Design Thinking – an approach that involves analyzing a problem through empathy for the end-user and building multiple prototypes to quickly determine what works before finalizing a solution – is something very familiar to those in the engineering field. Employing this way of thinking within the Procurement Ecosystem is relatively recent.

Many of the procurement leaders we support are committed to elevating their team member’s value to their organizations. In other words, these leaders want to develop more leaders. Leadership development requires a shift in mindset, which can be difficult to overcome. The Design Thinking approach is very effective for shifting the mindset of procurement professionals we work with.

My colleague, Greg Anderson, recently participated in a keynote presentation at the SIG Technology Summit all about Design Thinking and how this approach can benefit Procurement. He shared tips and anecdotes about Design Thinking in action and addressed some of the common questions about how to get started. I’d like to delve into some of those questions here to get you reflecting on how you might employ this approach in the work you are doing

What Makes a Great First Project for Design Thinking?

“I haven’t failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Unfortunately, inherent in the Design Thinking approach is failure – and lots of it. In the quest for the right solution to your problem or pain point, Design Thinking requires pulling together multiple prototypes and testing them to see what works and what doesn’t. And we aren’t talking one or two prototypes – we are talking 10, 15, or 20. That’s why we say, “Fail fast, and fail often”.

Okay, so who wants to fail on a big, public scale? No one. But if you don’t pick a project that has a high enough profile, who is going to care? So, your first project has to be important enough to be meaningful and visible to the larger organization’s decision-makers.

Also, pick a project whose stakeholders are receptive to change and with whom you are already fairly engaged. There has to be a level of trust and openness for the process to succeed. Listen to them, ask probing questions about their biggest frustrations, what their biggest projects are for the next few years, and then pick one or two daring enough to get you started.

Innovation will emerge from this process and the insight you provide will ultimately be valued by all. You’ve earned that seat at the table.

Measuring the Success of Design Thinking – Are New KPIs Required?

The good news is that new KPIs are not necessary. Keep it simple. As you get ramped up, you begin to understand and speak the language of your stakeholders. Because you are focusing on the biggest friction points for their business with actionable solutions, you will find it increasingly easy to engage and connect. The successful cycle of empathy and solution of Design Thinking has begun.

What Are Some Lessons Learned From Using Design Thinking in Procurement?

The biggest lesson learned is to NOT jump to an answer too quickly. As humans – and as humans in a fast-paced industry and business climate – we want to just solve an issue and move on to the next. But moving too quickly and settling for the first solution presented sets you up for a less than optimal experience and outcome.

With Design Thinking, you must open your mind and consider a wide variety of opportunities and approaches to explore. When interacting with stakeholders, end-users, and suppliers to develop prototypes, listen with the intent to understand.

Hopefully, this brief blog post has you intrigued enough to learn more about how Design Thinking can help improve the projects you are working on. If you want more actionable tips, I encourage you to explore this Design Thinking Guidebook.


About the Author

Rashad Miller
Vice President, Procurement Services

Rashad Miller Rashad Miller is Vice President of Procurement Services at WNS Denali and is responsible for helping large corporations maximize procurement’s value through enabling capabilities provided by external partnerships. Rashad has over 20 years of outsourcing experience across multiple industries with roles in leadership, operations and business development. He holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology from the College of Charleston, a dual-major graduate degree in Management and HR – Development from Webster University, an M.B.A. from Colorado State University, and a Strategic Sourcing certification from Michigan State University.

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