Design thinking can help you solve challenging problems through a unique, user-centered approach. It’s a valuable tool for leaders, managers, and even employees. This guide will show you what design thinking is all about and how to apply it to your workplace challenges as a manager. You’ll learn how to be an effective manager using the design thinking process to drive innovation and positive change in your organization.

Managers have dual roles to play. They have their own set of tasks while also needing to get work done by their team members. Managers of a team also define the success parameters for its members. And then, they need to work with the team members to help them understand how their roles contribute toward achieving that success. Learn how to be an effective manager with our guide. 

“A good manager is responsible for defining reality.”  

– Peter Drucker

How to be an effective manager in your firm by using design thinking?

Design thinking is more of an approach than a collection of tools.

You probably associate design thinking with designers, as do most people. But, if you look closely, the first thing you’ll notice is that design thinking isn’t actually about products—or even about innovation or issue solving in general. Beyond product design and innovation, you may use design thinking in a variety of ways:

  • Bettering your clients’ or customers’ service experiences (e.g., using empathy maps)
  • Increasing the efficiency of your team’s procedures (e.g., using affinity mapping)
  • Improving your company’s vendor and partner relationships (e.g., co-creation workshops)

how-to-be-an-effective-manager-through-design-thinking

How to become an effective manager by fostering a design-thinking culture in your company?

“How do I sustain this design-thinking culture in my organization?” is one of the most common questions.

You don’t have to, as it turns out. Design thinking isn’t meant to be something that everyone does all of the time; it’s a mindset and way of working that can help people innovate when they need it the most. Thanks to its flexibility and adaptability, it can also fit into any workflow without disrupting existing ones.

In other words, once your company (or department) has adopted a design-thinking approach, you shouldn’t have to worry about maintaining it—you’ll get better at innovating over time.

How to become an effective manager – A few design-thinking driven ways

‘How to be an effective manager?’ is a difficult question for everyone. We’ll talk about how to become a better manager and how to use design thinking in the workplace.

#1 A vision that is crystal clear

Whether you have recently been promoted to the role of a manager, or you’ve been one for many years, you must first have a clear vision of what you want to build before beginning the design thinking process. Here’s what you must make sure to include:

  • Purpose: As a department and a team, why are we doing this in the first place? What do we want to accomplish? What issue are we attempting to resolve?
  • Solution: How would our solution address the aforementioned issue? What sets our solution apart from what other teams in the past have done, or other similar departments in the industry are doing? Is it able to assist the company in creating a better final product/service with our new solution? If that’s the case, how does it do it (and why)?
  • Impact: Outside of merely fixing the original problem(s), how does this initiative affect customers/clients/employees/the world?

#2 Work on the overall experience

It’s easy to get caught up in the product when working on a project. Many individuals make the mistake of ignoring the user experience and focusing only on their own interests. Keep in mind that if you don’t look after your team, no one will look after your customer

Here’s one of the design-thinking lead ways to ensure that everyone has a good time:

Before starting a new project with your team, think about how your departments work will engage with the company’s final product or service. Think like one of your company’s customers—how do they feel when they engage with you? What type of aches and pains do they experience? What difference would it make to their lives if this existed? Try placing yourself in someone else’s shoes. It may seem radically different at first, however, it’ll become part of your DNA to start thinking out-of-the-box soon enough. It’s easy to get buried in our minds while building something for ourselves and forget about the requirements of others!

Additionally, as a team leader or manager, it is essential to  consider the end before you begin. This is another design thinking guideline. Before you start thinking about how to address the issue or what tools you need to deploy , think about the end-user. During this phase, it’s also vital not to get too caught up in the technology or tools that will aid this process; instead, concentrate on the requirements of the consumers and what they want out of the whole experience. Further, try and educate your team members on the importance of user satisfaction and guide them well to enhance it. 

Keep in mind that you’re attempting to create something that others will like utilizing!

#3 Gather ideas and brainstorm together

As a manager, when faced with a problem, don’t panic or overthink. Start by putting together a team that will work on the ideation. When a bunch of design thinkers will work together with you to provide innovative and creative ideas and will look beyond the traditional methods of problem-solving, the solutions will be enhanced. This will help you improve the user’s or consumer’s experience and hence provide a better outcome.

Here’s how to be an effective manager by using the principle of brainstorming: 

  • Collect ideas and have a group brainstorming session. It’s preferable if you have a variety of viewpoints. This may be done in official meetings or in casual gatherings with your team, but it’s crucial to include as many individuals as possible. It also helps if you build diversity into your team. Have members from various backgrounds, ethnicities, age groups, etc.
  • To collect ideas, use a number of ways. This may be accomplished via brainstorming meetings, but it can also be accomplished during lunchtime walks or coffee breaks. Other types of group communication, such as email chains and social media channels (as long as they aren’t exploited), should also be considered.
  • To convey ideas, use a number of approaches. Some businesses choose to write reports on a whiteboard, whilst others prefer to use software like PowerPoint or Google Slides. When trying out different ideas, don’t depend on just one method—you could discover that something else works better!
    Also, direct all team members to spend a little time individually brainstorming before attending the group brainstorming session. This way, all members are ready with their viewpoints and the session productivity will sky rocket.

#4 Fail, learn, and triumph.

Here’s a suggestion about how to be a good manager. Any design thinking process is sure to make mistakes. You’re probably not attempting new things or going beyond your comfort zone if you’re not making errors as a manager. It might be difficult for a manager to see errors as chances for development and advancement. But keep in mind that design thinking is about exploring alternatives and learning from mistakes along the way, not about making something perfect or faultless. You offer yourself a chance for future achievement by allowing yourself and your team to make errors rather than fretting about them.

An essential thing to keep in mind regarding failure is that it is not synonymous with success. Instead, failure is a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t and a chance to attain your objectives. “If you are not humiliated by the first version of your product, you have launched too late,” says Eric Ries, author of one of our favorite books, Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

It is one of the most effective methods for becoming a good manager. Startups always get it right—fail quickly, succeed quicker! While startups have the edge over established organizations in certain areas when it comes to embracing design thinking approaches (they’re frequently scrappy enough), established businesses have an advantage over others. They, too, aren’t immune to making errors along the road. But, rather than being discouraged by mistakes or dreading them as part of the process, a manager should be able to embrace them as a valuable lesson in what eventually works and what doesn’t for the team’s final output.

To help their teams to deal with failure, managers can employ the principle of “the power of letting go”. Quite simply, this philosophy directs teams to build a mindset of not spending much time thinking about what went wrong. Rather, it urges teams to quickly shift focus to what needs to be done next and to move on.

#5 Iterate

One of the tips to grow your business and be an effective manager is to understand the design thinking principle of iteration. Iteration is a vital part of design thinking, as you can’t expect to get it right the first time. Iteration means trying new things, testing what works and what doesn’t work, then coming back with ideas for improvement. The best way to improve your iteration process is by having regular meetings with your team members where you discuss what worked well in each iteration and how you can improve it next time around.

As part of this design-thinking lead step, managers can conduct “retrospective” meetings. These gatherings are held to quickly evaluate what worked well in the last month/week, and what needs to be improved going forth.

#6 Build trust through transparency

Using transparency is the answer to how to become an effective manager. It’s often said that trust is the foundation of any relationship. That’s especially true in the workplace, where transparency is vital for building and sustaining trust.

It’s critical to understand how to manage well. For example, if you want your team members to be honest with you about their thoughts and concerns, you must model such conduct. Likewise, it’s critical to take the time and listen attentively before replying to someone who has an idea that others in the organization may not like (for example, if they recommend modifying anything on your website). It’s also a good idea to clarify why a specific concept won’t work or make sense at this moment, so staff knows where their contribution fits into the more comprehensive plan. This requires an open environment for discussion, as in the ideation step of design thinking where each idea is invited and appreciated. People feel comfortable providing fresh ideas since they know what is expected of them. You can then work with your team of design thinkers and pick the best solution. Ruling out the possibility of inviting ideas will only make it more difficult for your team to approach you in the future. 

Final thoughts – How to be an effective manager and improve business culture with design thinking values? 

#1 Concentrate on the  higher purpose and align the team towards it

Understanding and satisfying the requirements of your users, no matter what they are, is at the heart of design thinking ideals. 

#2 Concentrate on the problem and not the solution 

Problems are highlighted by design thinking ideals, which examine why they exist and how they may be improved.

#3 Concentrate on the solution by involving a diverse set of people

Rather than exploring issues in theory, design thinking beliefs focus on actual solutions that address problems for consumers.

#4 Keep your attention on the experience and don’t be scared to fail

The ideals of design thinking prioritize generating meaningful experiences for people, both internally (for example, team members) and outside (for example, customers) (e.g., customers).

#5 Build truly connected teams!

The emphasis on cooperation and self-improvement is one of the most significant features of design thinking. Understanding your limitations can allow you to collaborate with others in order to work around them better. Learning how to successfully lead a team and creating new skill sets in oneself, not only as a manager but also as an individual contributor or even someone who works far away from others on occasion.

About the author, Ajay Aggarwal

A Haryanvi by origin, an entrepreneur at heart and a consultant by choice, that’s how Ajay likes to introduce himself! Ajay is the Founding Partner at Humane Design and Innovation Consulting (HDI). Before starting HDI, Ajay founded the Design Thinking and Innovation practice at KPMG India. His 16+ years of professional career spans across various roles in product and service design, conducting strategy workshops, storytelling and enabling an innovation culture. He has coached 50+ organizations and 2000+ professionals in institutionalizing design and innovation practices. He loves to blog and speak on topics related to Design Thinking, Innovation, Creativity, Storytelling, Customer Experience and Entrepreneurship. Ajay is passionate about learning, writing poems and visualizing future trends!

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