Project management and design thinking have been evolving rapidly in the recent years. Being both a science and an art, design thinking is an important part of project management that cannot be ignored anymore. Design thinking first emerged as a methodology for driving innovation; it is now the go-to mindset for most managers, including progressive project managers ( Read: What does 2017 look like for Project Management).

Design thinking combines analytical thinking with creative thinking, methodology with philosophy, data and leadership, tools with people, and technology with culture. The combination of those pairs has moved the operational perspective towards a strategic one. In other words, strong hard skills combined with cognitive and creative skills would likely result in a higher level of success.

In general, there are at least five advantages to using design thinking in project management that I can think of.

Design thinking addresses complex problems in uncertainty.

Combining both analytical and creative thinking, instinctive and organic thoughts have plenty of room to grow in project management. Thus, it should be able to address complex problems in uncertainty with a starting point that can be developed further. In practicality, it may mean that project changes would occur more frequently, which can be managed with flexible change control.

Design thinking focuses on data collection and idea generation.

With strong data collection and idea generation activities, the managers and team members have multiple options to work with. They can perform A/B tests as many times as necessary, which is crucial in finding the most suitable path for the project. Moreover, they also serve as a valuable learning experience.

With its user-centered focus, design thinking approach can help address stakeholder management.

Design thinking focuses on empathy. In other words, the thoughts and considerations of the stakeholders play an important role in the execution of the project, because the more varied the inputs and the more options can be considered. It is, thus, recommended to include team members with varied backgrounds and experiences.

Design thinking contributes effectively to the project strategy.

Project strategy and its execution require leadership, creative solutions, and innovative ideation. With the help of technologies and tools, managers and team members can materialize them within the scope of the project. Design thinking allows the marriage of analytics with creative solutions to occur harmoniously and to appear in a strong deliverable.

Design thinking enables reusing of knowledge from projects to projects.

Recorded knowledge based on previous design thinking approaches can be reused for future projects. This being said, carefully taking notes of the processes is crucial in knowledge retention. With this note-taking activity, the quicker a team fails, the sooner it can learn what works and what does not. Remember that even a failure has a learning value.

Last but not least, as a progressive project manager who adopts design thinking in projects, it is your responsibility to encourage and communicate a “safe environment” for varied organic ideas and viewpoints to emerge. Socialize how powerful design thinking is and its learning value. When analytics and creativity have an equal stance, projects are likely to achieve a higher standard.


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