Why You Should Be a Design Thinker

Posted by on 10:01 pm in blog | 0 comments

There is new buzz for business and project management; it’s called “Design Thinking.”  Design thinking is not new, but proponents like Tim Brown, President/CEO of IDEO gave a foundational TED Talk on design thinking in 2009 and he suggested that Design Thinking belongs back in the forefront as a methodology for use in the public, private nonprofit sector enterprises. More and more organizations are insisting that their managers and product teams become design thinkers… and for good reason.

What is Design Thinking?

There are a variety of definitions but the two that fit the current trend best are below:

Tim Brown. President/CEO of IDEO, describes it as user-centric with this description; “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.”

The Stanford describes design thinking as “a methodology for innovation that combines creative and analytical approaches and requires collaboration across disciplines.”

Clearly, it encourages a user-centric approach to develop innovative solutions and draws on approaches from engineering and design by combining them with ideas from the arts, social sciences and the business world.

What Are the Process Steps in Design Thinking?

The Stanford has done the most work in this area and has the most widely-used five step design thinking process as follows:

Empathy: Begin the end in mind with your end users and stakeholders. Empathize to get to know them through interviews, observations and learning how they would possibly interact with the product.
Define: Based on your input from your end users and stakeholders, you can start forming hypotheses and asking further questions. All the while keeping the user’s perspective in mind.
Ideate: Explore, brainstorm ideas and flush out the bad ideas to get to the good ones.
Prototype: Building a prototype allows you to see how your product perform helps to put your ideas to the test.
Test: Let your end users and stakeholders test your prototype, learning how they interact with it and thus allowing you to refine your ideas.

How Can You Apply Design Thinking?

Know your design process – Be accountable to understand the product lifecycle and its processes.

Focus on your customer first – Get out of your office and get to know your end users and stakeholders. Seeing the projects and its impacts will give you a new perspective from their point of view.

Everyone can be involved in design – Collaboration across many disciplines can promote common language, practices, and allow many to participate.

Brush up on your emotional intelligence – Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s situation from their perspective.  Placing yourself in another person’s shoes to understand their issues/problems may require occasional reflection.

Uncover the real business problems to be solved – Big, wicked creative ideas are important for teams to brainstorm to uncover the best and brightest ideas for the organization to consider for their projects.

More brainstorming before the analysis – Analysis will provide teams with the detail to solve problems; don’t get stuck analyzing the wrong problems.  Make brainstorming big ideas a priority with your project teams so you spend time analyzing the right problems.

Utilize lean project management practices to help your organization learn to be more Agile. – Agile is a practice that more organizations are beginning to adopt into their cultures. Stay abreast of current practices and methods to help your organization solve their business problems using the most innovative practices.

Widely used tools add value – Design processes offers a few tools that project managers can take advantage of for process improvements, stakeholder participation, requirements gathering and experience design.

Future State of Design Thinking

Design thinking is not new but it’s a major trend for organizations to approach modern problem solving strategically. Design thinking for PMs promotes creativity to exploit the best ideas to select in the scope of requirements for a project that generates innovative solutions to meet a strategic initiative. Organizations should establish training for project managers, product managers and any product teams to build a strong knowledge and skill base around design thinking approaches in order to balance that with agile practices and to lead more strategic projects for their organizations.



5 Signs of Team Burnout (and What to Do About It)

Posted by on 8:14 pm in blog | 0 comments

If you don’t think there’s no reason to worry about whether your team members are burnt out or not, you’re wrong. Sure, it’s their job. Just do it, you may say, trying to rally them around a sneaker tag line. But employees aren’t products that are pushed into market, they’re human beings, like you, whose productivity will falter if not engaged with the work they’re doing.

Analysis conducted by ResearchGate from 2012 reflected a strong correlation between burnout and job engagement. It makes sense. Burn out is something more than just trying to work on an empty stomach or without a good night’s sleep. It’s a systemic collapse: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. You can’t concentrate, problems feel overwhelming. You’re less creative. It impacts your decision-making, how innovative you are and your ability to assess risk.

This is not the profile of a productive team member, but what can you do about it, you’re not a psychiatrist. No, but you are a leader of resources tasked to complete a project and it’s part of your job to ensure nothing stands in the way of this goal. That means you have to be cognizant of the  “happiness” of your team. You need to know if someone is exhibiting signs of burnout.

So, without going back to school and getting your doctorate in psychology, how can you tell when someone working for you is suffering from burn out? Thankfully, it’s not that hard. What’s difficult is not judging their behavior and instead recognizing it and then working on resolving it before it negatively impacts the project.


If you’re going through employees, if your office has a revolving door that never stops spinning with working quitting, that’s a red flag. Sure, one or even two workers might not be a corporate fit or their departure is just an anomaly, but remember three’s a trend. Once you’re noticing attrition, then it may be time to look at how you might be contributing to making the workplace unpleasant.

While certainly you can’t control the entire office culture, one thing you can do is address the environment for your team at work and see if there are things you can do to make it more attractive to the kind of worker you’re looking to keep (or recruit, depending on how many people have left). You can review workplace incentives to see how you might add value, or develop social events for your team to celebrate milestones regularly on the project.

Speak to your team members, get to know them, find out what they’re like and what they want both out of life and on the job. You may not have the power to implement cultural changes at the organization you work at, but with this knowledge you can help make the climate at work more comfortable.


Most employees are likely not in a position to abandon their job if they’re unhappy or burnt out. However, they may take advantage of sick days or vacation days or arrive late and leave early as a more passive way to avoid the situation at work.

Keep your eye open for excessive absenteeism. It is a sure sign that you’re facing burn out.

Dealing with this problem is not dissimilar to the turnover issue. Start with surveying your team. If you can find a way to question what employees want and need from their job that’s a good start, but if you then don’t follow through on seriously responding to their concerns you’re only going to further the burn out by simply giving lip service to it. Acting on the comments of your team is how you build a trusting and fruitful relationship.

Of course, the employee may be responding to something not job-related. There could be a conflict with his or her spouse or family. They may have been diagnosed with an illness that is compounded by stress. The possibilities are endless, but do what you can within reasonable limits to learn what’s bothering them and how you can work together to limit its influence on project performance. Tread carefully, however, boundaries must be respected.

Never Taking a Vacation

On the flip side of the coin is the employee who never leaves. You know the type: the overachiever, who burns the midnight oil and has a backlog of vacation days they’ve never put in for. You may think this is exactly the kind of go-getter attitude you want on your team, but there’s a dark side to all work and no play.

Remember The Shining? All work and no play makes, well, everyone a dullard… or worse.

Nothing is more likely to result in burnout on the job than overextending oneself at work. There have been many studies supporting the need for a life-work balance, including recent research by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams in the Harvard Business Review. It may be a bit of a buzz concept and easier said than done, but certainly few would deny that devoting all your energies to one subject is going to dull, not sharpen, your work.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to pick out the team member who never leaves their desk; more problematic may be prying them from it without making them feel threatened. This is likely best accomplished by a personal one-on-one discussion, giving them a sense of job security and impressing on their work ethic by noting how much more productive they’ll be if they give themselves time to reboot.


Some personalities mesh and others don’t. That’s life. Nothing you can do about that. In a work environment, though, we should know to leave our personal issues out of it. We’re a team united in a common goal. That said, realistically, there’s going to be clashes.

Sometimes these conflicts are positive in that they help the team resolve problems. But if you’re noticing a team member who is always arguing, never cooperative and continuously on edge as if looking for a fight, this can be a signal that you’re dealing with a burned-out individual.

Here it can be hard to want to help and not just terminate someone who is so unpleasant, but if you put the work in, you may find an employee who is doubly committed to the job. It helps to have compassion, be empathetic, listen to their complaints and, if you’re not about to offer solutions, then at least show support. Sometimes it’s as easy as that. Sometimes it’s not. You’ll have to decided on how much investment is worth the return.


Another way team members exhibit burnout is in by disengaging on the job and showing a lack of productivity. This may have other causes, too, such as they may need further training on a specific aspect of their job to get up to speed.

And, like most of these signs, the cure is relatively the same: identifying the cause of the team members dissatisfaction and addressing it to the best of your abilities. You’re not a nanny, but you are a leader, and leaders should be effective. You’re not going to have an effective engine to drive your project forward, if one of the pistons isn’t firing correctly.

There are many ways to deal with burn out, and you’ll have to tailor your methods to the individual, but creating a nurturing environment, empowering employees to feel autonomy, fostering healthy competition and offering a venue for feedback are all a good start to facilitating a place where burn out is less of an issue and project success a more likely result.


Is It Your Job to Make Your Team Happy?

Posted by on 8:11 pm in blog | 0 comments

You’re leading a project. There are countless tasks to manage, business drivers you’re balancing, external and internal forces impacting time and budget, and it’s nearly 4:30 and you still need to deliver the monthly status report. The idea that you also need to worry about whether your team is happy sounds like some New Age fluff that you just don’t have time for. Certainly, you don’t have the luxury of happiness.

Besides, in an egalitarian workplace, where people are treated respectfully and as adults, doesn’t it fall to those same adults to find the internal motivators to be happy? Is it even healthy for managers to think they can influence the happiness of their team?

Alison Beard writing in the Harvard Business Review, notes a recent backlash against the happiness trend. Shecites William Davies, author of The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being: “Fed up with organizational attempts to tap into what is essentially a ‘grey mushy process inside our brains’, in Davies’ view, there’s something sinister about the way advertisers, HR managers, governments, and pharmaceutical companies are measuring, manipulating, and ultimately making money from our insatiable desire to be happier.”

That may be true, but as report after report finds, including this one byEconstor, how we feel about our job doesaffect our performance. According to employee behavioral research conducted by Harvard Universityand Massachusetts General Hospital, whereas “commitment is largely influenced by one’s sense of purpose, feeling of personal impact and overall trust in the organization… productivity is largely affected by the quality of human relationships including cooperative, social group moods and interaction.”

Gone are the outmoded ideas that productive work should be pain-inducing. For today’s manager, happiness and productivity can be linked… Put a different way: happiness is often a byproduct of effective management. When you learn how to effectively communicate, delegate and, yes, celebrate with your team, happiness isn’t another to-do item on your own managerial task list. Rather, it is born of leading effectively with your team.

Here are several ways your leadership can positively impact your team’s happiness.

Accountability + Communication

Anne Grady, in an article about leading teams for the Harvard Business Review, notes while many leaders believe that holding people accountable is what drives results, they often don’t properly communicate what that result is, which leads to frustration when your team isn’t meeting expectations.

Poor communication frequently is shown to reduce team loyalty, productivity and morale, but even more so when the lack of communication directly impacts a person’s performance goals.

Rather than define what accountability looks like for your team, instead, incorporate your team into defining what the project expectations and accountability goals look like. Have them individually brainstorm solutions for different metrics of success, if that is suitable for the role, so that they know you took time to get their input.

By inviting people into the goal-setting process, you will ensure that they’re clearly aware of what is expected of them—because they helped define those goals.

Respect the Internet

According to a study by, the internet lowers worker productivity. But everybody knows that. The problem is how to deal with the looming temptations of Tetris and Twitter.

Micromanaging your team’s internet use constantly certainly doesn’t help motivation. Rather, the same study noted that your overbearing prohibition policies and presence can produce a net loss of productivity.

When you have set and clearly communicated success metrics for each team member, you can trust them to get their work done in a manner befitting of an adult.  Each person works differently, and they know what works best for them, so trust them to do their job.

If your company has formal performance reviews only once or twice a year, develop your own project “check ins” each team member or even daily stand-ups with the team to create a culture of transparency and make sure they’re hitting their targets along the way. That way you, too, might enjoy 10 minutes to unwind with Sudoku to clear your mind before the next big challenge.

People Love Stuff

As I noted above, it might feel almost unhealthy to “monitor” your team’s happiness. After all, they are adults, and nobody needs to be subjected to your Pavlovian experiments to ensure something as vague as “happiness”.

But there is a balance in a work environment, indeed something all leaders consider, which is understanding the role of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Ideally, we can hire the most talented, self-motivated people and never have to worry about their happiness – until, that is, they’re hired away to someone offering them more in the way of extrinsic motivators like a higher salary or better benefits or even a happier work culture.

A study from Bersin by Deloitte noted that “companies with recognition programs highly effective at improving employee engagement have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than their peers with ineffective recognition programs.” Everyone likes to be acknowledged for the good job they’re doing or done.

Praise and prizes to note milestones in a project can go a long way to making your workers feel appreciated. It doesn’t even have to be more than a dinner voucher or tickets to a movie or show, a gym membership or metro pass. Maybe give the team the day off or early dismissal if they’re able to bring a task to completion sooner than you’ve scheduled.

For the bigger picture, you may want to think about how to supplement your team members’ salaries with meaningful benefits that lead to reduced stress overall. For example, you might be able to provide more flex vacation time or offer insurance programs that are usually only reserved for senior team members. The cost in healthcare has gone up recently, and some medical plans don’t include dental or optical coverage. It may prove a beneficial investment to give employees these extra services (or a pay bump that is the equivalent) to build loyalty which in turn adds to overall productivity.

The Holistic Approach

You want your employees to be happy not solely so they are more productive, but also so they remain on the job. According to Corporate Executive Board research, “it can cost up to 150% of a departing employee’s salary to replace them (taking into account lost productivity, recruiting fees, retraining, and other outlays).” Many employers offer financial incentives like bonuses, but forget about the physical, emotional and social part of their workers’ wellbeing.

Georgie Drury, founder of Springday, said recently on HuffPost Business, “From my experience the organizations which employees want to work for, are the ones where the CEO takes wellbeing seriously and leads by example by participating in corporate citizenship, e.g. volunteering, practicing mindfulness, committing to exercise goals, etc.”

Many startups competing for tech talent go the extra mile with employee perks, offering workplace programs for employees to eat healthy such as in-house chefs whipping up free healthy meals, lunchtime yoga classes, free massages or massage chairs, or the time-honored foosball tables. Other companies prefer a top-down modeling approach where executives lead yoga or mindful meditation sessions with their workers or lead group walks during lunchtime.

Certainly, addressing the physical and spiritual happiness of employees is a way to create a more attractive workplace that helps boost productivity and employee retention.

Happiness may be relative, but we’re relatively sure that you’ll be happier with the right tools for the job.