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Design Thinking in Operational Excellence

October 11th, 2012

Design Thinking - Left Brain, Right BrainRecently, I have been very interested in design.  The interest has been born of the need to help customers grow.  It started a few years ago when working on Service Design issues with a client.  The interest eventually took me to Stanford’s d.school of design where I had a chance to examine some case studies.  Naturally, I sought to apply the lessons to my own work. So I began to think of how the ultimate left brain world of Operational Excellence would mesh with the right brain world of design.

A key point I took away from Design Thinking was the suggestion to solve problems by fast iterative prototyping irrespective of whether you felt you’d  found the true root cause of a problem.   How could the idea of prototyping be applied to Operational Excellence where we teach to gather data and analyze with the intent of finding root cause before designing a solution in the form of an improvement?  How could these two seemingly contradictory philosophies be reconciled?

What I concluded was that if we know the process and have the data, we can find root cause. But that in most cases, especially in service businesses, we don’t have that sort of data.  In those cases, prototyping can be a highly effective way to improve or design.  Some might consider this little more than another name for simulation.  But it’s not because when prototyping, you must find a way to launch and go live with the prototype which creates new customer feedback and that is not available in a simulation.

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Now some might say that launching prototypes is akin to letting customers find your mistakes and will damage your relationship or brand.  Certainly, there are those cases.  There are products and markets in which launching prototypes is really not possible.  But in many cases, a co-creation process is not only possible but is preferable.  Certainly, when working with a customer where information and actions flow back and forth in a joint value stream that is part of a supply chain, co-creation of prototypes may be the only effective way to find solutions.

I’m not here to tell you we should throw out existing problem solving methodologies.  I’m simply here to say that the right and left hand sides of our brains can work together to be more flexible in how we find solutions.  Design Thinking is very applicable to Operational Excellence and we are using it in many situations to help customers get to solutions faster.  If you’d like to discuss, you can reach me at jlopezona@ssqi.com.

  1. RVK
    October 11th, 2012 at 07:34 | #1

    It is not throwing out traditional problem solving methods. It is more about SPEED and alignment with customer need. The bigger question is how much time could the customer spend and should customer be a tester to point out problems in design.
    The final answer is to start with proto type or simlations – test it – then share with customer for quick feedback – Agile is the way to go.

  2. October 11th, 2012 at 18:22 | #2

    RVK – First let me thank you for the thoughtful comment. I completely agree speed is a critical goal. But so is getting it right. And I know you’d agree with that.

    The point I was trying to make is that our field of Operational Excellence has defined a way of getting it right which would be akin to waterfall v. agile. And I’m positing the agile method might not only be faster but might produce a better answer…even if the waterfall could produce a satisfactory one (Kano – excite v. performance/basic).

    I do believe there are differences between Design Thinking and Agile but not when it comes to the use of prototyping to drive speed so we’ll leave that for another day. Again, thanks for your thoughts. It allowed me to flush out my suggestion a bit further.

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