7 Steps to Spreading the Design Thinking Process Organization-wide for IoT Projects

Sep 20, 2019 | Blog

The design thinking process has long been a mindset for IoT projects. And it’s usually most successful in organizations that involve every employee in the overall process for IoT innovation—making sure their entire workforce understands the needs of end users to ensure the success of IoT products and IoT applications.

These organizations do well in innovating their IoT projects because they blend the unique perspectives of people from all parts of the business. This helps narrow the focus in understanding the problem and what end users need at every level by way of a solution. As a mindest, design thinking is inherent from the opportunity discovery stage to ideate sprints, research, design, a prototype, testing, evaluation, refinement and, ultimately, a useful solution.

It’s the design thinking process at its organizational best.

This is the approach ClearObject takes with our customers for ideate sprints, design sprints and IoT solution development as a whole. “Assemble your end-user team members from all parts of your organization.” Design thinking then becomes the thread that ties their ideas together for all kinds of IoT applications and IoT products.

But to some organizations, design thinking is a learning curve, particularly for IoT. To other firms that already practice a design thinking process—although not entirely across their organization—it’s a reminder of the value they aren’t taking full advantage of.

Design thinking in all corners of the organization

In their 2017 blog post on using design thinking to prepare employees for IoT innovation, authors Damien Nunes and Dominic Mahr of Maastricht University and Rosanne Gresnigt of Noventum Service Management emphasize a process that’s “user-centered, employee-participative, explorative, iterative and routed in (service) design thinking and its scientific research base.”

The roadblock to this approach, the authors say, is that new ideas for IoT projects typically face skepticism across a company. If not outright opposition. New ideas can disrupt long-standing work practices and existing product and service portfolios. Or just as often, employees fearing they’ll be replaced by IoT applications stand in the way of the innovation process. Worse, many organizations pass the responsibility of exploring and implementing innovation from top management down to middle and lower management, when top management should really be the project champion and guiding force.

Enter a design thinking mindset for all corners of the organization. As Nunes, Mahr and Gresnigt put it, “Fresh ideas, awareness for opportunities and positive attitude across the organization are a crucial breeding ground for radical innovation.”

Unleashing IoT’s potential organization-wide: 7 steps

The three authors spell out seven steps to adopt a design thinking process organization-wide:

1. Set your organization’s business focus

Top management must commit to driving the innovation for IoT projects, not just “supporting” it. It’s at the corporate level that leaders must set the strategies the company follows and the goals it wants to reach, such as lower production or development costs and higher profit margins. These same leaders must also promote design thinking consistently among all employees.

Melissa Quintanilha, head of Design at Dupla Studios, reiterates this sentiment in a May 2018 blog post for design thinking in the IoT space. “The good news is: you don’t have to be a designer, committed inventor, or an expert empath to employ this (design thinking) method and change your mindset. Anyone can do it. In fact, if more people made use of the method, the world would have much better products and services.”

2. Introduce IoT capabilities & design thinking

Nunes et alpoint out that employees will never realize how IoT applies to the organization if they don’t think in “networks and eco-systems” and realize how valuable data can be. “Reflecting on the principles of IoT and best practice cases is a good way to broaden employees’ perspectives.”

3. Ideate IoT innovations with a value proposition as the guide

To spark creativity, use design thinking to encourage ideation techniques for IoT opportunities as well as the various perspectives of the organization. Ideate sprints are the perfect forum for this. Determining the value proposition of any IoT innovation also helps incorporate these perspectives in the ideation process.

A good value prop example here is ClearObject’s delivery of a vision aerial intelligence platform for a global power company that generates and distributes electric power. The intelligence platform was ideated to automate visual aerial inspections of the company’s windfarms and wind turbines, previously a time- and resource-consuming manual process that required reviewing up to hundreds of thousands of drone-produced images. The key value proposition was to make the process more efficient and less dependent on manual reviews. The result? The new platform has already made windfarm field inspections 10 times more efficient. It has also reduced the number of images to be reviewed by 55% thus far, a percentage anticipated to reach 90% as the platform model continues to learn and improve over time.

4. Share, combine and prioritize ideas

According to Nunes, Mahr and Gresnigt, “The collective sharing of ideas strengthens the feeling of organization-wide involvement and drives commitment.” Bingo. Getting constructive, well-reasoned feedback from other employees adds to the drive to prioritize ideas.

5. Map the eco-system of the IoT innovation

Conceptual blueprints of IoT innovations, which visualize the eco-system of the organization’s actors, components and connections, often uncover potential challenges and needed resources. These visual blueprints also make it easier for team members and other stakeholders to discuss what IoT products will look like and how they’ll function. Same thing for IoT applications.

6. Identify the business implications

Investments, risks, and impacts to the organization are realities of innovating IoT projects. Taking chances on new ideas can negatively affect budgets and bottom line earnings. Nunes, Mahr and Gresnigt stress that gatekeepers within the business are critical to keeping these kinds of implications in check and determining a clear IoT return on an investment. “Developing and validating the business case is a good way to convince important decision makers in taking the next step.”

Again, ClearObject helps organizations determine this “next step” with ideate sprints and design sprints, which provide a step-by-step blueprint to identify opportunities and kick off IoT projects. Ideate sprints let the organization understand the problems end users face and the exact solutions they want. Thereafter, design sprints help decide whether to launch the ideated opportunity as a project—or even not to if an ROI isn’t justified or the risk is too high. If moving forward, design sprints help teams conceptualize an IoT product idea and scope, create a high-fidelity prototype, test it with organizational end-users, and validate it for use. Design thinking is the backdrop throughout the sprint process.

7. Pitch to important decision maker

Finally, for IoT innovations to be successfully implemented, Nunes, Mahr and Gresnigt emphasize that an organization needs ambassadors to create internal alignment. Particularly in organizations with various divisions and functions, it’s important to create a “coalition of the willing and obtain the funds needed for further development and implementation.”

Above all else, design thinking is the mindset that sets the stage for IoT innovation. When employees company-wide adopt this mindset and understand the opportunities IoT provides, they become a collective and powerful driver for innovation across the organization.

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ClearObject applies the design thinking process to everything we do. Let us show you how to take the same approach to IoT innovation throughout your organization.


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