing numbers of organizations and enterprises building internal design thinking capabilities and teams. We have worked with some great internal teams who are embracing the methodology and positively transforming their products, services, processes and cultures.
All of this success might beg the question, “if these companies are getting so good at design thinking, why would they, from time to time, choose to bring in outside design thinking consultants and facilitators, like Ideo, IBM or Magnani?” Of course, there may be specific technological, industrial design or procedural expertise lacking in the clients’ existing team that drives the decision to seek external resources. But in this post, we’ll cover more universal reasons that even the best internal design thinking and innovation teams might benefit from the addition of an outside resource.
1. Rising above organizational inertia.
Design thinking is a methodology, not magic. Adhering to its principles and practices can do much to help its participants move past, “the way we’ve always done it.” But some organizations have deeply entrenched behaviors and norms surrounding certain aspects of their business that it can be difficult for anyone, or any group, to implement change.
Bringing in an outside facilitator can give participants newfound abilities to take on an alternate perspective, at least through the duration of the exercise. We liken the dynamic to those situations when a surprise guest calls you on a Saturday morning and announces they will be at your place within minutes. Suddenly, you are able to adopt the guest’s perspective and see a seemingly infinite number of new things you need to clean, straighten, dispose of, etc. It is the exact same home that previously felt “fine” but now, with your newfound perspective, appears in direct need of attention. It’s important to note that those issues weren’t suddenly in need of attention. They needed attention all along. But complacency and inertia rendered them invisible.
In that same way, the facilitator’s presence and leadership can amplify participants’ ability to see new opportunities for improvement to which they would otherwise have been collectively, figuratively blind. Product or service features that were “fine” suddenly may reveal themselves as a challenge to overcome when participants begin to view them through the eyes of their new “guest.”
2. Amplifying the voice of the customer.
Successful design thinking depends on maintaining a human-/customer-centered perspective throughout the process. External facilitators are in a unique position to be (and, I would argue, have a professional obligation to be) a powerful advocate for the customer throughout the process.
An external facilitator should bring to the process no other agenda than that of designing the best possible service or experience that solves the defined challenge, regardless of what other constraints are influencing the process. For some idea of those constraints, see the other four points covered in this post.
3. Brokering the peace.
As companies grow and incentive structures are created independently, in siloed departments or geographies, when trying to implement change, one will inevitably encounter misalignment of those incentives. Now throw into the mix an innovation that requires major operational or behavioral changes and enterprise-wide coordination. Resistance to change is likely to occur on just as major of a scale.
On top of that, one is also likely to encounter fundamental struggles over ownership and control. Don’t misunderstand that I am in any way representing these challenges as superficial or easy to overcome. They are very real and generally difficult to surmount.
However, when discussing those challenges, having a third party facilitating the design thinking process can help keep the group focused on benefits to customers and the organization as a whole. It can also help minimize the impression that the innovation came from any single department or an executive who may be perceived as having a more personal interest in the success of the change. If you have no dog in the hunt, so to speak, it’s harder for anyone to argue you are inherently biased as to which dog ultimately wins.
4. Broadening the strategic perspective.
Bringing a broader range of experience and cross-sector perspective to a client engagement is a benefit inherent to management consulting, across the board, and it certainly applies to design thinking facilitation.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with clients in sectors as diverse as health care, financial services, packaged goods, hospitality, industrial manufacturing and sporting goods, to name a few. And as distinctive each of these sectors may seem, there was always some strategic market, customer or business insight learned from one that we could draw upon to inform the strategy of another. Technologies and industries may change, but basic human nature applies to all.
5. Adding horsepower. Pure and simple.
The design thinking process, when done at the enterprise level, requires deep resources and thrives on expertise. Adding outside facilitators to the mix can reduce the impact of bottlenecks that normally result from in-house resources being diverted mid-project back to the day-to-day needs of the business.
For one, it’s about getting on the winning side of the numbers game. Generally, the greater the number of qualified minds applied to a problem, the greater the number of possible solutions generated. Further, it’s about having dedicated resources, ready, willing and able to shepherd a project through its various complexities and challenges, always focused on success and free of competing priorities.
Go ahead, point that finger.
There’s little more rewarding than amplifying organizations’ abilities to work through the stages of design thinking to solve what could seem like truly intractable challenges, develop new lines of business or improve the customer journey. The business is more competitive. The customer is more satisfied. And the internal design thinking teams should be able to point to improved ROI from their efforts.