Working Project Team

Imagine starting a new project at work. Your team has received the brief and you are in your first meeting to figure out your approach. In these situations, you have an opportunity to shape a project. However, to do this you need to brainstorm and you need to share ideas.

Most of the time these meetings are driven by the project lead who simply asks “Does anyone have any ideas?”
Rarely do people respond with much… Usually, they promise to pass along good ideas once they think of them.

Design Thinking Encourages

New Ideas

Design Thinking is a change in the approach to solving problems that utilizes group ideas and work sessions to quickly create prototypes. It allows teams to generate lots of ideas in a collaborative environment using proven methods. It can change the way we work as teams and be critical to an organization’s success.

I like to think of Design Thinking as a designers approach to Agile Development Methodology and the Lean Startup. The advantage in Design is you can build more quickly, prototype wild ideas and test more features.

10 Uses for Design Thinking (DT)

  • Project Kickoff – use DT to help understand the goal of the project and structure sharing and ideating with the team.
  • Solution Design – use DT to understand the customer that enables the team to brainstorm options and unique new features.
  • Business Requirements Gathering – use DT to improve your features for the customer and ensure that features meet needs.
  • User Stories – use DT to create deeper stories and attributes.
  • Change Management – use DT to understand the customer and ideate ways to communicate.
  • Training – use DT to brainstorm and then validate training effectiveness.
  • Communications – use DT to brainstorm and then validate key messages.
  • Process Design – use DT to develop a human focus on the process and then brainstorm and test improvements.


Pillars for a Design Thinking Project Team


  • Creative
  • Collaborative
  • Time bound
  • Fun-enthused


  • Tools to unlock and write down creativity
  • Practices to encourage the best ways of thinking


  • The end users, real people, are at the heart of what we do


A team is at the heart of each project. To get the team to be creative you need to make an environment that is open, collaborative and focused. A playful and empowered atmosphere can draw out ideas from a team helping to shape a better project. Here are some techniques that can help create this environment:Brainstorming Rules

  • Open with the Brainstorming Rules – the photo to the right shows the typical Design Thinking brainstorming rules. It is important to get the whole group aligned to these rules so discuss them at the start of each session. I recommend printing the rules and having them visible during the entire workshop.
  • Start the workshop with warm up games – get people’s blood flowing and have them express themselves. Here are some fun warm up games.
  • Play music when the team is working on the method – this can help create a friendly and engaging space that removes participants from their normal work environment.
  • Create teams of 4-6 people – when a group of people brainstorm and work together their ideas cascade and improve. To achieve this effect you need a critical mass of at least 4 people. Alternatively, when there are more than 6 people in the team people ‘coast’ and do not feel the need to take part.
  • Ensure methods are timebound – have a timer in each section to help keep the team on track. Here is a timer I like to use.
  • Assign a facilitator – within each team there should be a facilitator whose role is to keep the team on time and guide the methods.


Methods guide our thinking so that teams can focus on objectives. They enable the team to think and explain their ideas using a structured process. Methods are also used to ensure that the team is focusing on the different phases of work that are critical to a project’s success.

This is Google’s Design Thinking Methodology:

There are three primary phases each with an associated anchor phase. A description and some examples of exercises within each phase are:

  • Understand Phase – during this phase, teams work to clearly outline their stakeholders and the issues they face.
    • Activities: Creative Reframing, User Personas, Territory Mapping
  • Define Phase – once teams have a clear understanding of their task, they need to clearly explain the customer and issues.
    • Activities: Customer Journey Mapping
  • Diverge Phase – ideate on issues and solutions.
    • Activites: Structured Brainstorming, Voting based on Quick Win, Wildest Idea, Feasibility
  • Prototype Phase – make the solution and environment as realistic as possible.
    • Activities:  Mockups, character re-enactments, physical objects
  • Validate Phase – Show it to the user and test the features.
    • Activities: in-person testing, surveys, A-B testing

There are many approaches to going through each phase. It is important to note that the cycle is iterative, meaning that once you have completed some exercises the expectation is to go back and do it again. It is also important to note that given the multi-phased and iterative nature of Design Thinking, timebox your exercises. You can achieve more if you do two cycles of an exercise than one cycle that lasts twice as long.

Human Centered

All aspects of Design Thinking are focused on the people. It starts with understanding who is kicking off the project and continues all the way to the end users of the solution.  When starting projects, your goal is to understand ‘The Why’ of the project and reframe the question accordingly. The next step is to identify the key users of the solution in order to understand their journey with the product and all of their habits, behaviors, and idiosyncrasies that will be impacted by the process.

I cannot emphasize enough that if you do not understand your customer then your solution will not be optimized for them. If it is not designed for them then there is a higher chance they will not use it.


Design Thinking is a change in the approach to solving problems that uses group ideas and structured work sessions to quickly create prototypes. It enables project teams to generate lots of ideas by utilizing a collaborative environment and proven frameworks. It is an essential tool that will be critical to an organization’s success.

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