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How to build a problem solving machine.

In our last post, we wrote about the importance for organisations to learn to Fall in love with problems and how we think a few mindset changes in the way people within a business think about problems can drive innovation and transformational change.

In this post, we’re going to talk about how we, at Qrious, help organisations to solve complex business problems quickly and cost-effectively using design thinking.

Before we do so, let us first give credit to Innovate UK for many of the ideas we’re sharing here. Much of the learning and indeed the design thinking culture and process we now use in our Q. Lab stems from their work in this field.

The economic potential of design thinking.

It’s worth taking a minute to consider the potential economic impact of a design led approach to problem solving. Today, the UK competes in a globalised economy in which it’s close to impossible to compete solely on cost. We think this means that technological innovation, in and of itself, is not necessarily a guarantee of success.

Design, on the other hand, is now widely recognised as a critical differentiator that has the potential to impact the desirability, usability and feasibility of systems, services and products, regardless of sector. Think Uber, Facebook, Amazon, Apple – in fact, any tech giant you care to name – and you’ll recognise a global business that has disrupted its sector through design and technology.

The business case for design thinking in innovation.

According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, every £1 invested in design provides an average ROI of £25. That’s massive! And it presents an exciting opportunity for businesses of any size to embrace design in innovation to deliver products and services with increased ‘market pull’ and improved social, economic and environmental impact.

Using design to build a problem solving machine.

So how does Qrious use design to create a problem solving machine? And how do we apply our UX design toolset to the process of defining problems and designing better services and digital products? What’s our process? What skills do we use? How long does it take, and how much does it cost?

Let’s start with a few key principles:

Principle #1 It’s essential to embrace design as a ‘whole-life’ project activity.

There’s a common misconception that design is a single stage in the innovation process i.e. that it’s something that happens after the scope is determined, the brief written and a proof of concept created. Used this way, design will not solve business problems and it certainly won’t produce any innovative and transformative outcomes.

Instead, design needs to become the bedrock of the problem solving process and, from scoping to launch, design thinking should be applied throughout the life of your project. Design should be the oil that lubricates your problem solving machine.

In particular, using design thinking to scope a brief – a process which is fundamentally about understanding and defining the problem to be solved - is incredibly powerful and can lead to time and cost savings and substantially better project outcomes that address genuine market opportunities.

Design Cycle

Principle #2 The environment and the process are equally important.

The right environment.

In the right environment, design can help to steer the innovation journey and will, ultimately, lead to a substantially better outcome when compared with an approach that treats design as a stage in a process.

The ‘environment’ though, is much more than just the physical space we work in.

The environment is both:

  • the cultural attributes evident in virtually every truly innovative enterprise i.e. the mutual trust, respect, openness and sharing of experience and knowledge that stimulates people to want to contribute with no fear of failure and;
  • the mix of “hard skills” that are central to the successful use of design in problem-solving and innovation.

For the record: Our experience is that a physical workspace is much better than virtual space when it comes to problem solving workshops – you just can’t beat big white walls and post-it's when it comes to this stuff!

At Qrious, we practice what we preach: our UX, UI, service designers and our developers work hand-in-hand with our customers as we week to understand the problem we’re trying to solve, converge around an idea and, finally, focus in on the solution.

The right process.

Embracing design thinking to solve problems requires a well-structured process that can be replicated consistently and scaled, regardless of the size of an organisation.

Problem Solving Journey

At Qrious, we view our problem solving process as a journey with three stages:

  1. The Uncertainty stage is when the team is focused on understanding the problem it’s trying to solve, from inside and outside the organisation. They will talk to internal stakeholders and users of a service or product to understand their needs. They’ll create personas, customer journey maps and system architecture maps that build empathy and shared understanding.
  2. During the Convergence stage, the problem will become more tightly defined and understood. The team will learn how to explain it consistently to people across the organisation, and they will begin to converge around potential solutions.
  3. At the Focus stage, the team will begin to lay the foundations for the implementation of the solution. This will include the creation of a strategy framework to describe how the service or product will meet user needs (and in doing so, support the objectives of the organisation) and also a product roadmap and/or service blueprints.

When they work with us at our Q. Lab (our innovation hub) our customers pregress through each of these stages with a multi-disciplinary team who support them with a series of associated design processes and activities that foster successful problem solving. We’ll talk more about the detail of what we do in these stages in our next post.

Principle #3

It shouldn’t cost a fortune.

In his post, Three Ways Organisations Can Kill Ideas, Paul Bromford of Bromford Labs writes brilliantly about how old-fashioned corporate hierarchies and processes often get in the way of ideas, problem solving and innovation.

What we think isn’t explicit within his post (although it’s certainly implied!) is how the kind of siloed thinking, excess meetings and rigid hierarchy he talks about can quickly ramp up the cost of understanding and solving problems.

When the approach also entails running time consuming and energy sapping ‘pilots’ rather than testing new ideas through rapid prototyping, the costs can quickly escalate, often resulting in project failure.

Protoype and Tests

Adapted from: Prototypes & Test -v- Pilots, Paul Bromford, Bromford Lab

The impact of such failures on the people involved, and indeed on the business more widely, gradually becomes ever more significant as people become ever more frustrated, and even unwilling participants in future initiatives.

Instead, organisations need to discover a more rapid and efficient way of solving problems that is super engaging for participants, and which delivers substantially better outcomes, in a relatively short space of time, and at a much lower cost when compared with ‘traditional’ approaches.

Q. Lab is the innovation service that Qrious provides to deliver this concept. Our customers can engage us to work with them in a structured process, usually in a one, two or three week block of time, depending on how complex their problem is. Q. Lab is fast paced, exciting and results focused.

Feel free to give us a call if you’d like to learn more about it.