Senior Masterpiece: Helping the customer to build the right product

Closer collaboration for a better Design Thinking method.

By Tomáš Rácek (ERNI Slovakia)

Every year, the number of companies that are involving end-users in the earliest stages of software development to gather and incorporate feedback as soon as possible rises. But there are still plenty of companies that are getting in touch with the end-user only after the entire product is released and ready to be used for the first time.

On the one hand, this leads to end-user frustration as they are getting a product which they did not ask for. On the other hand, employees who participated in the product development will be frustrated as well as the result of their work does not harvest positive feedback. Another negative aspect is that money has been spent on a new product, yet the profit is not coming and probably won’t come at all. This is why I focused in my senior thesis on the topic of helping the customer to create the right product.

What is Design Thinking?

While there are several ways to approach this topic, currently one of the most popular and most used is Design Thinking. Design Thinking can be defined as a method, an idea, a strategy, or a way of understanding the world. The simplest definition can be that it is a way to solve problems with creativity. Design Thinking was first officially described in the 2008 Harvard Business Review article “Design Thinking” by Tim Brown, CEO of the design company IDEO.

The process of Design Thinking can be simply described by a few steps:

  • Fully understand the problem
  • Explore a range of solutions
  • Prototype and test possible solutions
  • Implement the solution

The individual steps are not executed in a strict sequence; all of them are iterative and from each stage, you are able to return to the previous steps. From the steps listed above and considering that the process is iterative, Design Thinking can be understood as an iterative process in which knowledge is constantly being questioned and acquired so it can help us redefine a problem in an attempt to identify alternative solutions that might not have been initially apparent with our first level of understanding. The most important thing to do is to involve the end-user immediately from the first stage of the whole process. How could we tackle the problem without knowing the needs of the end-users?

It is also important to note that Design Thinking does not only focus on what is desirable from a human point of view but also brings together what is feasible from a technological point of view – what is economically viable and what is desirable for the user.

Why apply Design Thinking?

Selling Design Thinking as a service for customers brings benefits to both sides – the software development provider and the customer as well.

The customer benefits are quite clear:

  • Frequent feedback – Early involvement of the end-user will save financial resources that the customer may otherwise have to spend on unpredicted changes in software after the final product is released.
  • Satisfied end users– This means the greater interest of end-users in the customer’s products and of course better sales for them. It implicates higher profits for the customer.

There are several benefits of ERNI offering Design Thinking as a service to customers:

  • Motivated teams –The developer teams within ERNI will be more motivated as they will be working on products that are ultimately used by the user and will see ‘value’ in their work.
  • Satisfied customers –Based on getting products in real use by end customers.
  • Involvement from the beginning –Service providers are often not involved in the first phases of projects. This involvement would bring providers such as ERNI closer to the customers, understanding the needs of the customer and the needs of their end customers as well.
  • Closer collaboration – As ERNI could be involved much earlier, it could make collaboration with our customers much more intense.
  • Profit –ERNI can earn money on earlier involvement on the projects and by offering not only scrum teams trained in the Design Thinking process but also professionals who could offer trainings, give consultations or lead the whole Design Thinking setup on the customer site.

And last but not least, this is worth mentioning: Design Thinking is not connected only to software development; it can be applied wherever solutions for problems need to be found. However, the segment where Design Thinking is currently used the most is definitely software development as it is the industry where solutions for problems need to be found on a daily basis.

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