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Design Thinking Meets Heavy Assets - How Design can Unpack Problems in a few Hours



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Solving problems for the asset-heavy industries can be challenging due to the nature of the work. Blue-collar employees, lots of manual labor, old expensive assets, and extremely high-risk situations. Where do you begin to build a solution for an industry that’s literally heavy?

There’s no room for error. It keeps you up at night and completely exhausts you. What are the impacts? How risky is it? Design Thinking introduces the ability to empower your employees, mitigate risk, and get to solution building faster – and in just a few planned hours, rather than days or months. If that sounds like a win for you, read on.

 

What is design thinking?

To quote the design experts, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” It embraces the power of problem-solving and deep empathy for the user.

The first objection by many at Design Thinking is “I am not creative!” When you’re ingrained in the boundaries of a role, it’s easy to believe this is the case. However, creativity lives in us all, even those who operate and manage heavy assets.

Design Thinking is for everyone; every organization, every user, and every business leader. Here are a few benefits of Design Thinking:

  • It brings in a diverse set of skills: Having a group of people with diverse skill sets in a room problem solving is one of the best superpowers you can have as an organization. It’s unconventional, but in the world of IoT, it’s essential. The ideal team would include these stakeholders:
    • A business representative who can make decisions
    • An engineer to bring subject matter expertise
    • Someone responsible for carrying out the work like a project manager
    • The target user
    • A designer equipped with creative problem-solving skills
    • Other stakeholders could be involved depending on your organization and problem to solve
  • It’s a scalable toolkit: In the world of asset-heavy industries, a “one-size-fits-all” solution simply doesn’t exist. Systems are complex, old, and vastly different. A scalable toolkit means having a set of actions and design processes shareable across your organization to benefit all business functions. Confidence is built around having shared vocabulary and templated methods to solve any problem.
  • It reframes a problem: Having those diverse viewpoints in a room helps to see the problem from different angles. Utilizing just one point of view can be harmful to a solution because it doesn’t consider all the extremes. Reframing the problem gives the problem a fresh look that can help everyone see it in a unique and non-familiar way.
  • It’s iterative: The best part of Design Thinking is the ability to include all the stakeholders and brainstorm on lots of ideas. Quick iterations help all stakeholders see what’s most important and get excited to build upon iterations. Finding out the most important ideas to decision makers is efficient and exponentially drives down the risk having iterated now than later.

 

Design Thinking at Arundo Design Thinking Arundo 2

 

Design thinking needs a problem to solve

As wonderful as Design Thinking is, it’s important to be aware that it requires a problem to be solved. Not a problem that is assumed. To define a true problem, it’s important to ask users of heavy asset machinery what their pain points and needs are during their work. Are the users having problems seeing when to change flow rates on equipment? Do they need a way to see data to predict failure?

The problem should also be associated with a business goal. Would seeing the flow rates reduce fluid loss? Would seeing data better prevent costly reactions to false equipment failures? Having a defined problem with a matched business goal that needs solving is crucial in the Design Thinking process.

 

Design thinking empowers your blue-collar employees

In fact, when a problem you’re solving impacts your blue-collar employees, it’s a must to have them present in any design thinking activities. Usually, this is followed by the second rebuttal of “They don’t have any time! They won’t care! It’s too costly! It’s too risky!”

Here are some reasons why they should be in the room:

  • Eliminate assumptions: What works in the corporate office won’t cut it in the operation room(s). Having the user involved at the beginning eliminates all assumptions made by those who aren’t the expert on the job.
  • Provide well-rounded context: You receive clear context on their day-to-day stress, pressures, activities, etc. It paints the picture for the good, the bad, and the downright ugly which should be considered in the solution.
  • Increase solution adoption: You empower potential users by giving them a say. And, meeting their needs directly early on increases adoption substantially. Pushing a solution from the top without user involvement can remove trust and create apathy toward the solution.
  • Avoid costly rework later: You get feedback early, which avoids rework and costly tech debt that’s guaranteed to occur in the future.

Remember, the more assumptions by non-users, the further you’re from the solution the user needs. Getting any potential users involved early saves time, effort, and ultimately results in a solution that’ll be used. Win win.

 

Design thinking puts pressure on solving the problem

Set aside a specific time frame for problem-solving with your ideal stakeholders. Give the target user the most amount of time, as the solution directly impacts him or her. This will capture everyone’s full attention and again avoid rework and costly mistakes. Some benefits that come from time constraints include:

  • Decision-making is more orderly. When time is limited, all involved must be direct and to the point on requirements, risks, and constraints. Decision-making frameworks can be utilized to give the decision maker the final say while promoting an inclusive environment. Having the source of truth determined early eliminates arguments on what everyone assumes the user wants and keeps things efficient.
  • Outcomes are more reasonable. Set a plan for each discussion item, and move on when the time ends, even if the conversation is still going. Putting yourself, the stakeholders, and the user in a state of pressure removes many, if not all, unrealistic, extravagant solutions.
  • High priority problems stay in focus. Instead of spending days and months going back and forth, or having to remember those notes you scribbled down somewhere, the problem has a clear solution in half a day.  As our VP of Product says, “Ship it!”

 

Design thinking provides actionable results and a concrete solution

Imagine all the times you have had a follow-up meeting to discuss a previous meeting without any action items, again. Sound familiar? Design thinking results in efficient assets, not heavy assets.

Getting  all the stakeholders together in one room for a few hours has many benefits:

  • Time is spent efficiently: Time is focused on meeting development deadlines and rallying behind the solution than drawing out the problem-solving for days or months. No more overhead spent catching up on previous meetings or making decisions using notes somewhere in some place.
  • Solutions are clear and concrete: Everyone is on the same page and can reach the same conclusion. No one suffers miscommunication or ambiguity on what the solutions are.
  • Concerns and solution scope are taken care of: All stakeholders can voice concerns, feasibility, needs, and requirements early on. No costly mishaps because time was devoted early on getting constraints and concerns addressed first.
  • Actionable Tasks for each Stakeholder: And lastly, a concrete solution comes with actionable tasks. Seeing them early on can help everyone remain accountable and not become a bottleneck in the development process. Spend more time rallying and supporting the solution, instead of watching stakeholders drag their feet through the ambiguity.

 

Breathe! It’s never too late to build your design toolkit

We covered a lot in this post about Design Thinking. It can feel overwhelming when starting from scratch. If you’re interested in learning more about Design Thinking, start with Invision’s Design Better website. Another great resource that dives into Design Thinking is Google’s “Sprint.” Take it one step at a time, and consider including outside resources, like Arundo, to assist in your solution needs.

Remember, it is not a one-size-fits-all. It’s iterative. It’s empowering. It’s time-saving. It’s exciting.  It’s a toolkit. And, most importantly, it solves complex problems faced by the asset-heavy industry.

 

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