I have been giving this classic quote attributed to Charles Darwin quite a bit of thought lately, as in our modern world it has rang true for quite some time, and now that bell is almost deafening.
Having a successful career (or business) now appears to require you to be able to reinvent yourself, your goals, your needs and the skills you bring to the game at a moments notice.
It’s interesting Darwin’s quote talks about it not being the “strongest” that survives, but that most “responsive to change” I would suggest that responsiveness to change takes a certain level of strength. A kind of resilience. The world at the moment seems to be changing as readily as a heart beats, those that are crippled by this change, and despairingly backward looking a left in the treacle and those who accept their new reality and move with it, and even embrace it, thrive.
The 10th session was the culmination of two weeks of learning about design thinking and applying the lessons to the wicked problem of increasing the number of refugees who access higher education. We presented our ideas to the rest of the class as well as the academic staff. But first there was a quick recap of the unit which I’ll reflect on first.
One of the first things that struck me, was the idea that design was a process. Yes we certainly followed an iterative process from empathising with our stakeholders through to testing our proto-types. I believe that the quicker and more often you can move through that process the more chance you have to come up with viable protypes and a chance to “fail fast” and dump less viable ideas while in prototype before investing in bringing a “bad idea” to fruition. This image also resonated with me. If you have been following this blog up to this point you will have noticed that in the early days of our group’s design process it really did look like the left. In fact if you have access to our Miroboard you can see that our early research was ideas slapped down on post it notes, quick thoughts crude sketches, we started with a wide and often zany net. Why not invade “Bad” countries, how about a one world government that’ll fix it. And then our early service model prototype, that while still chaotic began to see the roles, and components we would need to make our idea come into reality. Slowly we refined, clarified and focussed to get to our final service design, but importantly we did not jump straight to it, as this would have constrained our thinking and its likely if we had rushed to a solution we would have missed a lot of “good oil”
The next thing that really struck me, and I must say that I have to disagree with was the table below trying show some kind of hard dichotomous relationship between business and design. I found this slide sourced from Liedtka & Ogilvie (2011) even more jarring as a few slides down there was another slide headed “Everything in business is designed”
I think to be fair 2011 was a long time ago and business may have changed greatly since that time. I want to take some time to challenge the Liedtka & Ogilvie model here.
Let’s start with the underlaying assumptions we’ve got here…. “Reality of business is fixed and quantifiable” (???) Reality is constantly changing, businesses that fail to adapt will fall and falter. We saw this in 2020 in stark focus. Businesses that were able to pivot to continue to operate during pandemic lockdowns thrived, while others closed down or merely treaded water. Further the uncertainty of reality is widely acknowledged in business the A/NZ risk management standard is pretty clear about it when it talks about risk as “The effect of uncertainty on objectives”
Method…. Businesses use “Analysis aimed at providing one “best” answer, while design is “experimentation aimed at iterating toward a “better” answer. I think someone better tell Liedtka and Ogilvie that the 5 most valuable companies in the USA are highly experimental https://www.fxcm.com/markets/insights/10-largest-companies-in-the-us-by-market-capitalisation/ often release product before its perfect and iterate towards a better anwer as their customers use it, and actively improve it and tweak it based on customer feedback and analytics.
The next one really made me laugh. Business is about planning but design is about doing. Busineses go broke if they don’t “DO” they use things developed in the design or planning phase and use them to generate value for their stakeholders. I’ll mention tangentially though one of my mentors who died to young for this world vale Chris, when he managed software design projects I was on he would say almost ad nauseum “In the doing comes the knowing” this was to highlight that we get software out good enough to be used, get the users using it and iterate from there.
The decision drivers… nope not black and white either bother sides are needed in business and design, and as for values…… what the ? A business that does not innovate, and disrupt in today’s world will quickly shrink and die.
And here is the other slide I mentioned.
So like I said in one of my earlier blog entries on this unit design is in, and is everything. If it’s not you will fail. Link
Enough on that. The final presentation.
As I alluded to in a previous blog entry we presented our final service design using a story board / process model and some mocked up screen shots, and the main thing our unit chair Alex seemed to be interested in was economic viability and sustainability. I suppose after all is said and done, sometimes the old saying, “money talks and BS walks” holds true.
I thotoughly enjoyed this course and would recommend iit to anyone. Go in with an open mind and trust the process and you’ll be amazed by the results and the genuinely really cool ideas you’ll come up with. I’ll certainly have opportunities to apply design thinking in the workplace, though, much like in the group work itself it can be tough to get other people onboard and sometimes you are met with blank expressions of something far shy of enthusiasm, but take heart, keep up the energy and keep dreaming big.
The introductory slide for this sessions talked about refining our business models and testing some of the assumptions we had made.
Again iterative testing a prototyping really struck a chord with me in Agile software delivery we move from sketches to working beta versions of software (a minimum viable product) that our customers could start using straight away and then refine it based on the feedback, so when one of the slides Adapted from: An Introduction to Design Thinking Process Guide Institute of Design at Stanford (2010) said “Ideally test within a real context of the user’s life.” I was like “yesss!” realising that we really couldn’t do that because well we didn’t have the time, or access to our stakeholders (refugees) I was like “nooo 🙁 ”
However luckily Emma has some great suggestions for how to conduct some ‘desktop tests’ of our ideas. One that I had used previously in establishing both tie InterAct and Fidens Arbor was the business model canvas. If you are unfamiliar with it check out this two minute video.
Apply the business model canvass to our idea whereby we would seek to have refugees gain recognition for prior learning (RPL) through paid industry-based placement helped us do two things. The first was to consider all the bits and bobs, nuts and bolts we would need to create to make this service really work for our stakeholders as well as to make it a pleasure to use. Through this we identified that a service to match employers with refugee students was going to be crucial so that each could get the most benefit from the placement, and our minds went to a really fun and easy to use mobile phone (or computer browser based) application with some really cool data capture features, LinkedIn integration and smart backend algorithms to ensure that the right students found the right company to intern with, and vice-versa. The second thing it allowed us to do was to explore how we could make this service financially sustainable, and we looked at (based on an assumption that there was a skills shortage and that employers genuinely needed the skills the refugees had) the idea of companies paying a subscription to use the service, or paying the ‘service’ a percentage of their wages, we also considered revenue from advertising. This part of the model became crucial and when our unit chair Prof Alex Newman who has been looking at this wicked problem of getting more refugees into higher education for sometime now gave us (and all the other groups feedback) he really wanted people to consider the financial feasibility and sustainability of our solutions even more than we had, time permitting I am sure our initial thoughts could have been tested and our model further refined to find a winning combination.
Based on the identification of the matching service as possibly the most lucrative and humanly pleasing to use in the form of an app we refined our prototype even further. We refined our storyboard to focus on just the matching service
And mocked up some screens for the app supporting the matching service. You can see some other cool features here including links to aptitude tests which make matching the right student with the right employer even easier.
At this point we just had to get it all together into some kind of final presentation to present to the whole class and the academic staff tomorrow …… we were all a little nervous. To be continued for the gripping conclusion.
Session 8 was where the rubber hit the road for our refugee access to higher education major project. I am not going to lie, I struggled a little with the inclusion of socio-cultural perspectives in this part of the design process and I felt like fit much more nicely back in the empathise phase of the design process. However with the design journey being iterative I can see how you have to keep coming back to it and I’ll reflect a little more on these elements now.
Some of the linkages between design and societal values we looked at in this session included, design and:
There was a quote on one of the slides in this session from Ralph Caplan, who said “Design is not everything, but it somehow get into most everything”
Depending on where you sit in the theory of evolution you may take some umbrage at this statement. There are those who of course believe in a divine design by the hand of God responsible for the careful creation of all things under and beyond the sun. The was of course famously challenged by Richard Dawkins in his work “The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design” (1986). Religious arguments aside I would posit that in terms of humanmade endeavour design IS everything. From early humans designing their teams to best hunt and gather, to modern corporations launching rockets into space, as well as everything in between, without the ability to imagine and create a better world we humans would not have come very far, and indeed because the natural tendency to shape and design the world around us is such a strong trait in humans, without the ability to do it many would be lost, listless and depressed. So I say again design IS everything. I’ll go further, Roseman & Gero (1998) said that human exist in a natural and socio-cultural environment which manifest requirements that are met through manipulation of the techno-physical world. They also state that all these worlds influence each other.
As I said I’ll go further. Yes while, the need for a water supply may necessitate damming a river an obvious addition to the techno-physical, which has a an effect on nature, and will cause socio-cultural changes, such that people will live near this damn to obtain water, it ignores that we humans also manipulate our socio-cultural environment through things like religion, ceremony, spirituality, laws and cultural mores without having to crate any ‘physical artefacts’ while these things are assisted by physical artefacts such as, a church, a statue a court house, or a finishing school they are not essential, but these socio-cultural changes are often the result of very careful and considered design. So once again I say design IS everything. This theory is backed up by Chick & Micklethwaite (2011) when discussing the “design attitude” they say that “an attitude is a collection of values and beliefs that makes an individual act/react in certain ways” I’d ask then, can’t we design and cultivate an attitude ? a Culture ? I believe we can. But I digress and have gotten rather philosophical this afternoon. As I mentioned the bulk of the session and subsequent groupwork was about prototyping and testing.
After moving through the Sandford design school phases of design thinking (keeping in mind that this is an iterative and not linear process) from empathise, to define, and onto ideate it was now time to flesh out two of our big ideas into a prototype. We split our group into two for this and our two big ideas were 1. Integrated paid internships that simultaneously provide employment, education and RPL demonstration opportunities while providing valuable employees for host nation businesses. 2. A global database where students could access all of their qualifications so that documentation required for RPL could be easily accessed when refugees moved to host countries and accessed higher education. Similar to the USI database that the Australian Government is slowly expanding from vocational Education, to tertiary and perhaps onto primary and secondary education as well. (Our group didn’t know this was a thing at the time, and is actually the next consulting project I am working on at time of writing.
I’ll focus on idea 1 here as that is the part of the group I ended up working with for this part of the session. Houde & Hill (1997) define a prototype as “prototype is any representation of a design idea, regardless of medium”
Our prototypes were to answer critical questions about the prototype. For us we wanted to explore the various roles that would be required in our internship service, I mean you’ve got refugee students, businesses and universities for starters and to also explore implementation and integration. What bits and pieces would we need to deliver this complex integrated service. These are two elements that Houde & Hill (1997) suggested these were three such elements that could be tested with a prototype We knew that this would be complex to prototype, more so than say an app, but we were buoyed by Emma’s encouragement to not choose something just because it would be easy to prototype. We also weren’t sure how to prototype a service, and asked Emma who suggested that using role-playing or storyboarding would be a good way to do it! So back to our groups, we scratched our heads, rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
How would we prototype this? one of the slides for session out had adapted some thoughts from the work “An Introduction to Design Thinking Process Guide Institute of Design at Stanford” (2010)
“Ideally you bias toward something a user can experience. Walking someone through a scenario with a storyboard is good, but having them role-play through a physical environment that you have created will likely bring out more emotions and responses from that person.”
Role-playing is an excellent thing to do it allows people to experience things in a low risk way and make suggested improvements that can be made before the stakes get to high. I know this from experience having founded tie InterAct 15 years ago which provided role-playing training for the Australian Federal Police’s International Deployment Group (AFP IDG) as well as UN Police and peacekeeping forces. (UNPOL) However like many things COVID-19 put a stop to this, and indeed roleplaying was not going to be easily achievable via an online class with limited time. Staring down the abyss of silence coming from my group I turned to the form of ‘storyboarding’ I knew best and we came up with a crude and very ugly business process map that allowed us to explore each of the user roles who would be involved in our service, start to consider the components we would need to implement the service (Like some kind of method to match students with employers) as well as how these various roles and components would integrate. We used post it notes to mark our thoughts about what would be needed to support each part of the “story” or “journey” or yes if you went to business school over a decade again when this kind of language wasn’t in vogue “process”. Our first process map was very ‘lo-fi’ and quite ugly but it did help us answer a number of questions and narrow our problem during the ‘testing’ phase, but more on that soon.
Our first prototype was ugly ( I think we didn’t even have the little icons just the post it notes ) but it was enough for us to starting thinking about how we would bring this service to life, and during the testing phase we were asked a lot of questions, which Schrage (2000) probably would have thought was a good sign for a prototype as they said: “You know you have a successful prototype when people who see it make useful suggestions about how it can be improved”
The testing phase itself was not knew to me, and it resonated deeply. One of the main forms in which I had experienced it was in the concept of “wargaming” having had worked for every branch of the Australian Military including the Navy, Army and Airforce as well of many of the civilian groups which support these three I had participated in many a wargaming session. Most people are familiar with “big wargaming” when actual ships, soldiers and aircraft attempt to out maneuver each other in a mock military conflict in order to identify and improve of strengths and weaknesses in their military capability however some may be unfamiliar with what some have coined professional wargaming Curry, J. (2020) essentially it is used (including in the office in the military) to present ideas to a group, where members will identify the weaknesses and you must defend your idea through emphasis of its strengths or adjustments of it weaknesses until the most appropriate and robust idea is formed. The testing phase in session 8 certainly gave us a lot to think about and we went back to the drawing board.
Know working in an Agile software development environment I am sure I will continue prototyping with our clients and stakeholders before committing to final features because as Schrage said “If you don’t waste simulations and prototypes, your cost structure will kill you…Ingeniously ‘wasting’ prototypes is therefore essential to risk management. Throwing simulations at design problems becomes vital both to detecting errors and discovering opportunities.” (2000) software development costs a bomb and throwing out cut code is a lot more expensive than throwing a sketch or process map.
The 7th session was focused on the 3rd phase of the Stanford design school design thinking process, which was the ideation phase. This is where we come up with creative solutions to solve the problems that we looked at in the emapthise and define phases. Brown (2009) postulated that design thinking involves moving between four mental state, including convergent and divergent thinking and analysis and synthesis.
In the early parts of our ideation, we a had a pretty wild and free brainstorming session, keeping it in my mind in the realms of divergent thinking. This is basically when you are brainstorming, and you write down any idea no matter how crazy. Brown in fact suggests that brainstorming is one of the key ingredients for brainstorming along with optimistic and experimental attitudes, some tolerance of risk and a flair for visual thinking.
We had a little practice in class, you might like to do this too. Basically, grab some paper, draw a bunch of circles on it and spend a couple of minutes transforming as many as you can into something recognisable. See you can draw. Here some of mind below. This little exercise was adapted by Gayle Curtis (2009). This exercise also allows us to throw away the notion that things need to be perfect in order to be functional for ideation purposes. They do not.
To remind you briefly of our problem it was to get more refugees into higher education, and we concluded from some of our earlier research that some of what was holding refugees back was the lack of recognition for prior learning (RPL). One of the reasons for this was that the refugees home governments couldn’t or wouldn’t share the information with foreign universities, or the students, fearing for their safety were reluctant to reach back to their home country.
So one of the wildest ideas from yours truly was that we should invade all of those nasty country and occupy them and make them do the right thing. You are probably not surprised to hear that when we moved into the convergent phase of our ideation (Which is an excellent method for deciding between alternative solutions) the invasion idea was quickly discounted.
Something else that was interesting in session 7 the idea of creating “How might we?….” statements. For example: “How might we help refugees access documentation from their home university to allow them to access RPL.” This immediately resonated with me as a Business Analyst. In Scrum (Schwaber & Beedle 2001) we have user stories, that are effectively broken-down bits of a larger problem and to riff of the previous example sound a bit like this “As a refugee I want to be able to access the documentation from my home university so that I can apply for RPL in my host country” Sometimes hundreds of these stories will go into making a functional piece of software. We developed 10 of these individually which is what led to the invasion idea mentioned above. Here an excerpt of all this ideation below, as you can see, we worked together to theme and group them, the other interesting technique in this session was the napkin pitch from Liedtke & Ogilvie (2014).
This was a great session and as I am now working back in the software development industry, I will certainly use a number of these ideation techniques to work with my team to come up with creative, unexpected and hopefully delightful solutions to solve the needs of our customers.
Session 6 saw a shift of focus and brought us to week two, of this two week intensive course. It also saw a shuffling of groups and a new assignment topic, which was to solve the wicked problem of refugees lagging behind in terms of representation in higher education. We return to look in more detail at the Stanford design school model and our first lesson was to attempt to identify and empathise with our stakeholders. We were introduced to a few different tools to assist with this part of the design process which included tools aimed at understanding the wider context of the problem, including stakeholder maps and value chain analysis, as well as tools for really getting at the heart of the matter including empathy mapping.
Our team starting by doing some reading about the plight of refugees in accessing education which you can read more about here. And after tabulating our own notes from the reading and some broader research we produced some notes mine below include a link to this video.
You can see from the post-it notes some of the key-problems which began to emerge from the research. For me a couple of things really stood out, that it refugees living in camps between resettlement are often living in highly disrupted, and often dangerous and unhygienic conditions that are not conducive to engaging meaningfully in higher education.
The other large theme that emerged was that as refugees transition to for example Australia, Germany, the USA or other final host countries was that while refugees may have a partially completed qualification it might not be recognised in that final host country. Our team began to look closely at, and to empathise with our stakeholder group using some of the tools I have already mentioned which you can see below:
Here you can see our stakeholder map up top where we identify the various stakeholders involved as well as an empathy map that we used to look at what one of our stakeholders, that we personalised as a young refugee woman says, does, thinks and feels.
I recently stated a new engagement with the newly formed Department of Education Skills and Employment and many of our stakeholders on the Unique Student Identifier project, which was recently expanded to include Higher Education students, and plans to include primary school aged children will be students and parents of students looking for ways to ensure a seamless and unbroken path toward achieving their educational goals. As I begin to work with schools, teachers, students and parents this year I will remember these lessons from this session and really attempt to empathise with my clients in order to develop solutions that truly meet their needs.
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). A link to our team’s Miroboard which captured the entire process for this assignment can be found here.
I’ll remember this session well and take its lessons with me to my next professional engagements.
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.
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.
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.