Why Design Thinking helps Operating Model work

I have been reading Jeane Lidtka’s book “Designing for Growth” and wanted to share some of her insights.   I also did Jeane’s on-line course – a Darden course with Coursera – which I highly recommend (well, I did not complete it .. but got a lot of value from it).

The trigger for work on operating models often comes from finance … the numbers are not good enough … or from lean analysis … there is waste in the processes … or from customers … they are complaining.   The mind set that these starting points create is a “fix it” mind set rather than a possibilities mind set.   The work starts out as a problem solving project rather than a opportunity exploration project.

This framing of operating model work is often reinforced by the tools that are used: value chain mapping, capability maps, process maps, organisation charts, etc.   These encourage an analytical orientation rather than a creative orientation.

Design thinking helps add an opportunity and creative orientation.   Here is how I think it does this.

  1. Design thinking starts with a search for deep understanding and inspiration. Instead of a value chain analysis, a designer would talk to customers and talk to employees and try to understand both the challenge and the opportunity at an emotional level as well as a financial or performance level.   Of course value chain mapping is useful, but it is more useful if accompanied by deep understanding.
  2. Designers collect anecdotes and stories and construct profiles of individuals more than they collect averages and aggregates or fill out spread sheets. They like to meet people, touch things, visit places rather than read reports.   Averages have their place but so do anecdotes.
  3. Designers are comfortable with prototypes and experiments.   They don’t need a business case to try something. They expect failure, knowing they will learn something that will help them later on.
  4. Designers are reaching for beauty as well as efficiency and effectiveness. They want to create something that touches the people who are part of it.  As Jeane’s design process points out, solutions should “wow” as well as “work”.
  5. Designers embrace uncertainty and insufficient information.   They look within themselves to fill the gaps in their knowledge: the unknown, unknowns.
  6. Designers do stuff more than they talk about stuff: they like to start on solutions early in the process.  They prefer prototypes to meetings.
  7. Designers like to visualize and to use visualisation as an aid to their thinking. This is not spread sheet visualisation. It is about “thinking with the hand as much as the mind”. It is about drawing something and sticking it on the wall.

My daughter is studying photography. I noted that her work book is as full of projects that did not work out as it is full of successful shoots.   The lessons she is learning from the failed projects are just as useful as those from the successful ones.   The mind set of ‘analyse the situation until you know what the right answer is’ is absent. She is encouraged to be inspired, to try things and to learn.

Of course, when we are doing operating model design work, we can’t experiment without concern about the cost, and we do have to come up with a solution that works.   But we are more likely to do this, if we approach the work as a design challenge as well as an engineering one.


About andrew campbell

Ashridge Strategic Management Centre Focus on strategy and organisation Currently working on group-level functions and group-level strategy
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