Design Thinking and Agile methodology applied to the development of solutions: An approach focusing on the user’s viewpoint

Collaborative innovation with customers has been developing within R&D departments and to be successful, it must be managed correctly. Such innovation must be organized, because several people are involved: the technical experts, the customers and the future end users. Several methods can be used, but two appear to be the most suitable for the development of user-oriented applications: Design Thinking and Agile methodology.

Design Thinking comes from a proven method that used to be known as “Brainstorming “. In such a process, we bring together our customers and Sopra HR experts so they can think up new features to improve business processes. Several customers from different areas of activity are thus meant to come to an agreement and summarize their needs in a single phrase. This is a difficult task, because problems may vary from one area to another and you need to be able to describe a solution that comprises all the essentials, i.e. its function and scope.

The three phases of Design Thinking

We invite three to five customers, divided into groups of three or four, to our Design Thinking workshops. These groups are comprised of experts and users that will be asked to describe the difficulties they encounter on a day to day basis. The workshops last 2 days.

There are three main phases in the Design Thinking process. In the first, the needs are defined. The participants usually come to an agreement rather easily at this stage. It does, however, take them about half a day to determine and describe the problem areas.

In the second phase, avatars are created to symbolize the different possible types of users. About thirty virtual characters are created, with their affinities and resistance to change, so they can be put into different situations. These are gradually reduced to three or four characters, or ‘personas’, that appear to be the most suitable with respect to the solution to be developed. These are usually a manager, an HR professional, an administrator, a younger HR professional familiar with new digital technology or an employee with many years of service who has seen all the changes in HR that their company has undergone.

In the third phase, ‘User Journeys’ are defined for each persona. These User Journeys describe the way each persona interacts with the solution. All the users are asked to participate in this phase. This is where the solution is completed, because the customers need to agree on what is required for developing the various features. The solution will, of course be a general one, and not necessarily cover all their initial requests.

The advantage of this method is that the customers will make the solution their own, since it is the result of their own creativity and they will then become “ambassadors” for the solution. This is because they took part in the entire creative process up to, and including, the final result. Design Thinking is a very pragmatic and practical method that keeps the participants involved, literally having them draw or design their own creations: the different screens, templates, use of tablets, etc. They are allowed to express their creativity. What is important is the result, the building of the system through the interaction of the users or ‘personas’ that will be used as the basis for the development of the solution. A list of features and matching screens are defined.

After these workshops, various prototypes will be made, as well as a sequence of pages or screens, to be approved with the customers. The focus is on the user experience that can provide positive emotions. The use of tactile screens on a tablet is integrated and adapted for use on a PC, since the trend today is towards mobile usage and applications that are extremely easy to use.

An Agile development phase

Continuing with the user-oriented approach, the development phase is based on the Agile method with strong interaction with the customers. A backlog of user stories is created for features or tasks required to successfully complete the project. A Product Owner, or PO, is selected. The PO’s job is to turn the various prototypes and requirements from the Design Thinking phase into ‘user stories’. There is no limit to the number of user stories. Whenever a feature is needed, a new user story can be created. This ‘backlog’ is then organized, with the best and most suitable stories at the top of the list. Those user stories are then selected that will lead to an “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product) solution, that can be marketed quickly, as the next version of the product. The customers continue to be involved during the development phase. They regularly approve the progress of the project.

Teams of about 8 people will then be set up around the PO, who is responsible for the functional scope and in charge of explaining the user stories to the developers. Each team is highly versatile and cross-functional and will work on a submodule. There is a positive competitive spirit and a sense of creativity amongst the teams to complete the work in the time allotted. At the planning meeting, the developers will review the backlog with the PO and tackle a certain number of stories during an iteration. Sprints, or development iterations, usually last 2 to 3 weeks. Following a sprint, a feature may be presented to the customers for comments or approval.

Implementing Agile and Design Thinking methods provides a new way to design and develop more efficient solutions focusing on the user.