Apply Design Thinking to your Quality Process and Take Your Product to the Next Level

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design thinking- quality processInnovative startups reach a point in their growth where they must incorporate formal quality processes into development.  The trick is to do so in a way that feels like it adds value to the product, not unnecessary friction to the development process.  By utilizing Design Thinking as a basis for setting the Quality culture, companies have an opportunity to transform their development process while creating a culture of true continuous improvement.

You've probably heard of Design Thinking if you read Fast Company, Wired or any of a dozen industry magazines that talk up hot business trends – and if not, check out this article from Wired – Why You Are Design Thinking’s Holy Grail. Design Thinking is a problem solving methodology made famous by Stanford University’s Design School.  It breaks problem solving down into the following steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test…. and then repeat as necessary. Design Thinking has been shown to yield innovative and successful products that have elevated some very well-known companies to iconic success.  As author Andrew Reid mentions in his above referenced Wired article, “[Design Thinking] sits right up there with agile software development, business process management, customer relationship management and so on. It’s a real business term and a practice that supports successful product development.”

So what does Design Thinking have to do with Quality? Quality processes typically involve identification of a problem, root cause analysis, immediate containment, and corrective and preventive actions.  Picture Empathizing and Defining as key tools in defining and investigating your quality issue. While Ideation, Prototyping and Testing are critical components in development of corrective and preventive actions and you will see immediate parallels.  Design Thinking is all about “Failing Forward” – which is really just shorthand for always learning from user feedback and mistakes to iterate and build again, but better.  And this is exactly what you want in a healthy Quality organization.

Design Thinking can set the tone for both Development and Quality, as your team empathizes with users through observation and feedback early in the design cycle to build the best possible first prototype, and then expects to learn and iterate through testing.  Quality also uncovers issues and feeds more data into the development loop as a valuable part of the process, not as useless overhead.  The Design Thinking approach makes the discovery of failures part of a larger creative effort, and reduces defensive mental blocks. Broad ideation and creative investigation of this feedback then leads to innovative solutions. Think about companies like Apple, Square, Airbnb, Nest, and Tesla – these companies connect with customer needs and factor in feedback throughout the development process to disrupt and dominate in their chosen markets.

As the team adopts Design Thinking into processes over time, they are able to refer to past lessons learned to inform new successful products that meets user needs.  And this is where the documentation of feedback, collaboration and ideation in a Quality system can be extremely helpful.  By producing Quality documentation in a culture of Design Thinking, and storing it in a way that engineers, operations, manufacturing and quality can all access and contribute, it is useful over the long term.  All the great empathy, observation, innovation and testing can be used to drive process improvements and product leaps that will lead to greater business success.

For more information about Design Thinking, a great resource is the d.school bootcamp bootleg. Check it out, and see how incorporating Design Thinking into your Quality process might take your company to the next level.

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About the Author

Kathy Davies
Kathy teaches at Stanford University, where her students use Design Thinking to design cutting edge products and to reshape their lives, at Stanford and beyond. Kathy has worked with Arena ... Read More 

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