issue #1 – research doesn’t fit into fast-spinning cycles

golden gate bridge viewed from lands end

When you look at the steps in a method, you suppose each of them requires the same amount of attention. But when the rubber meets the road, certain steps require a lot more effort, and other steps seem like they can be safely shortcut. Unfortunately, understanding and defining the problem an organization aims to solve is hard to do well, and therefore it gets only rough consideration.

In order to imbue these first steps with more value, try separating them out from the rest of the method. Run them as a completely separate, ongoing cycle that can go at its own cadence. It takes time to understand a person deeper than their opinions, preferences, and explanations of how things are done. It takes time to develop rapport and trust, to get down to the deeper reasoning and reactions that fly through a person’s head as they achieve a larger purpose. It also takes a completely different mindset to define scopes of research studies based on the problem space rather than the solution currently under construction. So separate these things.

Design Thinking Steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test

Stanford Design School’s design thinking layout. Some people put these five steps in a cycle. I split out the first two steps as a separately running cycle, for greater depth and value.

two separate cycles exploring the problem (people) and the solution (idea/product)

The cycle on the left is about the solution you have or envision–your offering. The cycle on the right (which ideally comes before the solution cycle) represents research into the problem space–why people think what they think as they attempt to accomplish a larger purpose or intent.

Let this separate problem-space cycle be influenced by what you’ve learned so far from the cycle, and by what the rest of the organization deems high priority. For example, accessibility became important to an organization, so the problem-space cycle swung its focus from studying how people lose weight to how people with different kinds of challenges approach health goals.

You will never understand another human completely–there’s no “final report” that will sum people up. But the data this problem-space cycle creates is evergreen. It does not lose validity over time. So you can keep adding to it.

Most organizations’ efforts are bounded by their own perspective. Check if you are truly getting outside of the bounds of your solution. It is incredibly valuable to develop respect for the depth and complexity of your customers’ real thinking without your solution framework getting in the way. It will give you access to many more opportunities to support people.

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  1. Pingback: Issue #6 – “Move Fast” Great for Engineering, Lousy for Understanding | indi young