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Design Thinking article

Design thinking for the modern BA

Successful business analysis hinges on the analyst’s ability to tap into the mind of the customer, finding the best tools and techniques to align with customer needs, and developing products and services that create real market value.  The question, however, is:  How can traditional analysis methods be supplemented to achieve a more customer focused result?  Enter: Design thinking.

Design thinking is not a new concept.  The term can be traced back to the 60s, 70s and 80s where it was used in the context of engineering, architecture and urban planning.  It was adapted for business use by David M Kelley, founder of design consultancy IDEO, in the early 90s and today the goal is to get all BAs to “think like a designer” when tackling tough business problems.

Formally, design thinking is defined as a human-centered approach which integrates people needs with business needs and technical possibilities.  In this context, the people needs speak to what is desired by the end user, the business needs speak to the viability of the solution and the technical possibilities speak to what is achievable using available technologies.

It’s finding the sweet spot (so to speak) amongst these 3 key elements that requires a different way of thinking.

Design thinking follows a very specific workflow:

  • Understand
    Which in traditional BA methods would equate to problem definition and information & requirements gathering.
  • Explore
    Designers like to refer to this step as “ideation”.  It requires you to create a cross-discipline team that then collaborates in coming up with as many ideas to solve your business problem as possible.
  • Prototype
    Ideas are then transformed into low- or high-fidelity prototypes which are used to test the concepts with real users, comparing them using a defined set of metrics, and gaining further learnings.
  • Evaluate
    The final step involves a lot of data mining in order to determine whether you’ve got an idea that you want to take forward, or whether you need to go back to the ideation step.

From this you can see that design thinking has a very strong iterative approach.  BAs should plan for this by creating analysis sprints during which you try to move through the steps above as quickly as possible in order to get real customer feedback earlier.  Then it’s about being willing to restart the process again, refining as you move from sprint to sprint, until you get to a point where you’re pretty certain you have the right fit.

It’s no longer about taking a set of requirements which you gathered up front and then defining a solution based on this without any further input along the way.  The key learning from design thinking is that customers are able explain their requirements in a clearer way once they have something in front of them which represents your understanding of their needs.  It’s the only way to ensure that you don’t get a nasty surprise at implementation phase as you realise that your customers don’t actually want to use what you have built. 

Need a BA with design thinking experience and/or expertise? Please Get in touch to find out how we can assist you.

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