You Need a Design-Driven Culture to Get Stuff Done

A team working on a design sprint

Posted on Mar 9, 2018

When you hear someone use the expression “corporate culture”, are your eyes ready to glaze over? It’s there, but how do you put your finger on it? It influences your organization, but how do you influence it? Those questions are rhetorical, of course, because none of us have figured out the secret recipe—and that’s o.k.
 

Here’s why: Delivering a state-of-the-art product to the market has less to do with a loosely defined corporate culture and more with creating a focused, design-driven culture. And yes, there’s a difference.
 

When you hear the word “design,” think of something that’s been customized precisely for you and with purpose. And when your company has a design-driven culture, you’ll see business processes that are specifically organized for your company, your product and, ultimately, your customers—all with the aim of getting the job done.
 

Instead of obsessing over corporate culture, fix your sights on how to most effectively deliver results with a design-driven culture.
 

Over the years, we have hosted a series of panels on Lean and Agile methodologies at SXSW. While we talked with some of the brightest minds from companies such as Coca-Cola, TD Ameritrade and Google about everything from DevOps to Design Sprints, our goal was to engage everyone in how to move the needle in a way that makes sense for their particular business. (Full disclosure: Coca-Cola, Google, Kohl's and Ancar Ivanhoe are current clients and/or partners of CI&T.) As you think about creating a design-driven culture within your organization, there are some considerations that you should keep in mind.
 

Become a Lean, mean, design-driven machine
 

For starters, an essential ingredient for today’s design-driven culture is Lean thinking. When you hear “Lean,” you may think about Toyota or manufacturing. But did you know that Lean can be applied to your digital business as well? One way to think about Lean and having a design-driven culture is that Lean allows you to see your whole value stream.
 

To illustrate, let’s consider the first two Lean principles: identify value and map the value system. Whether in manufacturing or retail, it’s critical that you’re focused on what your customers want and then outline the exact processes for delivering this product to market—while eliminating waste. In digital terms, Lean can also help ensure that your business processes are in sync with the needs of the digital era.
 

And most importantly, Lean can help with continuous improvement and problem solving, potentially through A3 (a structured approach named after size A3 paper) or PDCA (plan-do-check-act) approaches. Because of its flexibility, Lean will help you produce great digital solutions and figure out ways to create IT products that your customers value in no time.
 

Reshaping the customer experience
 

Another necessary step is creating a design culture within the product development teams so they can reshape the customer experience. What this means is that the designers and engineers are working collaboratively, with decisions firmly rooted in data. This helps designers evolve their creative intuition based on science. Just imagine your designers using technologies that measure the feeling of delight through facial expression recognition.
 

If you want to see the intersection of design thinking and customer experience, look at brands like Kohl's or Brazil’s shopping mall giant, Ancar Ivanhoe. Kohl's created its k/lab label to deliver data-inspired fashion that can be changed on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, Ancar Ivanhoe applied Design Thinking to revolutionize the shopping experience, with innovations such as geo-based promotions provided through the malls’ Wi-Fi. How cool would it be to stand in front of a shop and suddenly receive a coupon for 20% off?
 

A case for DevOps
 

Now you’re a design-driven culture evangelist, right? You’ve adopted Lean principles and your product development teams are using data-inspired Design Thinking to take your products to the next level. But what about the online experience?
 

To stay lockstep with your customers’ digital expectations, try implementing DevOps, which basically means a close working relationship between your IT development and operations teams. This allows you to streamline the process for moving code from the test environment to production. The benefit of having a closer, more collaborative relationship between these teams is that by working together at the outset, they maximize the value delivered to the end customer and reduce waste.
 

To put this in context, how frequently does your organization release code to production? If your answer is once per month, there’s considerable room for improvement. Some of today’s leading companies—Netflix is a great example—have improved their coding and delivery productivity such that they’re seamlessly releasing updates on a regular basis. And their customers are enjoying up-to-date and stable digital experiences because of it. Moreover, they’re expecting it.
 

Design Sprints to get you started
 

Perhaps you’re thinking: This all sounds good, but our resources are stretched as it is. When keeping the lights on is occupying most of your energy, finding free time can be like searching for unicorns. We suggest dispensing with the months of committee meetings and planning. Design Sprints can help you go from concept to validating your prototype in as little as five days.

Though we’ve talked about design sprints in the past, it’s worth pointing out here that you can conduct Sprints regardless of your company’s size, industry or product. But there are some ground rules. Before diving in, you should set expectations for what’s being produced, avoid limiting your creativity, have the right people in the room, validate your ideas, and keep your concepts alive by connecting them with larger programs (preferably ones with budget and pipeline management).

A radical departure from the past

Elon Musk said, “Any product that needs a manual to work is broken.” Steve Jobs similarly waxed poetic about how products should delight the user. Of course, companies like Tesla and Apple make it all look so simple. We know that’s far from the case. But to stay relevant, having a Lean, design-driven culture in your company is an idea whose time has come.