The fact that some people are naturally better at different parts of the design process than others has become more apparent than ever of late. We know diverse teams matter, bringing in people from all areas of the organisation (the accountants, guys from ops and front of house, interns and executives) is important. Sometimes that team is compiled without worrying about which parts of the design process they are actually good at. The problem is that those who are good at brainstorming, aren’t necessarily going to be good at gaining empathy or defining a proposition. In fact it’s likely they won’t be.
Here at Empathy, we have recently been teaching design thinking to year thirteen (17/18 year old) students from two Wellington schools. As part of their NCEA Level 3 business class our year 13 students have been tasked with starting and running a company over the course of the school year. They are competing against schools across the country for top honours in association with the Young Enterprise Scheme. Let’s also not forget that these are the entrepreneurs of their generation and like any business they need to make money. Four to six students form a company and each one takes on a role: CEO, CFO, CTO etc. How successful they are will largely depend on who makes up their team.
Our purpose was to kickstart their thinking. To help each ‘company’ come up with an idea (product, service, experience) we gave them a crash course in the design process. We took them from observation and interviews through to prototyping and testing with users, all by 3pm that afternoon. Needless to say it was a whirlwind. You could tell a lot had happened by the mess leftover when the room emptied. By the sounds of it the students learnt quite a bit and, as hoped, they gained more from learning the process than from the concepts that were developed that day.
We observed that, as expected, people are naturally better at different parts of the process. Let’s say that people have different modes of thinking that come more naturally. Because we were able to touch on so many different methods throughout the process different students were stars at different times. A boy who quickly picked up asking open-ended questions to elicit stories then struggled to frame needs as verbs. Another student quickly took to prototyping with hardly any prompting after blending into the background the entire morning. An entire group were floundering and needed to be walked through creating a point of view but quickly took to brainstorming, easily filling their board and having fun at the same time. Had we not worked through so many methods and types of thinking many students would not have had their time to shine.
Different people succeeding in different situations… this is good right? Yes and no. The problem is when the four to six students in one group are really good at interviewing and need finding and struggle with ideation and prototyping, the outcome is flawed. Or worse yet when the group never uncovers any rich information and insight on which to base the idea for a business they will be hard pressed to succeed no matter how talented they may be at creating and delivering a great service.
We see this with the clients we work with: a team that is composed entirely of analytical thinkers most comfortable with spreadsheets and the bottom line may easily get stuck in some of the divergent phases of the process like mining for rich information while gaining empathy. Similarly we are careful not to create teams composed entirely of creatives who love ideating and coming up with crazy ideas but struggle to define a concise point of view or proposition.
Who is on the team and who you choose to bring forward at different parts of the process will greatly influence how quickly you are able to move and how successful you are at each stage. A diverse team means including the correct members who ensure you don’t get stuck along the way. This means not only people from around the business to give you a holistic view but also people who are good at the different points of the process. There is a lot of talk of T-shaped people, that is a broad understanding of many areas and a deep understanding or expertise in one area. This means expertise at different types of thinking not simply expertise at different areas of knowledge (the engineer, MBA, etc.)
Without prior experience it is hard to tell who will perform best at each stage. When a team does get stuck, use design thinking to tackle the problem. Understand why you are stuck, frame the problem and ideate solutions; one of which may simply be changing up the team. Prototype who is on the team, testing what works well and what doesn’t. Be flexible, and as always don’t be afraid to try things out.
Teams matter. When putting together a team, how people think is just as important as what they know. As evidenced by high-school aged kids, people will naturally excel at different stages of the design process. Don’t forget: we all think differently.