Monday, March 18, 2013

Design with Uncertainty!


Recently I read the quote by - Mario Andretti, one of the world’s most reputed automobile racing driver.

“If everything seems under control, then you are just not going fast enough”

I also like few other quotes on similar lines  

“If you know what you are going to do, its not research”

“If you absolutely know what the solution is, then you are not doing a strategy”.

I would like to slightly revise the first quote by saying

“If everything looks certain and absolutely measurable, then probably you are not innovating enough”

In a tough business climate, we all long for certainty. I see the micro-metering capability of our cloud computing models is exactly the reflection of our business sentiment.  We want to absolutely know measure and have a handle on the cash outflow on our computing needs. Perfectly understandable, if our focus is on cost!

However, if someone wants to build a whole new business model that makes breakthrough revenue, no amount of certainty is going to help.  Here, the focus is on performance and growth.  A business that constantly focuses only on cost will get devalued.  In order to generate growth and new revenue, it’s absolutely required to come up with new products/services.

There is a whole lot of discussion happening on the Net around the topic – Design Thinking.  Not sure how many people believe in it. I have started to believe in it as I study and practice more and more on the topic.

Am not going to explain and defend in detail about Design Thinking in this post. That’s for another time!. But, In essence, Design thinking is just an attitude. It’s a way of problem solving – applying a designer’s techniques/methods in solving real business problems!.  Some of the key distinguishing aspects of Design thinking are – Applying Abductive thinking (Asking what might be possible?),  Applying Divergent thinking before making a conclusion (Coming up with variety of options before concluding a solution).

The issue which I wanted to highlight is businesses hate uncertainty. Finance hates uncertainty (That’s why we hedge). Project Management methods hate uncertainty (as cost increases).  IT service contracts hate uncertainty.  Eventually, business suffers. Creativity suffers.  Innovation is hard to come by.

The more we apply our scientific, statistical, monte carlo methods, continue to baseline our plans (in agile), We constantly move away from ‘Artistic’ side of problem solving.  Scientific, Structured methods are absolutely necessary, critical in solving structured problems, where stakes are high and risks are unacceptable.  The artistic methods are people-centric, inherently learning (doesn’t assume a certain solution upfront) and may waste resources.

In order to solve wicked problems that are chronic, unstructured, Design thinking methods could certainly help.  Applying Design thinking in the project means you may come up with variety of ideas/solutions in the project, discard a few, combine one or two and form the final solution. Now this whole process may take its own course of time, based on the team dynamics.  How do you arrive at an estimate for such a scenario?  Certainty goes out of the window, when team dynamics comes into the picture.  That’s the reason we take people out of the equation and shift the focus on the process. Agile could be the answer? – Agile campus agree that a different approach needs to be taken for design thinking projects and Agile methods like Scrum can complement those projects.

Design thinking process necessarily involves understanding, observing, ideation, prototyping and testing.

The key question is – How do you package the design thinking projects in conventional IT services contracts?  There are various models such as Time & Materials, Fixed Cost, Outcome-based, etc.  Each one has its own flipside as they are suited to solve structured problems with certainty as the key metric.

Remember, compensation structures of sales executives are highly variable, dynamic based on revenue/growth. Unless such variability is introduced into business contracts, there wouldn’t be an incentive for the teams/partners to come up with fantastic ideas applying design thinking solving real business problems.

1 comment:

Venkataraman Ramachandran said...

Nice post! Quite a different one compared to your previous posts! Any recommendations for someone who wants to explore design thinking. Do share some references which helped u understand better!