Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Design Thinking

NIPM Karnataka chapter organized a talk on the interesting topic of Design Thinking on 22nd February 2017. The speaker Mr Raghavendra.K. Senior vice president, Infosys BPO, gave an overall picture about the concept and shared his experiences of implementing it in his company. The sponsors of the evening program was Simpliance, a compliance solution company. As their work is relevant to HR, I would like to share what Mr Madhu Damodaran, Head- Legal operations of the organization  explained about their activities in a brief presentation. At a time when compliance of various industrial legislation has become even more focused and important, Simpliance helps companies to keep track of compliance through a solution that schedules recurring compliances in a single unified cloud platform and keeps the compliances updated without any manual effort when laws are amended. A live dashboard gives CEO/ other senior stakeholders the status of the compliances in the company including those related to contractors, client sites and provides the risk scores. Readers may obtain more information from their website www.simpliance.in  .

Coming back to our topic of discussion, design thinking (DT),the speaker underscored right at the beginning of his talk,  that design thinking has a lot to do with a different approach to issues or problems. What this means is a departure from linear thinking and looking at things creatively; beyond the obvious. The notion of design as a "way of thinking" in the sciences can be traced to Herbert A. Simon's 1969 book "The Sciences of the Artificial". Design thinking was adapted for business purposes by David M. Kelley, who founded the design consultancy IDEO in 1991. DT is a human centered design that looks at aspects such as 1) what do people desire? 2) What is technically and organizationally feasible? 3) What is financially viable? Of the three, desirability is required to be given its due place (the traditional thinking tends to be tilted in favour of  feasibility and viability). There is no point in pursuing anything if it does not meet the first test of desirability.

The process steps of design thinking are the following:-

Empathize: Find out more about the people for whom you are designing a solution. Answers to questions such as "Who is my user? What matters to this person?" can be obtained by observation and interviews.
Define: What are their needs? - create a point of view that is based on user needs and insights.
Ideate : Brainstorm and come up with as many creative solutions as possible including "wild ideas".
Prototype: A prototype is like a rough draft.How can I show my idea to others- build a representation of one or more of your ideas.
Test : Share your proto type idea with your original user and obtain feedback- what worked? what didn't?  

Mr Raghavendra gave an example of applying the design thinking model for "hosting a dinner party". All the steps discussed above need to be applied to ensure an effective and successful event. It starts with 'empathizing' by going into details such as who are the attendees? What kind of food would they like? What games would be suitable for that particular group of invitees to be relaxed and feel at home? Often times, instead of empathizing and finding out the real needs, we tend to make arrangements or take action based on assumptions or on our beliefs.

The speaker, who is a vegetarian found to his dismay that in the west, it is assumed that vegetarians only eat lettuce and other such leaves or grass! He had to go hungry many times as a result. Mr Raghavendra related an incident while on a visit abroad. The host had organized 'tasty’ mushroom dishes especially for him. As the speaker hated mushrooms, he had to make excuses that he had had a heavy 'high tea' to wriggle out of the situation, meaning that he had to go hungry that night. We should always keep in mind that "what the end user is looking for is the ultimate objective."

At the 'defining' stage, all aspects of the dinner party such as budget, parking, security, advice to the invitees on clothes (formal/informal) needs to be considered and defined. The next stage of 'ideation' will throw up different ideas in respect of the menu, details of arrangements and the various alternatives. Prototyping and testing ensures that hiccups are avoided. Design thinking addresses larger aspects other than the basic problem noticed. It focuses on not only resolving a problem but also looks at how recurrence of the same can be avoided. It is about upgrading within constraints.
The speaker then asked the audience- “What is the biggest HR problem that you are facing in your company today?” A person in the audience responded: “It is the problem of the candidates recruited and issued appointment letters, not showing up.”Mr Raghavendra encouraged the audience to seek a solution to the problem applying the DT principles of desirability, viability & feasibility and the DT process (empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test).

 He shared an instance of how design thinking was used in his company, Infosys BPO when plans were being made to celebrate a major event of the company in a grand manner. It appeared as if cold water was thrown on the grand plans when finance refused to sanction the huge budget requested. On applying the DT process, a wonderful solution emerged namely to invite Ms Sudha Murthy as the chief guest which addressed many needs at the same time. She provided an emotional connect of employees with the chief guest. She was a respected and distinguished personality in her own right. As the visit was by the chairperson’s wife, all infrastructural support from the general service department was assured.  

Addressing the Problem of Attrition through Design thinking

Mr Raghavendra then shared his experiences of using DT to address the problem of attrition, which is very high in the BPO sector. Instead of unilaterally coming to a conclusion as to the reasons, applying the DT process encourages one to ask questions to the employees   that are not open ended so as to elicit a more detailed answer (not ‘yes’ or ‘No ‘answers ). Empathy interviews were conducted at the 1200-acre campus of Infosys engaging them in conversations that reveal “What is going on? What is the problem?“ Various aspects were discussed such as what do employees think about the manner interviews are organized, about the shifts, about how they are talked to. One overwhelming feedback was “My manager does not talk to me about my career, training etc. He is only interested in whether I have met my targets.” It was clear from the exercise that money far from being the only issue for attrition; it is only one of the many reasons that influence employees to leave.

Applying the design thinking process, employees were asked as to “what do we need to do differently?” They were encouraged to visualize “what they would like to see happening” and then articulate the changes desired in the form of charts, crafts, models etc. The company studied and responded to the prototypes developed by the employees. They were happy that along with market correction in respect of salaries, the other aspects brought out by them were addressed. As a fitting finale to the exercise, their managers took out the employees as a team for lunch. Some of them commented, “For the first time, we felt valued.”  

HMW (How Might We)

One thing to be always kept in mind in the DT process is not to force your own ideas on the target employees. It is and should be a process of co-creation.In an era of complexities, co-creation by taking that leap of faith and taking the risk of asking people their real feeling is a necessity. It resets the expectations of employees which when addressed creates a bond between the employees and the company.

Mr Raghavendra stated that DT could be used in any situation or environment. It can be used to address the issues of employees, suppliers and customers. It can even be profitably used in personal domestic matters like say organizing a wedding.

Some Success Stories

The speaker shared some instances when DT was effectively utilized by various companies.Bank of America evolved the “Keep the change”program involving customers, front end employees and clerks to make their services robust. The introduction of emoticons by Facebook for conveying “Likes “was the result of such an engagement with their users. GE involved kids to address the problem of the little ones refusing to go under the MRE scanning machines, as they were scared. After engaging with the kids, the company introduced pictures of cartoon characters like Mickey mouse and Donald duck in the inside view of the machines so that the children were no longer scared. The concept of ‘Pepsi’s Pyre’ introduced by PepsiCo makes available 500 different flavours to choose from came about as a result of engaging and involving the customers.

Mr Raghavendra wound up his very interesting and enlightening talk, sharng information on the use of design thinking for revamping the performance appraisal system in his organization. The design of the new system was based on the inputs given by the employees as to what they want. Their requirements of flexibility, relevance, peer-to-peer feedback were important inputs. It was comprehensive in the sense, the employees contributed to all aspects right from goal setting,24x7 working, appraisal cycle, the nuances and challenges faced in terms of milestones etc. The new appraisal system is set to roll from April of this year.The speaker expressed confidence that it would be effective, given the involvement of employees.

“Follow all the steps of DT meticulously,” advised the speaker as a parting shot. Indeed, it was a very rewarding evening for me and I am sure for many others in the audience. We were exposed to the new concept of " Design thinking" that promises exciting new possibilities much beyond what the traditional linear thinking can offer…       



  1. As usual, a comprehensive and exhaustive report Rajeev, presented in your free flowing style that has made the understanding the concept of DT and its relvance to our own life and in an organization, that much more easy..I liked the fact that the speaker made the understanding easier by citing its application to everyday aspects of our life like planning a dinner party or a wedding. I believe, our mothers of the yore were unwittingly following DT by applying the EDIPT principles, in their everyday work and life - the way they managed a large household addressing family needs at all levels and seamlessly running the household! . Btw, I also liked that bit about compliance solutions offered by Simpliance, that can really streamline the various compliance requirements esp. statutory compliance in an organization. Thanks for sharing this very interesting piece, Rajeev. Truly admire your comprehensive documenting and reporting skills!!!

  2. Thank you so much Padmaja! Trust you to give detailed appreciative feedback each time that motivates one to keep writing...

  3. It is very important to be people-centric these days. Most of our appraisals still happen with objectives set at the end of the year when they should have been achieved by that time...a formality of sorts since ratings are almost always guided by your relation with your manager. The whole bell-curve fitting is another cheap.

    The tough part is the implementation of these principles...on paper they look good!

  4. "The tough part is the implementation of these principles...on paper they look good!"Right you are Alok.That is the big challenge! Yet, at least baby steps have to be taken in this direction.

  5. An article that has relevance even now in India, Rajeev!!! While the corporate bosses in India still are driven and managed by a secretarial coterie who is often their eyes and ears...the worst are the bureaucrats and political bosses in this country who have their sets of chamchas, chelas, cronies and yes, coteries that control access to them and also drive their decision making with their own so-called "inputs". In fact, long back I too had written an article on this..and mine too focused on these gatekeepers who wield power and misuse it. I have lost it somewhere and can't find it with computers changed etc. Kudos to you for this excellent article!!!

  6. This comment appears to be on my post "Gate Keepers to the Bosses". Thank you so much Padmaja for sharing your thoughts!