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Ensuring Diversity of Thinking through Design Thinking Techniques

Product
Productivity
Internal Communication

30 September, 2020

Caroline Parnell, previously managed product teams at O2 and Vodafone, shares some of the techniques she applied with her team to ensure diversity of thinking during product discovery workshops.

Problem

Our product brainstorms were often not effective enough for driving original new ideas that we wanted to take forward. We would be perpetually getting the very same ideas from the very same people. The workshops were largely dominated by extroverts who did the most of talking and we wanted to enhance the diversity of thinking in our sessions. We had to identify different people who could participate, mix them up, and encourage more reticent ones to share their thoughts.
 

Actions taken

Silent brainstorming was one of the techniques that proved highly efficient. It encourages individuals to brainstorm and come up with ideas by themselves before sharing them with the team. This technique cuts out a discussion that results in mutual influence and peer pressure. It also gives voice to more people in the room, especially those more introverted that wouldn’t usually contribute to the discussion. Before applying this technique, 20% of the room would do 90% of the talking and we were not getting enough different perspectives.
 

The second technique we used was asking ‘How Might We’ questions early on before the ideas were fully developed. The questions would range from how we might get into a new market to how could we make our product better for a specific group of customers, and beyond. By focusing on questions rather than ideas we broadened our thinking rather than latching onto early ideas and came up with more creative ideas as a result.
 

We also made sure that we invited diverse thinkers into our product workshops. We invited people from very different company departments, with different strengths and experiences. And we embraced differences of opinion or conflict. This enhanced the breadth and quality of ideas that we came up with.
 

We also applied some of these techniques to improve the culture of the team. Every quarter we would run a team offsite and would do silent brainstorming as a team on what was going well in the last quarter, what hasn’t gone well, and what we wanted to do differently going forward. Also, as a team, we would vote on what were five best successes, five things we were not happy about, and five things we would do differently, and that created a strong team’s ownership. Then we would allocate those actions to people on the team to take them forward and work on them. As a result, a team culture became increasingly inspiring and inclusive and people knew that they could discuss with the team what they would do differently and/or better and that we would act on those things and improve them.
 

Lessons learned

  • The quality of our ideas improved tremendously and some of the more introverted people turned to be the deepest thinkers who would come up with the most surprising and original ideas.
  • Also, people on the team felt more motivated and included and were becoming increasingly prolific at generating fresh ideas.

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