Design Thinking Drives Innovation in Software

Make applications easier to work with and you will see users be motivated to use them and performance increase

 

By Susan Myers, Solution VP for Mission and Enterprise Applications

Digital transformation can be challenging. While today’s agile software development practices, technology, and tools let us develop applications quickly, tying together human, digital, and physical interactions across time and touchpoints to create intuitive experiences that meet user and organizational needs is still difficult.

That’s where design thinking comes in. While not a new concept, design thinking has emerged as a major component of IT modernization and digital transformation, and it can be used to amplify agile practices, technology, and tools. In fact, CIO magazine recently called design thinking nothing less than the secret of digital success.

Along with lean startup and lean-agile, design thinking is our playbook to:

  • Focus efforts on the right solution.
  • Remove undesirable experiences at any project stage.
  • Minimize work that doesn’t add value.
  • Facilitate shared understanding and stakeholder buy-in.
  • Optimize quality, design, usability, and accessibility.

Anybody who produces products, systems, or services can use design thinking to better understand what users and organizations need and improve employee and customer satisfaction. SAIC leverages user experience (UX) research and design thinking at every stage of a project to create user-centric solutions and inspire innovation. When design thinking is combined with agile development practices and iterative prototyping, development teams gain significantly more insight into ill-defined customer challenges and more opportunities to devise innovative solutions.

Design thinking is often represented as five stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. But it is important to note that the process is non-linear and iterative. Design thinking can be initiated at any stage of a project, in parallel, and as often as necessary to gain as deep an understanding of user needs as possible.

Empathizing activities help us set aside our biases and identify attitudinal and behavioral patterns. We use methods like surveys, interviews, and empirical observation to identify motivations and patterns, understand challenges, and confirm or dismiss assumptions.

Defining activities leverage the insights gained from the empathize stage to analyze challenges and prioritize them for resolution. Persona development, journey mapping, and task analysis are several of the many methodologies we use to identify challenges in a human-centered manner.

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Ideation activities grounded in the knowledge gained from empathizing and defining activities help our multidisciplinary teams explore alternatives and arrive at more impactful and innovative solutions.

Prototyping and testing activities put potential solutions and interfaces through their paces. To quickly and inexpensively learn, iterate, and improve as much as possible prior to release, we produce prototypes as detailed as customers' circumstances dictate. Prototypes can range from low-fidelity conceptual wireframes and mockups to broad and/or deep prototypes tested in our UX labs or virtual training environments, where we gather quantitative statistical and engineering data that provides insight into effectiveness, learnability, efficiency, memorability, error rates, etc.

Prototyping is a fundamental component of all our product, service, and system design projects, and key to agile execution, risk mitigation, and project refinement. The quick and frequent iterations made possible by conceptual and/or logical prototypes facilitate stakeholder and end-user usability testing metrics and goals, mitigate expensive rework, expose issues at all development phases, and facilitate shared understanding between stakeholders, users, and development teams.

 

About the author: Susan Myers leads SAIC’s Agile center of excellence, serving as the in-house subject matter expert and providing corporate-wide guidance on agile methodologies for software development. Susan is an SAIC Fellow and a master solution architect for the company. She is a PMI Agile Certified Practitioner, Scaled Agile Framework Program Consultant, Scrum Master, and Project Management Professional with more than 38 years of software and engineering experience. Connect with Susan on LinkedIn.

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SAIC is uniquely positioned alongside our customers. We provide deep technical knowledge and understand design thinking, lean UX startup, and lean-agile thinking in customer environments. Our centers of excellence comprise system engineers, architects, cyber specialists, designers, analysts, and coaches. We help our partners thrive in today's disruptive business and technology landscape. Drop us a note at agile@saic.com if you'd like to know more.