How to get executive buy-in for Design Thinking

The five stages of Design Thinking and the ROI metrics that can be collected.

Design Thinking is a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs. It is an incredibly powerful tool to innovate your strategy, your organization or your next disruptive product.

Getting your organization to adopt Design Thinking, however, can be a challenge.

In this article, Sean Van Tyne, author of Easy to Use 2.0: User Experience Design in Agile Development for Enterprise Software, will walk you through the five stages of Design Thinking and the ROI metrics that can be collected, in order to get executive buy-in.

The five phases of Design Thinking

The reason why people get into design thinking in the first place is to propagate innovation. What is innovation? It’s the intersection between what is desirable for your customers, what is viable for your business and what is technically feasible.

Basically, it answers the questions, “Can you build it?” “Will people buy it?” and “Can you build a business around it?”

Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO and one of the leaders of design thinking, has this to say:

“Design thinking is a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

Design thinking is a way to innovate by using an artist’s approach. It’s not a process, it’s a discipline; a mindset; a way of thinking for a designer to solve problems.

There are many frameworks out there to help your own design thinking, but the one you see most often comes from the Stanford School of Design, which uses five phases: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. This is the one we’ll be using in this article.

The first thing to be aware of is that design thinking is an iterative process that will help you define who it is you’re designing your solution for, exploring those ideas and manifesting them.

Then there are iterations between each stage. For instance between Empathise and Define, you might realise you need to empathise some more and go back a stage. Then during Ideation, you might find you need to define some things a little better. Likewise, discoveries found during Prototyping can send you all the way back to Empathizing on who your customers are.

Design Thinking doesn’t even end with Implementing and launching your product. It’s not only iterative, it’s cyclical; it comes back around. You did your MVP (minimum viable product) release, next you’ll do your 1.0, then a 1.5, for example.

You continuously go around the circle of understanding who your customers are, exploring ideas, materializing these ideas and learning every time around. Think of it as a ‘learning loop’.

Getting executive buy-in

This is really key. If you don’t get buy-in from your bosses and other stakeholders, Design Thinking isn’t going to happen for your organization.

A simple way to do this is by creating a scorecard. An easy way of communicating to executive management the return on investment (ROI) they’re going to get for adopting Design Thinking.

Here in this simple example generic scorecard you can see how you can talk to an executive about how you’re going to increase revenue and reduce costs in ways that’s meaningful for them.

Pay extra close attention to what is most important to your organization’s objectives and frame your point around this.

How to appoint a champion for your project

In addition to getting executive buy-in, it’s always good to get a champion for your project on the ground.

A good champion doesn’t have to understand the details of how Design Thinking works – but they do need to understand the value it brings.

Again, a simple scorecard can help you communicate this clearly.

Work with your leadership team to find your champion and maybe even try to find them in finance – after all, stumbling blocks are likely to be budget based.

The ROI of Design Thinking

70% of projects fail due to lack of User Experience, according to Forrester Research. This is a pretty startling statistic to share with your executives as a way to persuade them.

There are plenty more statistics that support the power of Design Thinking. The Forrester/IBM Total Economic Impact Study of Design Thinking also discovered the following:

  • Organizations slashed the time required for initial design and alignment by 75%
    The model demonstrates cost savings of $196K per minor project and $872K per major project.
  • Project teams leveraged better designs and user understanding to reduce development and testing time by at 33% This equates to cost savings of $223K per minor project and $1.1M per major project.
  • Design Thinking practices helped projects cut design defects in half. Projects were more successful in meeting user needs, thereby reducing design defects and subsequent rework to save $77K per minor project and $153K per major project.
  • Faster time-to-market enabled increased profits from net-new customers and the higher present value of expected profits. Faster time-to-market increased profits by $182K per minor project and $1.1M per major project.

How do you measure the ROI of Design Thinking?

The only way you’re going to improve anything is by measuring it. There are lots of ways to do this. You can look at our own guide to user research methodologies, which covers everything from A/B Testing, to Remote Usability Studies, to Card Sorting, to Tree Testing and beyond.

You can also use a range of tools, from eye-tracking goggles, to facial recognition software, to cloud-based moderated and unmoderated usability testing products such as our own.

Learn how to talk the same language as your executives and demonstrate the true value of UX