Design thinking

How human-centred design problem-solving can get your project back on track

What's your problem?

It's easy, and perhaps human nature to slip into solution mode — you get stuck on the how to solve a problem. But what you need to do is climb out of your comfort zone and get into the what.

So the first step in your human-centred design workshop is to define the problem (known as the change statement in fancy circles). This is actually pretty tough. What's the problem you're trying to solve and what change are you looking to make?

Limit the team's time, and try to put it into one sentence. Get the statement good enough — you'll probably tweak it a few times during the workshop, and that's ok.

Storm those brains

It's time to let the team get little nuts on the creativity side. Hand out a pad of sticky notes and a marker to each person and set your timer for 3 minutes. You and the team have a goal of sticking 50 potential solutions to your problem on the wall. Remember to focus on the what, and steer clear of the how.

This sounds like a lot, especially when you're already at an impasse in your project. But this might just be the release everyone needs.

With a bit of time pressure and zero censorship on ideas, you'll be amazed at what's lurking in people's brains... rocket shoes and digital assistants may not make your final list, but that's just fine. The key here is that divergent thinking unlocks our creativity, and we start to see opportunities through the sharing and cross-pollination of ideas.

Pick your winner

Once you have your wall of ideas, get each team member to give a 20-second elevator pitch for their idea/s, and group them into similar concepts.

Then it's time to start the cull. Give everyone five voting dots (blue-tack, highlighters, whatever works) and ask them to tag the ideas they think are worth further discussion.

This process lets you quickly and effectively narrow down your list — hopefully you'll have maybe three clear favourites. So now you can be a bit more objective with your rating. From 1 (below low) to 5 (high), rate your three remaining ideas on:

  • Energy: How much energy is already behind the solution? Do people in the organisation already know and support it?
  • Excitement: How much excitement would be generated by implementing this solution?
  • Ease: How easy is it to implement the idea?

The sticky note with the highest score is the solution that you're going to focus on. And because everyone worked on this outcome together, there’s no argument — just a strong consensus and commitment to seeing it through. (If the number one solution is rocket shoes, we wish you the best of luck...).

This process works well for a whole range of projects or problems. But it's particularly efficient for when you need to create a prototype of the end solution. In our sample case, we're looking for a new way to deliver the project. And our chosen solution is to build a software tool to automate parts of the data migration.

This works because it addresses a recurring issue — continually changing data format and delivery requirements. Our chosen solution lets our project team change the output in minutes, rather than weeks. Just what we want.

Set your milestones and get started

With the team, split the solution up into three manageable milestones. Each one that you achieve is a win for the project and an indicator that you're heading for success.

Deliver a prototype first, and get your end-users to touch it and try it. This allows you to prove your solution works before you throw all your time and energy into developing and building a tool that doesn't meet the mark.

As with the other steps, set a time limit on this activity — keep it to 10 minutes. One of the reasons this entire process works so well is that it enables you to solve your problem in a half-day workshop, saving everybody's valuable time. The way we keep it tight is by timeboxing every activity, so you can stay focused and committed to the task.

All that's left to do is to start working on the first of your three milestones. Good luck!

Plan your own human-design workshop

Facilitating human-centred design problem-solving in your organisation is simple. Tested and proven design thinking techniques can help you solve even the nastiest of problems. So get your team together and turn a sticky situation into a consensus-driven solution, with three achievable milestones and a positive outcome.

Human centred design—problem solving

Human-centred design thinking puts your customer at the heart of the solution. Turn a sticky situation into achievable milestones and a consensus-driven, positive outcome.


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