Posted tagged ‘HCD’

Yellow submarine

23 June 2020

Years ago, I remember taking a tour of what was then one of those newfangled “innovation labs”.

A hive of Design Thinking, it was crawling with serious young people in jeans and t-shirts scribbling on walls and rearranging herds of post-it notes.

In an otherwise old-fashioned financial services organisation, it was an impressive tilt towards modernisation and true customer centricity (beyond the warm and fuzzy TV commercials).

After our guide had finished explaining this brave new world to the group, one of us asked him to share a project he’d been working on. He proudly explained how the year prior, the lab had applied the progressive methodology to the development of a new product which had, finally, launched.

Which begged the next question… How many new customers did it sign up? His straight-faced answer: Seven.

Seven!

For a bank with literally millions of customers, this was astounding. And he didn’t seem all that bothered by it. The apparent solution was to go back to the drawing board and try again.

While still doing the math in my head to calculate the negative return on investment, I stumbled upon the myth of The Yellow Walkman. I neither confirm nor deny its veracity, but Alexander Cowan recounts it as follows in his article Yellow Walkman Data & the Art of Customer Discovery:

Close-up of a yellow Walkman

Sony’s conducting a focus group for a yellow ‘sport’ Walkman. After assembling their ‘man/woman on the street’ contingent, they ask them ‘Hey, how do you like this yellow Walkman?’ The reception’s great. ‘I love that yellow Walkman – it’s so sporty!’ ‘Man, would I rather I have a sweet yellow Walkman instead of a boring old black one.’

While everyone’s clinking glasses, someone had the insight to offer the participants a Walkman on their way out. They can choose either the traditional black edition or the sporty new yellow edition – there are two piles of Walkmans on two tables on the way out. Everyone takes a black Walkman.

It’s an old story, but its message remains relevant today. Because humans are terrible at predicting their own behaviour.

You see, talk is cheap. Everyone has great ideas… when someone else has to implement them. And if you ask someone point blank if they want something, nine times out of ten they’ll say yes. Then they never use it and you’re left carrying the can wondering where you went wrong.

We see this kind of thing all the time in workplace learning and development. Someone in the business will demand we build an online course, which no one will launch; or a manager will pull a capability out of thin air, oblivious to the real needs of their team.

As Cowan suggests, this can be mitigated by thoughtful questioning that avoids the solution-first trap. And of course the point of the MVP approach that’s championed by Design Thinking minimises any losses by failing fast.

But we can do something else before we get to that point: validate.

In the yellow Walkman example, Cowan offers:

Sony’s product designer mocks up several colors of Walkman and puts together some kind of an ordering page with the options. Focus group subjects (or just online visitors) are allowed to pre-order what they want. This gets you the same result without having to actually produce a whole bunch of yellow (or whatever) Walkmans.

In the L&D context, I suggest complementing our TNA consultations with assessments. So the team needs to develop x capability? Test it. They’re all over y competency? Test it.

And it needn’t be expensive nor onerous. A micro-assessment approach should be sufficient to expose the blindspots.

By validating your qualitative data with quantitative data, you’re building extra confidence into your bet and maximising its probability of success.

Lest it sink like a yellow submarine.

The best of both worlds

11 June 2018

There’s no point landing the perfect plane at the wrong airport.

That’s an analogy someone shared with me several years ago to explain Design Thinking, and it has resonated with me ever since for two reasons. Firstly, it exposes the solution-first approach that pervades the corporate sector; and secondly, it challenges our obsession with perfection.

When I look across the business landscape, I’m continually surprised by the decisions that some companies make on behalf of their customers, without those decisions being informed by said customers. It’s more prevalent then you might think. We humans are beset by bias, prejudice, arrogance and self-importance. We make assumptions and just know what is best for others. So we launch blind. No wonder so many initiatives fail.

Likewise I am continually surprised by the great lengths to which some companies go to ensure their product is flawless. All that time spent prior to launch represents time out of the market. And all those eggs put into the one basket means if it fails, it fails hard.

Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test

Design Thinking promises to overcome these problems by recasting the customer as the source of innovation rather than merely the recipient. Moreover, it’s agile – in the sense that it combines speed to market with continuous improvement.

Perhaps the most widely recognised variant of Design Thinking is the 5-stage framework espoused by Stanford University’s d.school. I won’t bother delving into its details when countless others have already done so. Suffice to say it involves empathising with your customers to find out what they really need; using those insights to define the problem you’ll solve for them; generating ideas for a potential solution; prototyping and testing (and modifying) the solution; prior to launching a minimum viable product (MVP).

Design Thinking is an iterative process, with an emphasis on cycles of learning: informing your decisions with intelligence; trying them out; failing fast; failing cheap; adapting; approaching ever closer to designing the right thing, and designing it right, to maximise its probability of success.

And it doesn’t end at launch. The MVP is a starting point, not an end point. In the heat of the market, the cycle of learning continues, and so the product evolves.

Design Thinking is at the intersection of evidence and delivery

Of course Design Thinking has no shortage of detractors. One commentator likens it to syphilis (!) while others are even more offensive, calling it linear.

Much of the disdain appears to stem from the evangelism practised by fanbois who worship the idol of Design Thinking, the healer of all ills (including, no doubt, syphilis).

I also find the language of the protagonists sometimes misleading; for example, IDEO – the proponent of Human Centered Design, Design Thinking’s alter ego – claims “you’ll know that your solution will be a success because you’ve kept the very people you’re looking to serve at the heart of the process”. I know what they’re getting at, and I agree with the sentiment, but anyone with a freshman’s appreciation of statistics understands you can’t possibly know an outcome based on a sample. The best you can do is infer; or in layman’s terms, increase your confidence.

Nonetheless, I’m prepared to see past the breathless zeal and call myself an advocate of Design Thinking. Why? Because I consider it the best of both worlds: it’s evidence based, and it delivers.

Do your homework to check you’ll add real value, but get on with it and start adding that value now.

Over time, the value will grow.

A use for 3D Printing in the corporate sector

6 September 2016

I’ve often wondered about the relevance of 3D printing in the corporate sector because we rarely produce a thing. Our products – such as bank accounts and insurance policies – are essentially 1’s and 0’s floating in the ether.

Then I attended a webinar presented by Jon Soong from Makers Empire. This Australian startup is active in the K12 sector, helping teachers bring 3D printing into their classrooms.

With the right hardware, software and guidance, teachers and their students can visualise abstract concepts (Mathematics, Science), produce replica objects (History, Geography) and create original objects (Art).

As the following video demonstrates, the technology can also be applied to problem-based learning.

I like what I see at St Stephen’s School, not only because of the pedagogical benefits that 3D printing affords, but also because it makes sense to familiarise our children with emerging technology.

This particular technology is already impacting manufacturing. A diverse range of products is currently being 3D printed, including clothes, jewellery, candy, teeth, prosthetics, tools, car parts, architectural models, furniture, toys and accessories.

I predict one day in the not-too-distant future, hospitals and medical device companies will dispense with their warehouses. Instead of stockpiling surgical equipment in big rooms – or worse, waiting for products on backorder – a hospital will be able to build the device it needs on-demand. No more need for storage and transport; just a licence to print the proprietary design.

A 3D printed umbilical cord clamp

In the corporate environment, however, we don’t make widgets.

In this context, I suggest we turn to the students from St Stephen’s for inspiration. When the kids use 3D printing to solve a problem, a by-product of that activity is collaboration. Following their lead, we could split our colleagues into teams and task them with producing a 3D artefact; whether or not that artefact has practical application is irrelevant. What is relevant is how the team members work together to achieve the goal.

The technology is the vehicle with which a collaborative situation can be engineered, experienced, observed, and reflected upon.

And we can go further. Consider a methodology such as Human Centered Design. By baking HCD into the task, the team members can practise it in a low-stakes scenario – for example, creating an office mascot. If the artefact doesn’t gain the target audience’s approval, it’s relatively cheap to make the necessary modifications or even go back to the drawing board.

After the team members build up their experience with the methodology via this seemingly silly exercise, they can apply it to the organisation’s real products and services.