Project ManagementA Deep Dive into Design Thinking with Agile Methodology

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agile versus Design Thinking

Organizations pursuing a more customer-centric innovation strategy often use one of two concepts: Agile or Design Thinking. Incidentally, both strategies share a similar philosophy. Both ideologies are about taking an iterative design approach to software development that collects customer feedback, inspires ideas, and helps teams avoid mistakes. 

This development approach will result in building better products, faster development, and greater customer satisfaction. But these strategies are not interchangeable. This article talks about these two concepts, why they are important, and how they differ.

What is the Agile Manifesto?

In the 1990s there was a time lag between the customer requirements and the delivery of the technology, which eventually led to the cancellation of many software projects. The Waterfall model wasn’t adept at delivering software at the required speed and a new solution needed to be created.

The Agile Manifesto is a document that outlines the main ideals and practices of the Agile methodology, with the goal of assisting development teams in working more efficiently and sustainably. Geared towards uncovering better ways of developing software, it has had a profound effect on software development for years and is still very relevant today. 

The Agile manifesto was developed in 2000 and 2001 by a group of thought leaders including Kent Beck, Arie van Bennekum, Jon Kern, Ward Cunningham, and Alistair Cockburn.

Read: What is Agile Project Management Software

Why is Agile Development Important?

The Agile Manifesto ideals provide an opportunity for enterprises to strive towards excellence. The manifesto encourages trust, openness, cooperation, and customer participation. While software techniques may seem straightforward, it is always essential to engage with specialists that understand the value of creating a great product and keeping the client satisfied.

The Agile Manifesto comprises four key values:

  • Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools
  • Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation
  • Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation
  • Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

What is Design Thinking? Why Do We Need It?

When working on software projects you might often have to understand what the customer’s requirements are, but you may be challenged by geographic constraints, tight project schedules, or limited budget. Design thinking can assist in the resolution of complex problems that do not have a clear solution, such as in custom logo designs, website design, etc.

Design thinking is an empathetic approach and an iterative process that attempts to approach design and innovation centered on users’ desires and needs and helps your organization adapt to technology evolution and industry changes. It is an approach that enables you to better understand the customer’s requirements based on what is technically and economically feasible. Design thinking is a customer-centric process that can be used to build products that are sustainable and profitable over their lifecycle.

Agile vs Design Thinking

Design thinking is a customer-centric development methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solve problems to ensure the desirability, viability, and feasibility of the final solution. It is a methodology that uncovers real-world problems that need to be solved, brainstorms them, and eventually comes up with innovative solutions to solve them.

Design thinking and Agile methodology aren’t the same – they are two distinctly different concepts, but they complement each other. Feedback loops are one of the driving factors for the success of Agile frameworks including Scrum and Kanban. A sprint is a feedback loop that helps the team to be more agile.

Agile is a problem-solving approach used to tackle predefined problems. Design thinking, on the other hand, is concerned with identifying the relevant issues to solve. This distinction is important because design thinking allows users to make better decisions about their paths and not just about how to get there. Design thinking, together with Agile, can foster innovation, boost productivity, and increase profits.

Read: Best Agile Strategies for Success

The Five Tenets of Design Thinking

Design thinking depends on the following tenets:

  • Empathize – This is a phase in which behavioral patterns are identified, and questions asked.
  • Define – This is the phase in which the problem statement is derived, and the user’s needs addressed and prioritized.
  • Ideate – In this phase the teams work together to solve the problem usually through a series of brainstorming sessions such as by leveraging discussion sessions, mind-maps, whiteboarding, etc. Note that in this phase a layout for the architecture is also derived.
  • Prototype – In this phase, the teams collaborate to create wireframes and functioning prototypes.
  • Test – This is the phase in which the ideas are tested among the users to verify if the solution to the given problem is satisfactory. An outcome from this phase is a Minimum Viable Product that is created by learning from the user’s feedback and working on them.

The Agile Manifesto: What has Changed

Although the Agile Manifesto preaches face-to-face collaboration as the most efficient method of conveying information, it does not always hold good in today’s world, where you can have teams spread across geographical distances – often thousands of miles apart. In today’s world, in-person meetings are still held but it is not always possible for teams that are geographically dispersed.

Customer collaboration has changed a lot over the last few years – it has become more complex with the proliferation of communication channels such as video conferencing, social media, chatbots, etc.

Added to all this, an improper understanding of Agile can pose challenges aplenty in fostering an Agile culture in an organization. To add to these woes, this will impact project schedules and impede the flow of information and feedback that is essential for the developers and teams to learn and improve over time.

The Agile Manifesto: What Still Matters

Agile Manifesto is still relevant in software development today and continues to influence other industries as well – here’s why. It established some core elements pertaining to modern software practices and they are still industry standard. It emphasizes trust, communication, and relationships and recommends that the business people and developers should work together. 

This holds good even today albeit working on large-scale software development projects. Although daily stand-ups might not be practical, the developers and the stakeholders should communicate often. There should be proper communication between everyone – geographically dispersed teams should be able to communicate properly. 

Trust is yet another point mentioned in the Agile Manifesto which obviously holds even today. The Agile Manifesto emphasizes that you should get your job done through individuals who are motivated. You should ensure that they get the necessary infrastructure facilities they need and trust them to get the job done. For an agile team to be successful, there should be trust between developers, between teams, between customers and businesses, etc.

The Agile Manifesto is still relevant today in that it emphasizes strongly on relationships. Such relationships can be between developers, among teams, and among all stakeholders. To be successful you should be able to build strong relationships between managers, developers, testers, and stakeholders spread across geographical distances.

Read: A Developer’s Guide to DevOps

Summary of Agile and Development and Design Thinking

The agile methodology is adept at helping your team achieve success with faster deliverables and frequent feedback loops for better business continuity. Even today it continues to influence software development – even for large projects and in teams spread across geographical distances. If the Agile ideals and principles are actively implemented throughout the software development process, they might well have a good influence on the product.

Take a hybrid approach by incorporating principles from both design thinking and agile in your organization. In doing so, you can generate new ideas and embrace innovations that can help transform businesses.

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