10 Golden Rules for Design Thinking

Design thinking is a new approach that speeds up the development of technology solutions that delight users. At SAP, it’s changing the way developers build software. Based on their experience as design thinkers, SAP experts Tatjana Borovikov, Satya Viswanathan, and Johan Christiaan Peters have compiled a list of rules for fostering creativity and innovation in teams.

Here are the 10 golden rules:

  • Be a facilitator and mediator
  • Challenge and trust your team
  • Run a multidisciplinary team
  • Plan for uncertainty
  • Demand learning and exploration
  • Champion the innovation process
  • Promote a feedback culture
  • Foster a creative atmosphere
  • Follow the team’s insights
  • Celebrate success and failures

Be a facilitator and mediator

Play the role of facilitator and enabler for your team. Give them greater autonomy in expressing their enthusiasm, genius, creativity, and energy. Your task is to support and motivate them. Use your network to help the team find the right interview partner for all topics. Use your political acumen and connections to help your team overcome organizational hurdles and protect them from outside pressure. Clearly and openly communicate your goals and expectations, as well as those of your stakeholders. Ensure that decisions from stakeholders are clear to the team. On the other hand, you should also listen attentively to your team and communicate their research findings, opinions, and concerns to stakeholders. And finally motivate and cheer your team on!

Challenge and trust your team

Trust your team to come up with the right solutions. Challenge and encourage them to envision even more crazy and innovative solutions, and trust that they will select the best ones. Give your team members the time and opportunity to stretch their skills and develop mastery.

Run a multidisciplinary team

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together” (African proverb). Only when you have a multidisciplinary team in which people with different skill-sets and experiences work towards a common goal can you be truly innovative. The whole team should participate in creative activities from the beginning of the project.

Plan for uncertainty

Design thinking is a journey in uncharted waters; there will be many suprises that can dramatically impact your project. When starting an innovation project, leave enough space for new and unexpected outcomes. Your team’s research may uncover unforeseen opportunities that can only be realized if you are able to reframe the scope of the project and iterate on it. It is your task to let the team move in the most promising direction.

Demand learning and exploration

Design thinking, and innovation in general, requires the exploration of new spaces and learning of new truths. This doesn’t come naturally to all teams. Make learning and exploration a necessity for everybody, including yourself. On the one hand, ask the team to come out of their comfort zone, explore, and learn. And on the other hand, enable them to do so by giving them the appropriate time and budget.

Champion the innovation process

Leading an innovation team means being familiar with innovation processes. You need to know when and how to apply them. Additionally, be open to challenges and new perspectives. Being a successful agent for innovation in your team implies that you are capable of consciously changing your own perceptions, if needed. Having a solid understanding of the process and the right perspective will help you to champion your team in all steps of the innovation process. Coach your team by asking the right questions at the right point in time: “Who are your end-users?” Or: “What are the major needs of your personas?” Or: “Who are the strong competitors in the area of your focus?”

Promote a feedback culture

Honest feedback from your team, users, and other stakeholders offers an opportunity to improve yourself and your solution. Encourage team members to find ways to receive feedback. Don’t worry that this might slow down the process. It will only shape and evolve the concept over time, making it more meaningful. And in the end it will save you time.

Foster a creative atmosphere

Creativity requires time, the right environment, and the right atmosphere. Your task as a manager is to provide your team with the means to be creative. Leave room for experiments to try out new tools and methods, and provide a creative space that supports inventive thinking.

Follow the team’s insights

Design research and exploration can lead to the challenging of some strong assumptions and opinions. Be brave and support your team when challenging old truths. The confidence with which you defend your team will be a deciding factor in bringing their work to fruition. It will also show your team that their work is worthwhile and important and that you believe in it.

Celebrate success and failures

Failing early is a blessing in disguise. Recognize this and help the team focus on the important new insights that come from these early failures. Have a little team party for both successes and failures/learining.

Neil How
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Neil How

Neil ran his first SAP transformation programme in his early twenties. He spent the next 21 years working both client side and for various consultancies running numerous SAP programmes. After successfully completing over 15 full lifecycles he took a senior leadership/board position and his work moved onto creating the same success for others.

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