Design Thinking and the Power Platform - start of the journey

It’s one of those fresh spring mornings in Brisbane. Clear blue sky, bright sun and a little breeze to keep you cool. I am having a great conversation with a colleague in the coffee place in front of the office. One of those conversations where we are reshaping the world with lots of ideas. I tell my colleague about my deep interest in techniques to drive shared understanding of requirements. We still hear so many projects failing, not because the system is crap, but because essentially requirements were not met. “This is too complex or not working as we expected” the client would say.
I tell my colleague that I want to understand users’ emotions. Shadowing users and observing their pains is essential if we want our projects to be successful.
After a moment of reflection, my colleague finally says. “Well, you should seriously look at Design Thinking then. It sounds a lot like what you just described me”.

After that conversation, the word “Design Thinking” kept on popping up through discussions with individuals in my network. It piqued my curiosity since I have a strong interest in techniques to drive a shared understanding of requirements and am always on the lookout for better ways to make sure we build the right solutions for the right problems.

Until now, I’ve written on subjects where I felt comfortable based on my previous experience. For this one, however, I decided to change perspective and write as someone starting the journey to learn “Design Thinking”. This article covers an introduction to "Design Thinking" and how it fits when implementing solutions with the Power Platform or Dynamics 365.

if you work in the Power Platform or Dynamics 365 space and want to learn more about "Design Thinking. Come along and join me in this learning journey 😊

What’s the buzz about?  Let’s look at some stats

If we look at search terms from “Google Trends” and compare “Design thinking” with “Business Analysis” for instance. We see that in 2017 both search terms came close together. In 2018 however, “Design Thinking” was already more popular than “Business Analysis”.

I have added “Human-centered Design” in the mix as a comparison as both terms have very similar concepts.
As you can see, Design Thinking is definitely on the up!

So what is Design Thinking?

I found many definitions of Design Thinking but this one speaks to me the most.

“Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process which seeks to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. The method consists of 5 phases—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test and is most useful when you want to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown.”
Reference: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/design-thinking

I like this definition most because those keywords translate directly to activities we do, or should do, when implementing solutions using the Power Platform and Dynamics 365.
Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

This is an excellent article that covers “What is design thinking and why is it so popular”.

Now let’s see how “Design Thinking” relates to implementing solutions using The Power Platform or Dynamics 365

If we take that definition again: “Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process which seeks to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. The method consists of 5 phases—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test and is most useful when you want to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown.
  • Understand Users: Observing and understanding how your users work, what are their feelings when doing a specific task. Documenting the current process to pick inconsistencies and frustrations. Get to know and empathize with your users. 
  • Challenge assumptions: Why are things done a certain way. And how can we confirm or disprove assumptions we make. Think “Outside the box”.
  • Redefine problems: Are the listed problems the right ones we want to solve? Are they worth being solved? Not everything is best resolved using solutions like the Power Platform or Dynamics 365. Some problems might not even be related to a technical solution and can only be resolved by changing a business process within the company.
  • Create innovative solutions: When envisioning solutions, step back from looking at Dynamics 365 or the Power Platform as the only technical solutions. The Microsoft Business Applications ecosystem, including Independent Software Vendors (ISV), have a variety of tools that can resolve different problems. Don’t assume The Power Platform or Dynamics 365 will be the solutions for everything. Explore what Office 365, Azure and different ISV have to offer. Ex: Yes Dynamics 365 has a capability to store documents, but is this the best place to store them? The native SharePoint integration or Azure Blob storage is often a better fit.   
  • Prototype and test: This is where we can use proof of concepts and prototypes. Create a new sandbox environment of the Common Data Service or Dynamics 365 and use it as a sandbox to experiment. Test and prototype solutions to get feedback from users. Link to provision a new sandbox environment: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-platform/admin/sandbox-environments
The below diagram illustrates where I would fit the “Design Thinking” process alongside an Agile implementation of The Power Platform or Dynamics 365.

Combined Design Thinking and Agile approaches for implemeting Power Platform or Dynamics 365 solutions.

What’s the difference between “Design Thinking” and “Human Centered  Design”?

Before writing that article, I assumed that both were the same thing. It turns out that there are differences between the 2 methods. Read the following article to understand the differences and common ground of both methods. "Design Thinking or Human Centered Design? Both! How to combine the benefits of the two approaches".

Where to start learning Design Thinking

Over the last few months, I have read various articles and books. Listened to podcasts. And watched training videos on Youtube and LinkedIn Learn. Based on my research I would recommend you go through the following:
  1. Read “The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design: A step-by-step guide that will get you solving problems like a designer - By IDEO.org”: This free ebook will give you the basis to understand the process and the key mindsets that underpin human-centered design. The Field Guide has everything you need to understand the people you're designing for, to have more effective brainstorms, to prototype your ideas, and to ultimately arrive at more creative solutions. URL to download the book: https://www.designkit.org/resources/1
  2. Watch the course “Design Thinking: Understanding the Process” on LinkedIn Learn: in this course, you will learn where design thinking fits into product development and what it can help you achieve. The author describes each step in the process, from identifying the problem you want to solve and brainstorming solutions, to prototyping, development, and release. Learn about the pros and cons of this approach and how to overcome challenges such as organization inertia and silos. Link to the course: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/design-thinking-understanding-the-process
  3. Watch the course “Design Thinking: Implementing the Process”: This is the course where I felt like it finally clicked. Learn how to implement a design thinking process at your company, with this practical guide from user experience expert Chris Nodder. Follow along with a sample project—a trail maintenance app—as it goes through a one-week design thinking process. Watch the development team use design thinking to turn new ideas into a testable concept and full-featured product. Link to the course: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/design-thinking-implementing-the-process
  4. Learn about the "Microsoft Catalyst" offering on Microsoft Learn: “Microsoft Catalyst is an envisioning and planning engagement that delivers business-altering transformation plans using the power and breadth of Dynamics 365 and the Microsoft cloud”. The Inspire phase focuses on envisioning and strategy development and is based on design thinking. URL to the course: https://dynamics.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-catalyst/

Next steps on my journey

Now that I understand what design thinking means and can relate to some of the techniques and concepts. I will move toward gaining some practical experience.
In the following weeks I am planning to:
  1. Follow a 9-week course that will introduce me to the concepts of human-centered design. The course is run by IDEO.org + Acumen Fund and you can sign up for free using the following url: https://www.plusacumen.org/courses/introduction-human-centered-design
  2. Subscribe to the course “Design Thinking: The Beginner's Guide”. It’s 276 AUD / Month for the subscription to get access to the course and other benefits. https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/design-thinking-the-beginner-s-guide
  3. Start experimenting “Design Thinking” techniques on my Power Platform or Dynamics 365 projects and keep on writing articles based on my experiences. 
If you want to get more familiar with Design Thinking, get in touch with me. Join me in this learning journey so that we can exchange experiences, tips and ideas on how to benefits from Design Thinking in our Power Platform and Dynamics 365 implementations.