Design thinking is gaining momentum as an optimal way to solve business and social problems. It is unique because it is not only the problem but also the people or systems impacted by the problem are considered.
As a continuous improvement exercise, retrospective meetings can use design thinking principles for improved results. In this post, you will learn how to put this in practice.
Short on time? Read the summary.
What is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is an ideology or process that attempt to solve problems with a user-centric approach. The primary focus is on the users and not the problem. But why this works?
Many modern organizational systems and process have an undue focus on problems. But they fail to see them from the perspective of individuals experiencing those problems. In such a setup, chances are high that the proposed solution is unacceptable or unsuitable for those impacted. Design thinking shifts the perspective to users and increases the probability of success.
Design thinking process consists of 6 distinct steps, answering 4 questions.
Here are the 4 questions that are answered by each of these steps.
- What is? – Empathize and Define phases identifies the real set of problems
- What if? – Ideate phase identifies all possible solutions, viable or not, to solve the problem. Remember that the impacted individuals are involved in this phase
- What wows? – Prototype phase simulates the chosen solutions. Focus is only on the exciting or viable solutions that result in a “wow” reaction
- What works? – Test and Implement phases deploy the practical solutions. They help to make a decision on what really works
This process is repeated for each problem in hand until a suitable solution is obtained.
How does this help with retrospective meetings?
Design Thinking in Retrospectives
At its core, a retrospective meeting is an opportunity to solve problems faced by the team or individuals in the team. It is held for the team, by the team.
As you can visualize from the previous section, the design thinking process is a natural fit for retrospective meetings. Let’s discuss how each stage of a retrospective meeting maps to design thinking.
1. Set the Stage
This corresponds to the “What is?” question of design thinking. The focus is on getting the participants into right context and identify pressing problems.
It is critical that every participant understands the purpose and have an open mindset to identify problems.
Empathizing is important because not everyone faces all the problems. Even if a problem is faced by just one individual, the rest must empathize with that person and see the problem by its merit. If the problem deserves to be discussed then it is chosen.
Once the problem list is collected, each item is briefly defined if necessary.
Then they are listed down and the team collaboratively choose the most important ones for discussion. This is important because the list can sometimes be overwhelming. In such cases, it makes sense to keep the list short by focusing only on the critical problems.
2. Gather Data
This corresponds to the “What if?” question of design thinking. The focus is on identifying all possible solutions for the critical problems.
A conducive environment is essential to ensure that ideas are flowing from the team. An informal environment usually works well because the human brain is more relaxed.
Generate as many ideas as possible without any judgment. Filtering and pruning are to be done at the end of ideation, not during it.
3. Generate Insights
This stage loosely correspond to the “What wows?” question of design thinking. I say loosely because the prototyping happens outside of the retrospective meeting but the seeds are sown here.
Team members spend some time discussing the agreed solution and create a blueprint. This will be used as an input when these solutions are tested and implemented in the subsequent iterations.
4. Decide What to do
This stage correspond to the “What works?” question of design thinking. Each solution that is agreed is converted into tangible action items. Also, the measurement of outcome and timeline are agreed at this stage.
Test and Implement
Though these are done outside the retrospective meeting, the necessary inputs to make these happen are created within.
5. Close the Retrospective
Though there is no corresponding step in design thinking for this stage, it is important to summarize the outcome to the team. A summary is important because it re-gathers the focus and alerts everyone on their responsibilities.
Design thinking is emerging as a preferred way to solve business problems. Agile retrospective meetings with a similar objective to solve team problems can benefit from these principles.
- Setting the stage focuses on empathizing and defining the critical problems
- Gathering data focuses on ideating all potential solutions to critical problems
- Generate insights focuses on prototyping or further defining the solutions that are agreed
- Decide what to do focuses on identifying actions to test and implement these solutions in the subsequent iterations
- Closing the retrospective summarize the agreements and remind team members of their responsibilities
Do you use design thinking principles in your agile problems? If yes, do share your ideas and thoughts with us on [email protected] If we find that your views are valuable to the agile community, we will invite you to publish on our site.