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Don't Burn $$$ on Workshops: 8 Ways to Scale Digital Design Thinking

Written by 
Mariano Suarez-Battan
August 8, 2017

(Originally published on O’Reilly)

If you’re reading this, you already believe that design drives great customer experiences and great customer experiences drive growth. There are plenty of great arguments in support of a Design Transformation in HBR's deep dive in Design and the Design Value Index, as well as the fact that the greatest companies are fueled by passion and purpose.

What you might not believe in yet is the need for a Digital Workplace Transformation to support your overarching goals.


Why do you need a Digital Workplace Transformation?

Right now, experience Design groups are gaining seats at tables across industries, companies are staffing up with designers and others are acquiring design firms to accelerate their digital transformation journey. As a result we’re seeing improved UX across the board.

But designing the best experiences company-wide cannot be left to one specialist; it's a team sport. For example, banks can’t innovate fast enough if their legacy IT systems get in the way, and a great UX can be ruined if customer support is apathetic toward the customers they’re serving.

That's why Design Thinking and its values - empathy, divergence, collaboration, iteration, experimentation, and storytelling - are being taught across the various departments within enterprise businesses. But we’re doing it wrong. The problem with this approach is that it leaves the practice in the workshop.

We are spending money flying people around the world to attend short-lived, multi-day workshops and then neglecting to practice the methods afterwards. And it’s not the only point of friction. Roadblocks to scaling the Design Thinking practice include:

1. Difficulty getting a project room for long periods. Cubicles and meeting room-heavy office spaces make it hard to dedicate the necessary space for long enough to complete a project, and the coveted war room simply isn’t a reality for most. Design and Innovation centers with movable furniture are great temporary solution, but they’re treated as a sanctuary that limits innovation to time and space.

2. Distributed teams present geographical challenges. “How do I use this with my team, which is distributed all over the world?” This is the first question workshop participants ask after the session, hustling to take advantage of limited time together. Even if they run a great session, they wrap up and return home, typically falling prey to Workshop Amnesia as they wait for transcriptions and actionable items.

3. Experts are few and rookies are plenty. The high rookie-to-expert ratio, plus the novelty of most visual collaboration methods and facilitation techniques, makes people at different levels feel either dragged by or hurried in their work. Many methods also require setup time that could be better used for problem solving instead of playing catch up.


To be successful in implementing widespread Design Thinking, we need to go beyond the initial training. We need to consider the lifetime budget of learning, which includes a Digital Workplace Transformation to combine physical environments that foster creativity with tools and technology that bring in remote teams and stakeholders.

For example, Steelcase and Microsoft recently partnered to produce creatives spaces that blend the best of both worlds. Powered by technologies like MURAL and Skype for Business, they enable distributed teams to simulate in-person collaboration and minimize the gap between initial learning and mastery, as the right tools provide immediate, continual practice following a workshop.

The proof is in the modern teams at global enterprises like Accenture, IBM, Intuit and Autodesk that already use digital tools like MURAL and Microsoft Surface Hubs to enhance their workspaces.


A co-located team collaborates using digital tools at Intuit.

How can you follow suit?

These 8 best practices will help you scale digital design collaboration:

1. Virtually expand design studios and innovation centers. Incorporate technology into your well-equipped innovation centers to remove the physical constraints of a single location and foster creativity to take place anywhere. Digital tools, like Zoom, will enable you to include folks who are unable to be there in person and give them the opportunity to contribute in a visual collaboration session.

2. Streamline tool provisioning to ease the digital transformation. Quickly evaluate which secure tools work best for you and your teams, and make them available company-wide. Pre-select software to support teams that use their own devices and provide best practices to get everyone up to speed quickly.

3. Standardize your methods to efficiently onboard teams. Choose a framework - or create one - that fits your organization and distribute the methods so that everyone understands the rules of play. There’s no right way, as the LUMA Institute, IDEO’s Creative Difference and expert templates (like this Lean UX canvas or Service Blueprinting template) have all proven effective.


4. Maximize in-person time with digital tools. Get the most out of in-person sessions by completing individual preparation in advance of the workshop. Make sure the technology works and people have their instructions. If needed, micro-time-box remote work, as Doug Powell, a Distinguished designer from IBM, suggests. Or use templates like those created by Erik Flowers from Intuit, to align teams quickly

5. Take your projects with you by digitizing your workspace. Give your teams permanent and persistent digital workspaces that provide a consistent place to collaborate, promote asynchronous work and help maintain momentum. Ideas that take place outside of the shared space can then be iterated upon as new learnings are incorporated.

6. Bring in experts on demand to support beginners. By having the entire project online, with a common framework and language, expert can onboard quickly or hold remote office hours to troubleshoot issues or host co-facilitation sessions without unnecessary travel.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 6.08.52 PM.png

7. Extend project rooms to align globally. Digital work increases transparency throughout teams by showcasing the progress and providing feedback in real time, fostering openness and serendipitous connections. The more visible thought process, including how problems and solutions are identified, unifies everyone’s understanding and support.

8. Provide ongoing education to improve remote collaboration. Not everyone will be comfortable collaborating remotely at first. Support them - and improve the skills of those who are comfortable - by continually enhancing your digital collaboration experience through further design education with tools that combine learning and practice.

Don’t wait to digitize your design collaboration

The paradox of this proposal is that it's designed (pun intended) to empower teams to spend less time practicing Design Thinking. Instead, this approach will help them accelerate collaboration and decision making during a project, so they can spend more time Design Doing.

Design Thinking is essential, but it’s in the Design Doing that teams can engineer better solutions and align on execution. Taking proven methods to the next level with the help of technology will create a wave of designers who are well-equipped to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems at the highest speeds possible, with empathy and iteration at the core of their solutions.

As Phil Gilbert, Head of Design at IBM, said, “Design is everyone’s job. Not everyone is a designer, but everybody has to have the user as their north star.”

The time has come for us to embrace the Digital Workspace Transformation that accompanies Design Transformation and seamlessly empower the creative problem solvers of the future.

Read more about how to embrace digital design collaboration at scale on O’Reilly.

About the author

About the authors

Mariano Suarez-Battan

I run MURAL, where we are making creative teams become better design thinkers through our collaboration software. We started MURAL because of a game we were designing. Ask me about that.