Building Product Strategy with Design Thinking

Design Thinking

David Westfall was first exposed to design thinking—the human-centered approach for problem-solving—while working at Intel. Through Intel Research, he co-led a lab at Carnegie Mellon that generated several exciting ideas and solutions. Then, working with a group of Carnegie Mellon students across computer science, business, and design, he leveraged design thinking to choose which ideas he would feedback to the technology giant.

Westfall and the team worked collaboratively with researchers to explore new product or business opportunities that could be generated. The designer led the evaluation session, “leveraging many of the tools of design thinking, putting that human at the center of the conversation and asking, ‘If we understand a person and some of the challenges they’re facing, how could some of these ideas help them achieve what we’re trying to do?’” Westfall said.

It was a striking shift in thinking for Westfall, who is now vice president of product solutions and strategy at Quantum Health.

“The design process opened my eyes to really understanding what I call the ‘need, want and desire’ of a human being to ‘get a job done,’” he said. Since the lab, Westfall has brought design thinking into each of his product roles. “These principles apply in every setting I’ve been in.”

Building a Product Strategy Team

Eight months ago, the product solutions and strategy group didn’t exist at Quantum Health. Starting with a clean slate, Westfall built a team that reflects a wide diversity of thought.

For example, his product design leader has a master’s in human-computer interaction—and used to be a librarian who studied Shakespearean drama and knows how to tell a story. Another team member has a background in both qualitative and quantitative data. Rounding this out, his team includes members with health care, industry, and consumer experience.

With their unique perspectives and experiences, they challenge each other to come up with the best ideas.

There also are “experience owners” on the team: They don’t own an individual product; rather, they own the experience they’re trying to deliver through a suite of products. For example, which products and services will create an experience that meets customers’ needs? Running across this group of experienced owners is design. The product design leader asks what the user needs, wants, and desires, then distills the ideas down to what is of core importance to the user based on what they want to accomplish.

Merging the Pragmatic Framework with Design Thinking

Every initiative the product solutions and strategy group undertakes begins with design thinking to ensure the solution meets the needs of the human being at the center. Depending on scope and size, the product team kicks off a design thinking sprint, lasting anywhere from a few hours to eight weeks.

A kickoff session might include employees from marketing, sales, software engineering, operations, product, and design. Expanding the pool of perspectives means the team can capture as many different ideas as possible.

“I actually view the conflict of ideas as the creative process to getting you to the best solution,”

Westfall said.

From the design thinking sprint, smaller groups of five to seven people dig into the value propositions or problem statements that surfaced, with the Pragmatic Framework serving as a gating process. Each box in the Framework goes into gate one, two, or three (from strategy to execution). These gates force the team to stop and ask if, based on what’s known, it makes sense to move forward. Within these boxes, the team answers key questions (e.g., Do I have a business plan?), attaining greater levels of specificity at each gate.

Throughout the exercise, design thinking never stops, Westfall explained, as it’s the key to ensuring the team is aiming in the right direction. Design thinking helps him iterate, develop business plans, identify partners, and craft the sales strategy—all with the human being and what they need to do serving as his North Star.

It’s during this iterative process—from flashcards of value statements to a vision of what the solution will be—where his team sees the most value. Westfall asks the team to present ideas with compelling visuals and proofs of concept.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a live demonstration of the product is worth a thousand meetings,” he said.

Westfall doesn’t draw clear lines between the “what, who, how, and why.” He focuses first on understanding the “why.” “The ‘what’ is the physical manifestation of delivering on that ‘why,’” he said, “and the ‘how’ is the creativity of ‘how are we going to do that?’ When you can articulate the ‘why,’ then the ‘what’ and ‘how,’ then the story and the value that story brings become clear in both your strategy and product.”

The heart of Westfall’s role is honoring what Quantum Health has achieved: taking the company’s core competencies and building needs, wants, and desires around them. “If you keep design thinking at the center, you can understand the appropriate application of your products and technologies in the context of the strengths your organization brings.”

Rather than focusing on the latest technology, which is like building your house on a sand foundation, Westfall advises product managers to stay focused on human beings through the lens of design thinking.
“The design process gives you the visuals and ability to tell the story of the value your products and services will bring.”

You can find David Westfall in the Pragmatic Online Community, for which he is a founding member, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Want to share how you have leveraged the power of design in product management? Email Erin Thibeau and you could be featured on Pragmatic Institute’s digital channels.

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Erin Thibeau

Erin Thibeau

Erin Thibeau is a marketing manager for design at Pragmatic Institute. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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