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What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking approaches the gathering of customer needs and values from a human-centered perspective. This is where any artist or engineer must start to create useful solutions relevant to those who will use them. Human-centered design is the basis for design thinking, and its first step is empathize (i.e., discover the problem). See the design thinking roadmap shown in Table 4.16. The remaining steps include define (i.e., structure the problem for solution), ideate (i.e., develop a solution), prototype (i.e., build the solution), and test (i.e., pilot the solution).

Design solutions are focused on meeting basic customer’s needs, improving performance, or creating differentiated products and services. Basic needs are those that are required just to be in a market (e.g., restaurants serve food or rental agencies provide automobiles). The solutions for basic needs are widely known within an industry. In contrast, performance attributes are competitive differentiators across an industry. Organizations compete by creating designs to meet or exceed industry-wide performance by attribute while balancing time, cost, and performance relative to competitors. Differentiated products and services are game-changers that create entirely new markets or establish a dominant player within a market. Organizational design strategies and methods vary by industry (e.g., service, heavy manufacturing, construction, etc.) and by focus (e.g., basic, performance, or differentiation needs). These strategies range from the purely aesthetic to the highly structured in an engineering sense. The associated tools and methods reflect their creation.

Customer experience mapping was discussed in Chapter 3. Recall that customer experience mapping forms a firm basis on which to “discover” the customer’s problem relative to the use of products and services. Interviewing and other forms of data collection are also useful with data analytics to obtain customer insights. These approaches to gathering the VOC help empathize a customer’s experience through research and deciding, purchase and onboarding, using and servicing, as well as renewing and disposing of a product or service. Figure 3.12 described the process.

Charles Kettering said that, “A problem well stated is a problem half- solved.” Defining a problem requires creating a structured problem statement relative to scope, metrics, and improvement goals. Table 4.17 provides examples of a structured approach to problem definition. A problem statement is refined through iterations to refine the scope and

TABLE 4.16

Design Thinking Roadmap



1. Empathize (Discover the Problem)

  • • Look at design problems from a customer perspective (create personas and use cases).
  • • Take a Gemba walk with customer to observe the problems firsthand.
  • • Engage the customer through conversation (open and structured, e.g., Kano analysis).
  • • Map the customer experience by persona and use case.
  • • Use feedback such as surveys by persona and use case.
  • • Empathize Review

2. Define (Structure the Problem for Solution)

  • • Define the problem(s) from the persona and use case perspective (e.g., create problem statement, such as “A problem well defined is half solved”).
  • • Create a design thinking charter with scope and expected outcomes (e.g., what is success?).
  • • Consider stakeholder impact.
  • • Translate expected outcomes into CTC attributes, such as cost to target, functional and feature performances are met, structural form and aesthetics are considered, production ready for cost effectiveness, enabling tools and methods exist (i.e., not theoretical), distribution friendly to customers, maintenance is easy, upgradability is easy, and sustainability roadmap exists (i.e., repurpose, recycle, dispose) and is optimized over the products life cycle.
  • • Define Review

3. Ideate (Develop a Solution)

  • • Brainstorm alternative design concepts based on persona and use case.
  • • Prioritize the best design alternative using tools such as a Pugh matrix.
  • • Translate CTCs into preliminary specifications.
  • • Use QFD to evaluate sub-systems for meeting specifications.
  • • Confirm that prototype attributes meet acceptance criteria.
  • • Ideate Review

TABLE 4.16 (Continued) Design Thinking Roadmap



4. Prototype (Build the Solution)

  • • Design a prototype (i.e., a physical or conceptual representation of the best design alternative that is sufficient to allow evaluation) on which to base the Test step (i.e., a pilot).
  • • Evaluate the prototype through testing, experimentation, and simulation to confirm specifications, CTCs, and acceptance criteria by persona and use case.
  • • Conduct appropriate risk analysis.
  • • Create Test (Pilot) plan.
  • • Prototype Review

5. Test (Pilot the Solution)

  • • Begin the Test (Pilot) step; the product pilot evaluation tests a prototype design under limited real-world conditions to verity that its performance meets the original design requirements.
  • • Confirm specifications, CTCs, and acceptance criteria by persona and use case and solution of the customers problem statement.
  • • Create final design documents and control plan.
  • • Create a scale-up plan (i.e., create an engagement plan and communications strategy).
  • • Testing Review

CTC = critical-to-customer characteristic; QFD = quality function deployment.

quantify associated metrics to create CT outcomes. The first example shown in Table 4.17 is focused on increasing the yields (i.e., the success rate) for hiring new employees. The scope is narrowed to the new applicant hiring process in the Southeastern United States. The associated metrics are used to balance cost, hiring cycle time, and yield. This information is used to refine the problem statement and create improvement outcomes for internal stakeholders and customers. This focus can also be expanded to include applicants by considering their experience with the hiring process. The other two examples involve call center and website design.

Once a customer’s problem is well stated (i.e., structured), the design team can begin discussing ways to solve the problem through design. The approach varies by problem type. The solutioning (i.e., ideation) activities can range from simple brainstorming to complicated mapping of requirements to specifications and then into the systems that will provide

TABLE 4.17

Structuring a Problem for Solution


New Hiring Process (Services)

New Call Center (Logistics)

New Website (Software)

Business Case

Employee hiring is a chronic problem within the Southeastern region of the United States. Out of every 100 applicants, only 5 are hired (5% yield), resulting in a per applicant cost of $5,000 versus 52,000 in other regions. We would like to significantly increase the yield of hiring qualified employees.

A demand analysis has shown a need for a logistics call center (to receive and ship orders) within the United States to handle increasing demand (more than 50%) over the next 10 years. Current operating costs are 25% higher than industry average. Also, a disaster and recovery analysis recommends a separate facility. An additional facility is needed with lower costs.

Profit margins have decreased by 50% in the past 3 years. Although there are likely several reasons for lower profit, one is a 10% decrease in customer transactions per year for the past 3 years. A new website will help attract new customers.


The applicant-to-new employee hiring process within the Southeastern United States.

Finalize exact location, design new call center to handle a 50% increase in capacity.

The website should be designed using the current menu and location information. Key requirements are to display menus, locations, and specials and to take reservations.


  • • Cost per applicant
  • • Time to hire an applicant
  • • % qualified applicants
  • • Yield of new employees to applicants
  • • Location metrics: cost, infrastructure, available workforce, etc.
  • • Facility: layout, skills, equipment, risk offset, organizational structure, etc.
  • • Accuracy of information
  • • Load in less than 10 seconds
  • • Must be accessible on different browsers and software versions
  • • Language must be at an 8th-grade level and fonts easy to read for visually impaired people
  • • It must include graphics of the restaurant and key dishes
  • • Hie website must cost less than $10,000
  • • It must be finished within 30 days.
  • • It must be easy to maintain and update



The yield from applicants to new employees within the Southeast United States is 5% and is 2.5 times more expensive per applicant than other regions.

An additional 50% capacity to receive and ship orders will be needed over the next 10 years in a separate location having at least 25% lower operational costs.

The number of customers has decreased by 30% in the past 3 years.




Within 90 days:

  • • Reduce cost per applicant by 60% or more.
  • • Reduce the time to hire an applicant by 70%.
  • • Improve number of qualified applicant by 70%.
  • • Increase the yield from applicant to new hire to 95%.

Within 18 months:

  • • Increase capacity by 50% or more.
  • • Maintain service levels at 99%.
  • • Reduce operational costs by 25% or more.
  • • Identify a new facility in the United States.
  • • Design and staff the facility.

Within 30 days:

• Tlie goal is to increase customer traffic associated with the website by 25% or more.

functional performance and useful features. There are many ways to brainstorm; one of the most useful is visualizing the ideal final state. This method describes a solution independent of current constraints or design (e.g., zero time delays, no maintenance, no cost constraints, the problem solves itself, etc.) and then works to achieve these ambitious goals. It is important to include people representing the problem’s entire scope from end to end and to carefully describe the project’s goals and deliverables. Facilitation is recommended to ensure best practices are followed.

In complicated situations, QFD, also named FIOQ, can be used to map (i.e., translate) the problem now framed by goals and metrics with targets into solutions. This approach was discussed in Chapter 3 and 4 and is shown in Figures 3.10 and 4.10. QFD provides a structured framework for translating critical-to-customer outcomes into new features and functions, helps communication across functional teams, identifies design constraints and trade-offs, incorporates competitive benchmarking, and helps visualization of critical-to-customer prioritization.

Several different solutions may come out of the ideate phase. These will need to be evaluated attribute by attribute for their impact on the design goals. A Pugh matrix can be used to move toward a single candidate or perhaps a combination of several ideas into one solution to prototype. Recall that, in using the Pugh method, one solution is chosen as the baseline design and the other solutions (designs) are evaluated attribute by attribute in comparison to this baseline, using a +1 if the attribute is better or -1 if the attribute is worse. The alternative with the highest score is chosen as the prototype candidate and modified if its attributes were ranked lower than other solution alternatives. The result is a superior solution to prototype.

In the fourth phase of design thinking, a prototype is created to demonstrate how the solution (now the best design concept) works. A prototype is a physical, conceptual, or virtual representation of a new design, both aesthetically and functionally, and it is sufficient to enable evaluation for a test by persona and use case under controlled conditions. A prototype demonstrates key process features and is a working model of the new design. It usually has a limited performance range, but it can be tested by customers and stakeholders to provide useful feedback prior to more extensive testing. Testing or piloting a prototype under limited real-world conditions helps verify that performance meets the original goals. It is a small-scale yet complete real-life representation of design performance that is usually limited to a single location or time. Examples include testing a new operational procedure with a few workers, test marketing new financial services with one customer, implementing a new employee- evaluation system with a limited number of managers, or testing new supplier-rating system with a few suppliers. Design thinking is an alternative design methodology and is compatible with DFSS, Agile Product Development, and other recent design methodologies.


Design is a competitive differentiator that drives demand and most of an organization’s costs. The more complex a design, the higher the total organizational costs and resources it requires. Poor design, including high design complexity, increases lead times and reduces overall quality of a product and its supporting systems. Designs should be globally and locally adaptable based on customer preferences. They should be easy to produce and use over their life cycles. They should be transferable from one region to another without a requalification. DFM and mass customization principles should be employed within a framework such as Six Sigma, design thinking, Agile, or another integrating philosophy. Designs should enable systems to be easily and cost effectively scaled to higher performance levels as technology evolves over time.

Best practice designs use concurrent engineering (CE) to manage the design process within a DFSS, design thinking, or Agile framework; use DFM to design products and services that are easily produced for customers; apply QFD methods to minimize variation and effectively translate the VOC into design features and functions; use DFSS methods to understand how components interact to provide functions, dimensions, and other product features; meet global and local standards to expand marketing and sales opportunities; apply mass customization tools, methods and concepts to reduce the order-to-delivery lead time; and outsource work that can be done more efficiently elsewhere.


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