5 – Solving wicked problems

Session 5 was the culmination of the first week of the course and the finalisation of a full circle of design thinking to come up with some interesting solutions to create more space, and transformational space in a home office. But more on that later.

The idea of a Designer attitude as coined by Michlewski (2008) really resonated with me, in that it is “considered important for managers in creating products, services and processes that are not only profitable but humanly satisfying”.  This helped with think on how creating satisfying experiences is becoming more and more important as so many things are commodified, put online and available from multiple places, competing on price is no longer as feasible as it once was where you could enjoy a monopoly in a town, or even country. I reflected in class that I used to like to buy my suits from John Hanna, even though this was not the cheapest place to get them, and in Canberra there are so many places to buy suits. But the experience at John Hanna was excellent. John and his team were good for a chat, could size you up by looking at you and usually grab something off the rack that would fit perfectly. While the price was higher, the experience was infinitely more “Humanly satisfying” then other options. Some scholars in the field have actually suggested that customer experience is the next competitive battleground. (Shaw & Ivens, 2005, per Spiller & Noci, 2007)

The other thing that was a stand out for me from this sessions was the idea of ‘service design’ as it turns out I have been doing this for most of my professional career without knowing it. Effectively you are looking at the life cycle of a service from pre-service, to during the service and post-service. The example from Stickdorn (2013) below really resonated with me as it reminded me of the stakeholder journey’s I had done about 10 years ago to highlight the various touch points available to Border Protection for identifying and intervening with risks to the Australian Border. 

The final thing that I took away from this session was “Engaging polysensorial aesthetics​”

That is the “skills to visualise and ‘think through drawing’ “(Schön 1983; Cross  1999) and that this has the “the potential to break the  creative deadlock and stimulate dialogue”

Once again it is something I never really actively considered, years as working as a business analyst developing and demonstrating Business Process maps and eliciting stakeholder feedback to optimise and automate these processes. Scrum boards covered in user stories, clearly visually the work that needs to be done, the visual focus of our daily stand-ups, which almost certainly “stimulated dialogue” and the countless wireframes, posted to walls where our clients and engineers could easily, painlessly and cheaply tweak ideas before they were committed to code.

The final assignment for this week was to come up with a prototype for a home office space, now while the process itself was the learning outcome, which our lecturer can see here, my final thoughts on the prototype were sketched out by a simple lo-fi sketch for a piece of office furniture that could double as a whiteboard, partition, set of drawers and extra desk space, all with the added benefit of being able to be rolled away under an existing desk. 

Not the most beautiful picture in the world but was sketched up in minutes, and the result of team discussion and a great design effort, and what’s more was able to form a visual cue to engage in further discussion and integration without the expense or time of a more detailed drawing or working model (which could come later).

I’ll remember this session well and take its lessons with me to my next professional engagements. 

4 – Ethnographic research, stakeholder personas and journey mapping

Today we looked a little more closely at the idea of ethnographic research, I don’t mind admitting that this is the first time I have heard this term, despite probably having had been doing it for many years now. It’s a term often associated with anthropology to look at cultural phenomenon.

Some tips and techniques for conducting this research were outlined and resonated with me including to go in with a beginner’s mind / child’s mind (something that I also learned while taking an 8-week course in meditation) as well as to go in without judgement, find patterns, really listen, and to be genuinely curios and always ask ‘Why?’. This reminded me of a time I won an Australian Institute of Management (AIM) competition by answering in 25 words the most important feature of a good manager with words to the effect of: “Constantly strive for continuous improvement by always asking ‘Why?’.

Looking at things with curiosity has always been one of my strengths and passions, I think not only is it one of the things that truly makes life worth living as well as an important skill to apply when attempting to make meaningful change in the workplace.

The exercise we did in class was to come up with some user personas and create a journey map, focussing on the users experience, their pain points and high points. The work we did is available here.

3 – Problem finding

The third session of the course mostly looked to the idea of problem finding, with a suggested that design thinking was best applied to ‘wicked’ as opposed to ‘tame’ problems. (Rittel & Webber, 1973) COVID-19 was acknowledged as a good example of a wicked problem and I reflected on my own studies this year in a course called ‘The world in crisis’ where as an exercise I sent a letter to the UN SECGEN outing climate change and its contribution to global human, health, national security and migration challenges as a very good example of a wicked problem.

The idea of ‘Problem Finding’, which is often one of the more complex and oft ignored parts of the the problem solving process (Fontenot, 1993) an example was given where some designers were asked to design a new doorknob for an office, but was that the real problem? The designers applied design thinking and asked wether a doorknob was the best way to open a door, what about say a foot pedal, does the door even need to be closed, or maybe the office doesn’t even need four walls? (Lawson, 2006)

These ideas got me reflecting on some of my experiences at AusAID. I was brought in as a business analyst to work on a new system. My predecessor would as far as I could tell simply work with a select few from the agency and simply write down their requested system changes and liaise with the software engineers to get them developed and tested.

My approach was a little different. I sought to engage widely across the agency and to observe their actual work and business processes. I was met by many who would say “Oh we don’t know IT, I don’t know why you are meeting with us?” and I would say “good, I don’t want you to, just tell me what you do?”. By working in this way I was able to identify issues in business processes that could never have been met by system changes, as well unmet needs that would’ve never had come to light without and open approach to problem finding.

We did a neat little exercise in class, we had to look at these photos, and frame the problems using this template.

2 – Innovation & design thinking processes

The second session saw us looking to ultimately define a ‘problem statement’ and to begin to consider some solutions to the problem. Ultimately this seemed to me to be like a different and more collaborative way of coming up with a ‘user story’ or ‘business requirement’. We started by looking at the concept of gift giving. We were divided into groups and then initially into yet smaller groups and asked to take take notes on what we felt was the gift givers motivation, we were encouraged to ask yet more probing questions and then to come up with a ‘problem statement’ my problem statement ended up being “As a gift giver I want to be able to provide an experience to my close friends that will help us to bond more closely over an activity that we all / both enjoy” later we all spent 5 minutes sketching 5 possible solutions to our problem, and then as a group review the sketches and problem statements to determine which of the the statement offered the best definition of the problem that applied as universally as possible. (The group did settle on mine) and then as a group we were asked to come up with a prototype that would solve this problem, and to choose one of the sketched solutions, wee settled on the gift of a ‘weekend away with friends’ Effectively we came up with an app, that you could enter details about your friends and it would also ‘scrape’ their social media accounts for things they had liked, read, or watched, places they had been and things like that. This app would then recommend tailored trips away and connect you to service providers who could offer the perfect solution. I suspect we will be iterating this over the coming days. For me this was a quick and easy process to generate a sense of what kinds of things applied universally and tor rapidly generate ideas from a larger group, then just say and individual BA might consider.

A link to the Miro board we created is here.

1 – Design thinking

I have started an intensive elective in design thinking at Deakin University as elective for my law degree. Having had a number of years experience as a business analyst and a management consultant, I do have some background in a number of the processes that we will be covering, however as much of what I have learned was done so on the job it is nice to see how certain things I have been doing well for years came about, how they are named and what has gone into them. Conversely it is interesting to look at a number of the things that I may need to improve on. As well as covering quite a bit of design thinking theory the first exercise we did In class was “the wallet exercise” the purpose of this exercise was to listen and watch someone going through the content of their wallet and attempt to draw some conclusions about what kind of lifestyle they had. This was an introduction to ethnographic research and one of the first steps in some design thinking paradigms which is to “empathise” with your customers and clients. I found that this was an excellent exercise and it was clear that you could discover a lot about someone and how they lived their life by observing the contents of their wallet. I believe I will apply this technique more readily when speaking with clients and stakeholders to real try to understand their individual needs, goals and motivations before attempting to prescribe a solution.

A link to the Miro board we created is here