4 success factors for building capability in human-centred design

by Matt Currie / 11 February 2015 / No Comments

Many organisations we come into contact with are interested in developing their in-house capability in design thinking or human-centred design. Sometimes this is the sole focus of their engagement with us. Other times it’s a secondary objective attached to a specific product/service innovation project.

Here are some of the key considerations and success factors that I believe an organisation ought to focus on when they have a goal to build internal capability in human-centred design.

1. Define the capability vision
Organisations need to have a clear view on what capability they want to develop and what this will look like within the organisation when fully developed. Fuzzy goals like “we want to be better at understanding customer needs” aren’t particularly helpful for organising activities and resources. A better vision might be “we want every change initiative we undertake to follow a human-centred design process and this means…”.

Being clear on the capability vision from the start ensures that all the steps that are taken to build that capability can be anchored to the same thing.

2. If capability is a goal, then treat it like one
If you’ve defined a clear capability vision and decided you’re serious about seeing that vision realised, then you need to be doing three things:

  • consciously and consistently evaluating progress against that goal
  • providing the necessary resources (human, time, environmental, money) for it to be achieved
  • generally reminding the organisation at every turn that this is the path you’re on.

    True capability generally doesn’t develop without a structured, concerted effort.

    3. Executive advocacy and ownership
    Capability development efforts require not only hands-on exposure to new ways of thinking and doing at a staff level, but also the unwavering and explicit commitment of senior management. Even if it’s just a single executive carrying the torch, human-centred design needs a strong voice in the boardroom if it’s to flourish in an organisation.

    Senior management folk are the ones who need to set and support the capability vision.

    4. Select the right people
    Building internal capability in human-centred design requires that the people who do the nuts and bolts of innovation learn and embed new ways of thinking and doing. Selecting the right people to lead the charge here is absolutely critical. Nothing will foil your capability development efforts quicker than asking people without a natural affinity for the philosophy and behaviours of human-centred design to try and apply it.

    There is of course the argument that everyone has the basic capacity to do human-centred design, and at a fundamental level, I agree. However experience tells me that in any organisation there are people who are more naturally suited to human-centred design. These people really ought to be the people you start with, because the transition will be that much easier for them and therefore smoother for the organisation.

    There are heaps of people out there who’ve been involved in human-centred design capability development initiatives, and this discussion is really only scratching the surface of a pretty complex topic.

    What are your experiences and your take on what is critical for success with human-centred design capability development?

  • About the author:

    Matt is the Director and Principal at Divergent. Matt is a divergent thinker who loves ideating but knows when to converge too; he has experience with a range of tools and techniques to guide the innovation process to successful business outcomes.

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