We do development differently by applying design thinking principles to development challenges. Design thinking is a process that comes from consumer product development and ensures that a final product responds to the needs of its future users.

It's a surprisingly different process to that which we've all used to design projects or respond to our own everyday problems. This (supposedly) tried-and-true method goes something like this:

  1. Think really hard
  2. Plan really hard
  3. Implement really hard
  4. Cross fingers, close your eyes, hope it works
  5. Witness outcome—sometimes it sticks, often it doesn't
  6. Move on to something else

This really isn't an exaggeration. We've seen and been a part of this traditional project design process as staff and as consultants to some of the best organizations in the world. And we've seen it not work… many times! Having things not work is expensive: not only regarding time, energy, and budget, but more importantly for the individuals whose lives should have been improved by the project.

When this process does work, it often has more to do with beautifully (and unpredictably) aligned stars than with competent people doing their very best thinking, planning, and implementing. Unfortunately, we don't yet have control over star alignment, so we need a better way.

So what exactly is design thinking? Put simply, it's a humble, sensible way of tackling pretty much any problem that needs a solution or a new approach. The design thinking process goes something like this:

  1. Get everyone's craziest ideas
  2. Challenge all assumptions
  3. Stop to think
  4. Design the thing
  5. Give it a shot and either succeed or—more likely—fail (which is OK)
  6. Stop to think again
  7. Redesign the thing
  8. Give it another shot
  9. Repeat until it works

We force ourselves to think of anything and everything, challenge even the most firmly-held assumptions, get advice and input from everyone with interested in the outcome, test early and often, make mistakes, and iterate based on learnings from those mistakes. The resulting outcomes respond to the problem better and are implemented with more energy by people who believe in them.

This method loosens the traditional project design approach that keeps us in a loop, coming up with the same types of solutions that often don't work, respond to the wrong problem, or make false assumptions.

If we were jargon-users, we'd call this approach "disruptive" and "game-changing"… but we're not, so we won't.