workshop in progress
PHOTO: Claire Nakkachi | unsplash

While it’s in vogue to talk about digital transformation and technologies like AI, internet of things, augmented reality and others, it’s best not to put too much emphasis on them. According to George Westerman, principal research scientist with the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, “too much emphasis can steer the conversation in a dangerous direction, because when it comes to digital transformation, digital is not the answer. Transformation is.”

Yet often times companies not only don’t know how to go about transforming, they don’t know what the root cause of the problem is that's forcing them to transform in the first place.

Design thinking can help here. Before even thinking of how they'll implement software, companies need to take a step back, bring together all stakeholders and really figure out what the business problem is that needs solving — because maybe it doesn’t even require a digital fix.

Before Introducing Software, Establish What You're Trying to Accomplish

Even if a digital solution may be able to solve your problem, before you do anything else you need to first immerse yourself in the situation: the business problem, the product vision, the experiences of users and other considerations. The idea is that every software application has a purpose or mission, what it’s being built to accomplish. Once that’s determined, all of the requirements can be informed by that guiding light.

By focusing on the mission you can develop a more holistic view of those requirements, in terms of what is required from the technology, what is needed for users of the technology and what opportunities there are to improve the overall work of people within the organization. 

Through this type of a process you can uncover needs by both looking at your data, materials, processes and internal documentation, and better understand your users and stakeholders — their workflow, barriers and unmet needs. Though this process you’re able to define key success criteria.  

As an example of the benefits of this approach, a regional court system had been using a workflow and document management solution for a few years to help judges document cases and more easily share case data and collaborate. The problem (or so they thought) was that the system needed to be modernized to better accommodate documentation requirements and because the technology used to develop it was no longer supported. After a design immersion program, we soon  realized the real problem wasn't an outdated system, it was the judges simply weren’t using the system to begin with. What the court had wasn't a documentation problem, but a collaboration and user acceptance problem. The judges said it was too difficult to use and required too much effort. We recommended both revising the solution to be more intuitive and user friendly and having the court system undertake training and communication outreach to encourage user adoption.

Related Article: What Design Thinking Can Bring to Employee Experience Programs

Best Practices in Design Immersion

So how exactly can a company dive into design immersion before initiating a software or AI project? Consider the following best practices.

Conduct Workshops With all Stakeholders

Any initiative should begin with a series of workshops and interviews to understand business objectives, experiences and pain points of all the people that interact with the organization. These workshops should include executive-level and line of business employees, customers and partners and everyone who would be interacting with the solution or impacted by the business problem. These workshops can include ideation sessions, where everyone is allowed to openly brainstorm; questionnaires and role-playing sessions that allow participants to openly share experiences, including frustrations, hopes and what they believe they need to succeed; as well as less formal relationship buildings sessions that allow each member to better know one another.

Related Article: Sound Familiar? 4 Phrases That Show Your Employee Experience Needs Work

Align User Personas

Defining user personas, challenges and pain points helps set the stage. You can then define a very specific problem software can solve and how you'll measure success. The user personas can become the central focus of every iteration of the project, and they may expand over time to encompass new personas that need to be taken into consideration.

Explore the Data

Understanding and exploring the data that's dispersed across the company can also often help uncover hidden patterns of behavior, or can confirm what you believe is the business problem. It’s important to determine what data sources you have readily available and what sources exist in other business units. Use analytics tools to uncover the data-driven root of the problem.

Assess Feasibility

You should conduct a study to determine the requirements needed to achieve success. What infrastructure and resource requirements do you have for the recommended course of action? How will success be measured?

Most business problems, while not always digital, require transformation. A transformation of business processes and the tools used to succeed, as well as a transformation in cultural mindset and in how employees, end-users and key stakeholders view their roles and each other. When companies lead their transformation with a clear understanding of these factors, they’re well on their way to resolving their business challenge and realizing greater corporate success.