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Home > Design & Innovation, Operational Excellence Training, Operational Governance > Design Thinking and Operational Excellence Problem Solving

Design Thinking and Operational Excellence Problem Solving

October 29th, 2012

Design Thinking and Operational ExcellenceThere is a lot being written about Design or Design Thinking.  So where does it fit within Operational Excellence.  Where does design fit into problem solving?

Well at its foundation, design is a form of problem solving.  The first step is to identify a gap.  The designer then produces a problem statement usually in the form of why the user of the product or service has a gap which includes what is actually expected.  Alternatives are then defined, explored and evaluated.  After a solution is selected, a plan to produce the produce or perform the service is determined.  After the item is produced or the service performed, the user’s previous gap is checked to see if it has been closed or not.  Note at this point the similarities to the Shewhart Cycle (P-D-C-A).    Design, like P-D-C-A, is an iterative problem solving methodology.

One of the differences of design though is that it is encouraged to jump between the stages as frequently as is seen fit.  If you were to once again use the Shewhart Cycle as an example, design would happily tolerate P-D-C-D-C-A-D-C-A as an example.  There are several messages in this jumping in and out of the various stages.  There isn’t an assumption and maybe not even an effort to find the optimal solution.  Quick improvements may be acceptable versus finding the optimal solutions.  There is no doubt there is a tendency to act.  What does this focus of improvements with each design v. finding the ultimate solution mirror?  Don’t Kaizen events have similar characteristics?


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Design is, in fact, a problem solving methodology.  However, there is a lot of problem solving that isn’t design.  Improving an existing system isn’t normally considered design.  Nor is tuning an existing system.  Yet both are problem solving events.  And “just do it” activity is certainly not design.   The term design is normally reserved for new products and services, solving chronic problems where stakeholder interests are at odds or even choosing and optimizing among a series of alternatives to replace an existing process (think about selecting a new AP package among a group of vendors).

So Design Thinking and OpEx problem solving aren’t two different lines of thinking.  Design is a subset of problem solving with practices very similar to past problem solving methods such as the Shewhart Cycle or Kaizen events.  If you’d like to discuss any of this, please feel free to reach out to me.

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