Incorporating Design Thinking into meetings – Lessons learned
Implementing Design Thinking methods is a major part of my job as a UX Designer at Bosch Software Innovations. We apply it in projects with customers and even teach others the techniques in our training programs. However, it was just recently that I learned about a technique called Lightning Decision Jams, developed by Berlin-based design sprint agency AJ&Smart.
What are Lightning Decision Jams?
Lightning Decision Jams (LDJs) are a Design Thinking-driven method that can help solve almost any problem while avoiding unstructured discussions. You require just 60-90 minutes with your team to figure out the most pressing problem and come up with new solutions together. You can then turn the most preferred solution (also considering high impact and low implementation effort) into actionable tasks and test it out straightaway.
Lightning Decision Jams can transform every meeting into an innovative, productive, and fun, Design Thinking session. I’ve since applied it in different customer projects and meetings and thought I’d share my personal lessons learned with you.
If you don’t know what a Lightning Decision Jam is, I recommend you read my previous two blog posts, which include an introduction to the method and a step-by-step guide to holding your own Lightning Decision Jam.
The main benefits of incorporating Design Thinking techniques into your meetings:
- You solve your problems in a more creative way.
- You arrive at your decisions easily and quickly.
- All participants of your meeting are actively involved and it’s not just the outspoken members that dominate the discussion.
- You avoid unstructured discussions.
- You wrap up the meeting with actionable, concrete tasks to implement a defined solution.
Of course, there are also a couple of challenges:
- Some participants have to learn to stick to the timebox and focus on the actual task.
- What I’ve experienced often: In the first few steps, solution-orientated people (engineers, managers, and even some designers) tend to go straight to the (obvious) solutions rather than taking the time to identify all alternatives. This will slow you down when trying to be innovative and coming up with ideas that are out of the box. So make sure you follow the steps precisely and give the group enough time in the problem and solution phases.
These are my lessons learned from hosting Design Thinking-driven meetings:
- Lightning Decision Jams work better in smaller groups
From my experience, a group of 4-6 people works better than 6-12 people, especially when new to the method and the role of facilitator. It’s also helpful to have at least a few curious and interested participants who act as “cheerleaders” and encourage everybody else to keep up the pace and their spirits. Even if the group initially finds the time limits restrictive and the way of working strange, you will definitely have some smiling and encouraging faces to keep you going. I, therefore, recommend trying it out first with people you know – maybe your project team or a small part of your department.
- Give your activity a clear goal before you begin
Seriously, it’s better to take five minutes than two to give a meaningful and clear introduction on what you want to achieve and how you plan to do it. This is especially important if you have participants who have never worked in a Design Thinking-driven project or workshop. The steps and tasks of the LDJ are heavily timeboxed and questions on the method will divert concentration and disturb the creative momentum. So please be clear about your goals with the group and take the time to point out the different characteristics of the method while you walk your group through the agenda.
- Have a showcase up your sleeve with examples for each phase
Even if you’ve prepared a structured and easy-to-follow agenda and took your time to explain the method and its goal at the beginning, participants might have difficulty transferring the rather abstract introduction to what is expected of them. When asking your group to come up with problems in the current project or interaction, give them a couple of examples. Ideally, pick a showcase that everybody can relate to like planning a big family event (“No one has suggestions for a fun and affordable party!”) or the next holiday. I recommend using examples that have nothing to do with your current topic as you don’t want to anticipate problems or solutions.
- Last but not least: use good tools!
I don’t want to advertise brands, but there are good and bad Design Thinking materials out there. Most critical: a cheap timer might be unreliable and too loud. Get one that works silently and beeps only at the end of the scheduled time. The same goes for pens and post-its: if you want to have fun during your jam (and in any other creative, productive method), go for quality. Sticky notes should actually stick to the wall longer than two seconds and your pens should color the paper, not your hands. Sticky notes should have a nice and bright color for better reading contrast and the pens should not be too thin: you won’t need long written explanations, so it’s better to limit the amount of words from each participant by handing out thicker markers. Also, be aware of a good contrast between sticky notes and sticky dots so everybody can see the voting results from a distance. (If you’re wondering what you need sticky dots for, you should read this blog post).
Famous last words
The next time you see a long and unstructured decision meeting coming your way, propose a change in setting and hold a Lightning Decision Jam instead. It will have a positive impact not just on your peers and your bosses, but also hopefully on the whole decision-making culture in your surroundings. Try this out for yourself and it will quickly become apparent that “structure and discipline equals freedom when it comes to creative problem-solving,” as the people from AJ&Smart like to say. LDJs offer freedom from boring discussions and the freedom to try out new things in a short span of time, solving problems with solutions that matter in the bargain.