Design Thinking in the Workplace: Understanding how Design Thinking, Lean, and Agile Work Together

Design Thinking at the WorkplaceHover Image

In the previous article, we explained the entire concept of Design Thinking.

But how can Design Thinking be applied in the workplace?

How does it relate to product design?

What are some real-life examples of how Design Thinking has been applied and has produced results?

These are what we’ll be looking at in this article, giving you a deeper insight into exactly how Design Thinking fits in the workplace.

You may have heard of the terms “lean” and “agile.” As someone working in the product field, it’s important to know how these approaches fit together.

The Relationship Between Design Thinking, Lean and Agile

How Design Thinking fits into the whole process of product designHover Image

Let’s talk about how Design Thinking fits into the whole process of product design.

You may have heard of User Experience Design (UX).

UX Design encompasses all aspects of the end-users interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

Lean UX is a modification of conventional UX Design and is based on the principles of Lean manufacturing. It is a design approach that focuses on reducing waste to the barest minimum while ensuring that value is fully maximized.

In contrast to conventional UX, Lean UX places less emphasis on deliverables and more on the experience being designed. There has to be more communication and cooperation between everyone on the team. The primary goal is to acquire early feedback to use it for quick decision-making.

The main goal of Lean UX is to ship the product as fast as possible. That assumes the development of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) that is tested and proceeds to the next improvement, so the final design can’t be created upfront. So it’s mainly about measuring, validating, and making better solutions based on what users say.

It entails:

➡️ cross-functional cooperation among designers, developers, and product managers

➡️ quickly and consistently collecting feedback, ensuring that the learning process is continuous.

➡️ making sure that delivery is as fast as possible.

The Lean UX technique works in conjunction with Agile. Agile is a software development method that works in iterative, incremental cycles called Sprints.

The development of Agile is also more flexible and adaptable than traditional development methods.

Agile is based on the Agile Development Manifesto which was created in 2001, and it adheres to the following principles:

☝️ Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

☝️ Working software over comprehensive documentation

☝️ Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Combining Design Thinking with Lean and Agile

Design Thinking, Lean, and Agile are often thought of as three different methods, but they can actually be combined for the best results.

Gartner, the global leader in research and advisory support, has suggested the following enterprise architecture in 2016 for integrating Design Thinking and Lean Agile into your product development process.

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In a Lean, Agile setting, Design Thinking contributes to the establishment of a user-centric and highly productive product development process.

Bringing together principles from all three is extremely important in ensuring that teams with different functions are on the same page. It makes sure that they all work together to bring a common vision to life.

So how do Design Thinking, Lean, and Agile work together?

How Design Thinking, Lean and Agile Work TogetherHover Image

Design Thinking, Lean, and Agile work together to eliminate pointless procedures and paperwork, while harnessing the input of all significant stakeholders for constant delivery and advancement.

Using Design Thinking, we investigate and resolve problems. Lean is the framework we use to evaluate our assumptions and discover the best course of action. Agile is how we respond to changing circumstances with software.

That works well in theory, but how does it work in practice?

As discussed earlier, Design Thinking emphasizes coming up with solutions while keeping a particular problem in mind. The user is kept at the center of the entire process.

Once you’ve decided on and created a workable solution, Lean comes in. You start to implement Lean principles, which entails trying out your ideas, getting immediate feedback, and keeping track of what works, paying particular attention to collaboration across teams.

Agile organizes everything into short Sprint cycles, enabling flexibility in the midst of change. In an Agile setting, products are improved upon and developed in stages.

The core principle of Agile is ensuring that both the business and the end user get as much value as possible.

Design Thinking, Lean, and Agile work together to eliminate pointless procedures and documentation while utilizing the input of all significant stakeholders for continuous delivery and advancement.

What is the relationship between Design Thinking and UX Design?

Likewise, Design Thinking and User Experience Design (UX) have a lot in common.

A lot of what UX designers do can be found in the Design Thinking approach as well, such as user research, prototyping, and testing. They are also both extremely focused on the user.

However, Design Thinking is about coming up with solutions, while UX Design has to do with designing these solutions and ensuring that they can be used and accessed by the user while finding the whole experience enjoyable.

Bonus: If you would like to understand the differences between Design Thinking, Design Sprints, and Agile Sprints head over to our blog post: Spot the Difference: Design Thinking vs Design Sprints vs Agile Sprints

Benefits of Design Thinking at Work

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By incorporating Design Thinking into your process, you can ensure that your products are not only appealing to customers but also good for your company’s budget and resources, thus greatly increasing business value.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of using the Design Thinking methodology:

💡 It helps to develop new ideas: Design Thinking entails approaching a subject from several perspectives and employing innovative methods to arrive at a feasible solution. This is after enough information has been gathered about the problem. With adequate knowledge of the situation, you can begin to think of potential solutions. This helps to come up with various creative ideas that can be used to solve business problems.

💡 It reduces time-to-market and increases ROI: Finding solutions that are cost-effective and time-saving has become crucial in today’s work society. Design Thinking can help with it. You can uncover new and creative methods to solve problems to complete your work more quickly and effectively, saving you time and guaranteeing a substantial return on investment.

💡 It boosts productivity and innovation: Design Thinking is all about breaking down a problem into manageable bits so that it can be tackled more effectively. Creativity, cooperation, and critical reasoning are all required here. In the workplace, Design Thinking can be used in a variety of ways to increase efficiency.

💡 It pushes people to think outside of the box: Design Thinking teaches people to come up with new ways of thinking that do not adhere to the preeminent or more widely used problem-solving techniques. They raise insightful questions and question widely held beliefs. They also look into problem-solving more thoroughly.

💡 It can be applied in any industry: One of the things that make Design Thinking so awesome is that it can be used by anyone. It’s not limited to designers only. Practically every team in any business can use it, and this has been proven time and time again.

Implementing Design Thinking across your organization or simply refining your approach to user-centric design will yield positive results in terms of innovation, focusing on the user, and eventually creating solutions that solve real user problems.

Practical Examples of Design Thinking in the Workplace

Here are some case studies that show how businesses have applied Design Thinking in solving problems:

1- Airbnb

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(Image credit: Screenshot of Airbnb’s booking page)

Airbnb, an American company that runs a digital marketplace for lodging and temporary residences for vacations and tourism activities, has implemented Design Thinking in its business.

In 2009, with their company barely earning up to 200 dollars weekly, Airbnb was on the brink of bankruptcy. The founders examined the entire business process to see what was going on and discovered that their ads were not performing. This was because the pictures used in the ads were of poor quality, and not all the rooms were shown. This repelled people because they could not see where they would stay, so they didn’t want to pay for it.

To solve this problem, they came up with a solution borne out of Design Thinking. They decided to go to New York, rent a camera, visit their clients in their homes and take good photos of the rooms.

Joe Gebbia, one of the founders of Airbnb, ditched computing and enrolled in the School of Design in Rhode Island. There, he learned about Design Thinking, and he realized that they had to use an innovative and unique approach, which involved getting into the heads of their customers and figuring out exactly what they wanted.

What happened next? Their approach worked, and a week later, their revenue doubled; that was 400 dollars a week. Since then, Airbnb fully incorporated Design Thinking into its business, changing its approach and becoming more customer-oriented.

From making 200 dollars a week, Airbnb is now valued at over 100 billion dollars, dominating the industry.

2 – Apple

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(Image credit: Screenshot from the Apple website)

Apple, one of the world’s leading brands, has managed to stand out among its competitors. It is without a doubt that they are at the top of their game. Design Thinking has a huge role to play in the success of this phenomenal brand.

From 1985-1997, Apple faced hard times and struggled to stay afloat. Some of the challenges they faced during this period included a lack of clear vision about which strategy to adopt, products not meeting required standards, and lots of products that didn’t perform well in the market, amongst others.

In 1997, Steve Jobs went back to Apple, and he began to apply some Design Thinking elements such as User Desirability, Market Viability, and Technological Innovation, amongst others. He rebranded the company to emphasize the consumer’s needs and preferences, and to design easy-to-use products, among others.

In addition, Apple reduced the number of products they produced from 15 to 3, focused on products with higher potential, improved their user experience, and paid more attention to the aesthetics of their products. All 5 stages of Design Thinking were incorporated into the entire process; Empathizing, Defining, Ideating, Prototyping, and Testing.

Applying the Design Thinking approach changed the game for Apple. They became industry leaders, and have grown to have loyal users all over the world. This clearly shows the power of adopting a user-centric approach in business.

3 – Oral B

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(Image credit: Screenshot from the Oral B website)

IDEO, a design and consulting firm, embarked on a project for Oral B, applying Design Thinking to solving a crucial problem. During their observations, they realized that children had some difficulty brushing their teeth because they were hitting their faces while brushing.

They then figured out a solution, which was producing toothbrushes that were fat and squishy for kids. As a result, Oral B sold the highest number of kid toothbrushes in the world for 18 months.

Likewise, Oral B hired designers, Sam Hecht and Kim Colin to assist with the redesign of their electric toothbrush. The company wanted more features to be added for those who use their electric toothbrushes, such as including frequency tracking, gum sensitivity monitoring, and music playback.

The designers noted that a lot of people considered brushing to be a neurotic activity. Users did not want more functions, and even believed it may make them stressed out. They instead suggested two alternatives that could enhance the user experience without introducing gimmicks.

They recommended that the company made charging the toothbrush easier, particularly for those who were traveling. The second suggestion was enabling toothbrushes to connect to the users’ phones and deliver reminder messages, making it easier for customers to place an order for replacement heads.

Since both approaches concentrated on what the people wanted, and not what the business wanted to produce, they were a huge success.

4 – Netflix

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(Image credit: Screenshot from the Netflix website)

The main factor that has contributed to Netflix’s success is its constant innovation over the years. Netflix has remained user-centric, focusing on its user’s needs and expectations.

The entertainment industry giant implemented Design Thinking in its entire process and conducted adequate research on what its customers wanted. They also developed a unique experience for each person. They figured out that to maintain their relevance, they had to put the users first. In 2011, based on customers’ demands, they began to produce their own original and provocative content.

Likewise, the company received feedback and suggestions from its users and incorporated them. Each significant upgrade made by Netflix was motivated by a successful Design Thinking process and in response to consumer requests.

Netflix’s subscribers continue to increase by 13-18% yearly.


These and many more, are real-life examples of how Design Thinking has been implemented in the workplace, all of which have birthed amazing results.

Design Thinking is an incredible tool that can be applied to solve tricky business challenges, whether it’s a new app, service, or physical product.

Understanding the needs and problems of actual people can help you find solutions to these issues and improve user experiences.

When applied correctly, the power of Design Thinking is immeasurable.

If you’d like to learn more about how to turn Design Thinking into Design Doing, this comprehensive article explains the relationship between thinking and doing, and why it is important to bridge the gap between the two.

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