Design Thinking and Agile For Innovation

Miriam Subiksha

20 Nov 2018

design thinking and agile methodology

Firms embark upon revolutionary conversion strategies to keep pace with accelerated software development. Leaders are experimenting with design thinking and agile methodology to stay ahead of the competition and implement continuous improvement.

Design thinking and agile methodology are two different concepts.  Yet they complement each other and work to amplify the innovation process. Agile methodology focusses on project execution. In agile, planning is usually done in nuggets. The time and quality are fixed while the scope of work changes. Design thinking focuses on creativity and innovation It is a people-centric approach that advocates understanding user needs and finding creative solutions to meet these needs.

What is Agile?

Agile is an iterative time boxed process where software is developed in small chunks. Development occurs in short cycles of about two weeks. In each cycle, a small portion(known as user stories)  of the entire project is prioritized and developed.

Agile finds application even outside software development. Businesses have realized that the only way to survive in the increasingly customer-driven marketplace is to become agile. It enables organizations to thrive in an unstable, competitive and ambiguous environment.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is not new. It’s a label for problem-solving through a creative approach. This is also a repetitive process. Alternative solutions are identified b3y challenging assumptions and redefining the problem.

Design Thinking and Agile Methodology

30-35% of IT projects fail according to research by IDC. Other research shows a higher figure of 50%. Most firms turn to agile methodologies such as Scrum to solve this issue. Agile improves success rates by almost double by promoting better collaboration and communication. However, agile only provides a way to solve problems. How does one decide which the right problem to solve? This is where design thinking plays a vital role.

Combining design thinking and agile methodology is no easy task. It requires a culture shift. You have to get accustomed to a new way of thinking and doing. Once accustomed, teams experience improved productivity.  Agile and Design thinking value people over processes. Organizations have to allocate the right people to projects. They must also ensure cultural compatibility between teams and the way design thinking and agile methodologies work.

Design thinking to zero in on the problem that needs to be solved.

Design thinking calls for empathy. Putting yourself in the end user’s shoe. Design thinking consists of five stages:

Empathize: This stage involves understanding why people behave in a certain way, what motivates them and what their needs are. It involves identifying behavioral patterns, asking questions and challenging assumptions.

Define: Create a problem statement that articulates the challenge. Understand needs that are to be met based on the organizational goals and the customer’s requirements.

Ideate: Use techniques like brainstorming mind mapping and paper prototyping to find alternative solutions to address the [problem statement.

Prototype: Create working prototypes. Users can then understand how the solution works and firms can gather insightful feedback.

Test: Learn from user’s feedback, repeat to create a Minimum Viable Product.

Agile to build solutions for the identified problems

Agile moves the product from MVP to pilot and then to production. It helps you create a product that is dynamic and evolves with user expectations. Regular user feedback makes the agile process effective. This involves the following steps:

  1. Define the project goals
  2. Create user stories
  3. Build backlogs

At the end of each sprint, demos are shown to the user to gather feedback and discover needs that may not have arisen before. Programmers often use low code platforms to collaborate on functionality, validate assumptions, make and preview changes instantly. Agile methodology is an iterative process where the product is continuously developed to align with business and user needs

Best Practices for combining Design Thinking and Agile Methodology

1. Invest in User Research

Involve the entire team in understanding the end user. If there is already some research data available, start by testing some ideas. Begin the design thinking process by creating a map of the user’s journey from initial research. This process helps team members empathize, discover new problems that need to be solved and develop out of the box solutions.

2. A Clearly Defined Problem Statement to Sprint Towards

Carry out design thinking in Sprint 0. This allows the entire team to understand the problem statement in its entirety and create a robust design framework. Even before the coding begins, design patterns for the most complex features can be tested. This allows some incubation time so that the project can scale effectively. A design vision is imperative for project success.

3. Build a productive team culture

Create a core team for design and development. This should include decision maker, UX researcher, and designer, visual designer, scrum master, developers and QA. Limit the core team to a maximum of 10 members and ensure everyone has an equal say. Create a culture that promotes collaboration across departments. Such a culture facilitates innovation, superior ideas and a successful design solution.

4. Optimal Use of Design Thinking

Use design thinking during the first stage of project development and then whenever an important feature has to be developed. This feature may require innovation, or it offers visibility or other cost benefits. You can also use Design thinking during the sprint when a particularly difficult problem arises.

5. Design Patterns

Design patterns enable delivery of a consistent user experience.  It also reduces design and development times. These patterns must be created keeping in mind that they should work for everyone and can be easily implemented. Design patterns work as building blocks allowing teams to eliminate lower level design decisions.

6. Periodic Testing

You can set up a testing schedule according to the characteristics of the project. It can be once a week or once during the sprint. Whatever the schedule, test before the design is mature and coding is finished. Test simple prototypes to understand the viability of ideas, during the early stages. Test the working software in order to improve the design in later stages. It is also important to plan ahead and recruit B2B and B2C users for testing.


design thinking and agile methodology foster Innovation, productivity and profits. Every type of business benefits from this power combo, not just software development. Each concept brings unique advantages and the benefits are amplified when combined. The end result is a process that flows effortlessly from idea to production.


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