Take a design thinking approach, but always remember your vision

This is a multi-part series sharing the lessons I’ve learned on my entrepreneurial journey thus far. Here is the eighth lesson. Read the intro, first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh lessons, if you haven’t already done so.

According to MIT:

“Design thinking is a powerful process of problem solving that begins with understanding unmet customer needs. From that insight emerges a process for innovation that encompasses concept development, applied creativity, prototyping, and experimentation. When design thinking approaches are applied to business, the success rate for innovation improves substantially.”

At its core, design thinking is about understanding the user (i.e. customer), the unmet needs at hand, the problems you are focusing on, and then going about solving them in a way that delivers real value to people.

This article isn’t about design thinking. There are other resources you can reference if that’s your goal. I’m merely sharing the key lessons in taking this approach to build our solution.

Validation

It’s important to validate the problem you are attempting to solve is one people actually have. Beyond that, you need to ensure that the way you are proposing to solve the problem aligns with how the customer will use your solution.

We’ve spent many hours speaking with our design partners and customers to understand their challenges. We also take time to get their feedback on our approach, thinking, and the actual solution we are building.

In essence, what people tell us during our design sprints heavily influences how we prioritise the product roadmap. Doing this is critical to ensuring we build something that people will use to solve the problems we set out to address in the first place.

One of the biggest mistakes product teams make is in assuming they know everything about the problem space. This means, they sometimes build a whole product in isolation thinking they know best, running the risk of delivering something no one will use.

We made a deliberate decision to ensure we weren’t building in a vacuum. One of our core company values is to “do what is right for the customer”. To help with this, we actively find opportunities to listen to customers and industry voices as frequently as possible.

But we’ve also realised that there needs to be balance. Listening to everyone else all the time can cause one to forget that you are also coming from a position of knowledge and experience.

Your own opinions matter too

Another of our core company values is transparency. So, in the interest of living our values, I will be transparent about this:

All too often, we default to a position of immediately “asking the customer” when uncertainty arises in a product decision we have to make.

In principle, this is the right reflexive action. However, doing so without first taking the time to analyse what we think the right answer should be, puts us in a completely reactive position when it comes to priorities. Put simply, we can sometimes end up doing what a customer tells us, even if it doesn’t make sense for us to do it.

In addition, forward-looking strategic decisions can fall by the wayside because of time spent addressing backward-looking challenges. These come up from time-to-time because a customer may not have found the ideal way of addressing the problem yet. Unfortunately, that fact that you are actually attempting to solve a backward-looking challenge is not always obvious at first.

If you don’t pick up on this early enough, you run the risk of building capabilities that lots of other solutions already have, putting you in a space that is more competitive than you had anticipated. There are of course, instances where you have no choice but to do this. All I’m saying is that you should do it knowingly instead of being blindsided.

Vision

Customers want to know you are headed in the right direction and are more willing to come on the journey if you have a compelling vision. And that vision needs to emanate from your “why”.

The strategic vision of a company and its solutions can evolve over time; it’s called adjusting to market needs and demand. But the best visions come from within, not the other way around. e.g. Steve Jobs, George Lucas, Walt Disney.

It is extremely difficult to have a compelling vision and product strategy if you are 100% reactive to the things people tell you in isolation. Sure, external opinions must be taken into account. Without them, you run the risk of building things no one wants.

Ultimately, your vision must come from conviction and belief, and you must sharpen it by being a great listener. A completely reactive design approach that relies solely on external input ensures that you remain a follower, never a leader.

Read on for the conclusion.

Ian Yip is the CEO of Avertro, which brings science to cyber story-telling by providing a simple, yet sophisticated executive and board cyber platform that helps organisations tell a compelling story, right-size their cyber program, and understand their cyber-why.

Cyber Risk. Cybersecurity. Business. Tech. Entrepreneur. CEO at Avertro. Former CTO at McAfee Asia Pacific.