Design Thinking is not Workshopping

I wrote previously here about the 7 myths that I believe many people hold about design transformation that limit their effectiveness. Those myths are still pervasive but I'm coming across another more recently that is worth addressing: workshopping.

Many people seem to be of the view that simply doing workshops with sticky notes is sufficient. In fact, they're of the view that design thinking is workshopping. As with the other myths I discussed, workshopping should be practiced but it's insufficient by itself. I think this perception is getting traction because many people's introduction to design thinking, including IBM Design Thinking that I introduce to companies, is via a workshop. In fact, workshopping has become synonymous with design thinking. 

Of course, workshopping is core to design thinking, and to IBM Design Thinking, because it has powerful methods like empathy mapping, stakeholder mapping, as-is scenario mapping, ideation, prioritization, storyboarding, and more. When these methods are put in the hands of experienced facilitators working with diverse groups of participants, amazing results can be achieved largely due to the simplicity of the tasks and the selfless radical collaboration that proper workshopping fosters. Several C suite executives have pointed out to me that the simple act of writing something on a sticky note and putting it on the board anonymizes the idea as it becomes the group's idea. Workshopping, when done right, removes ego and ownership while also levelling the playing field ensuring that everyone can and does participate. All of this leads to far superior group collaboration than, for example, a team sitting around a table in discussion, an approach where contribution of ideas is mediated by status, introversion-extroversion, gender, age, and other factors that unnecessarily bias or constrain the free expression of ideas. 

If workshopping is so powerful, you may ask, why am I saying that it is insufficient. Let me illustrate by using what we call "The Loop" within the IBM Design Thinking framework (have a look at the full description of IBM Design Thinking to see how the loop fits with the rest of our framework).

   The loop illustrates the iterative nature of good design practices. After the team has identified the problem space that is of interest to them, they need to observe the people whose lives they're going to be focussing on improving with the project so that they can empathize with them in order to understand them deeply. This observation can take the form of such methods as ethnographic observation and/or structured interviews. Once sufficient initial understanding has been gleaned, workshopping methods can be used to allow the team to reflect on what they've learned and to help synthesize that information in a form to progress the project so that they can make their first prototype. This prototype is usually of low fidelity and typically made of paper, in the case of software, or foam core, in the case of devices or hardware. The prototype is then shown to representative users so that the team can again observe the experience users have with it. That leads to more reflection, which again can be done using group workshopping methods. As the loop illustrates, this cycle continues throughout the project until the final deliverable is produced and released. And, of course, then the loop starts again. 

To reiterate, workshopping with sticky notes is central to design thinking and IBM Design Thinking but is insufficient and needs to be augmented by observation methods and making methods as illustrated in the IBM Design Thinking Loop.