A Product Manager’s Guide To Design Thinking 

A Product Manager’s Guide To Design Thinking 

Design thinking can be a powerful problem-solving framework for product managers, helping them come up with great insights. Here we show you why.

As a product manager, your responsibility is to create products that people will love. And to achieve this, you should ensure that the products you create solve a challenge the users face in real life. This is where design thinking comes in. 

What is Design Thinking? 

Design thinking is a problem-solving framework with empathy at its core. If you are unfamiliar with the process, design thinking does early-stage thinking by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, trying to determine their wishes, aspirations, challenges, etc. 

So essentially, you are empathizing with people who experience a particular problem, trying to come up with several solutions matching the user needs with what your resources and budget can handle, and creating and testing prototypes to find the most effective product. 

In this article we help you apply design thinking to solve problems more practically and creatively. 

The Design Thinking Approach 

The design thinking approach is quite similar to the agile development framework as it’s fast, iterative, and highly team-oriented. Here are the six stages of approaching design thinking when building a product or creating a service. 

1. Ask Questions 

The very first step of the design thinking approach is asking questions and finding answers. Ask yourself, what problems are your target customers facing? Which goals do they wish to achieve? Is there a solution already on the market that’s helping them out?

2. Get Inspired 

Now, look around you and try to approach the world from your customer’s point of view. This will help you think differently and figure out what exactly are your ideal customers’ needs. 

3. Generate Ideas 

Design Thinking

In this stage, ask people involved in product development to come up with ideas and throw in suggestions. Of course some of the ideas are going to be totally absurd. But that’s okay. Amidst all those ineffective ideas, you will find a real innovation. 

A point to remember here is that when you are generating ideas, you don’t have to be overly conscious of product features, budget constraints, or organizational goals. Because now, your goal is to empathize with your customers and find a gem of an idea that will improve a specific aspect of their lives. 

4. Turn Your Ideas into Products 

Now that you have a set of solutions to problems your customers face in real life, or desires they experience, it is time to build prototypes and send them to sample users for review.  

5. Test, Change, Repeat 

At this stage, you have a bunch of feedback from your early users about the prototypes. So, you clearly know what is working and what is not. You should also figure out if you are really striking an emotional chord with your product or your users are only finding it satisfactory. In case it is the latter, you still have work left to do. 

6. Share Your Story 

After several changes and testing sessions, you will eventually have a product that resonates with your users. Pat yourself on the shoulder because you have found a real issue your customers were facing and created a product to help them out. Lastly, share your story with the world, but don’t make it too technical. 

Instead, make it human. Craft a story that will inspire your target audience to take the desired action. You have built a product for people, so the copy should also be made for real people. 

5 Ways to Apply Design Thinking to Product Management 

A 10-year research conducted by the Design Management Institute (DMI) found that design-led companies outperformed “low-design” companies by 228%. Many people are dubious if this figure will rise or fall throughout the 2020s. However, we can only see this number holding strong and believe it will continue to rise. So, here are some practical tips to approach design thinking as a product manager. 

#1 – Get Creative, But Make Sure It’s Backed By Data 

As mentioned earlier, when you are brainstorming ideas for products, you want to think from your customer’s vantage point. However, to do this, you should move beyond traditional strategy or management consultancy approaches to learn about your target customers. Additionally, consider your users’ problems when they first start using your product. This way, you can come up with highly personalized solutions that are truly valued by your customers. 

A recent Adobe research found that 46% of design-led companies excelled at creating an emotional bond with customers (vs. 32% of non-design-led companies) by reinventing existing ideas, products, and processes and investing more in innovation. 

#2 – Define Your Journey 

Now that you are done researching, you have a clear idea about what you should offer your target audience in terms of design, functionality, features, and more. Meaning, you have a good understanding of what should happen during the product development stage. All that’s left to do is identify the specific tasks each product development team member should complete to efficiently achieve the end goal. 

#3 – Create, Build & Test Prototypes 

After you have come up with innovative product ideas and approved them for development, it is time to build prototypes and turn the ideas into effective products. Unlike the end product, a prototype analyzes how a product performs and helps users achieve their goals or overcome a challenge. 

After you send the prototype to a bunch of early users, you will have a clear picture of what is working and what is not. Make sure the customers testing the prototype gets it for free and can provide feedback based on a questionnaire you offer them. You essentially should encourage the users to provide as many details as possible about what should be improved. 

#4 – Refine the Processes Using the Right Tools 

There are a lot of methods that will help you and your team develop the best product, such as efficiently identifying user personas, creating user story maps, and performing user testing.  

  • Personas 

Personas are fictional representations of your product’s end users. They contain information that will better identify your target audience’s needs and challenges. For instance, an ideal user persona should include information like age, job title, industry in which the person works, responsibilities, challenges, recent purchases, etc.  

One point to keep in mind is that the personas you create should be based on user research, if not, it serves no purpose. Of course, you can create as many personas as you want. But ideally, you should create anywhere between 2-5 user personas. 

  • User Story Maps 

User story maps are visual representations of a user’s journey. You will use such a map during your discussions with your team to identify the tasks a prospective customer will have to perform during their product purchase journey. Two tools that can be used to create user story maps are StoriesonBoard and Feature Map

  • Online user Tests 

Performing online usability tests for mobile apps and web products is quick and easy. It is also a reliable way to figure out if your product is really beneficial for your users. Unlike traditional, in-person testing, online tests are highly advantageous. 

To begin with, creating in-person usability tests are quite challenging and demands a lot of knowledge, practice, and experience. However, with online testing, all you have to do is prepare a list of questions or tasks and click a button to send them to participants. Additionally, with online usability tests, you can easily find participants without having to manually figure out who is qualified, willing, and available.  

Lastly, in-person testing is limited to people who are present in the area where the test is being held. Online usability testing doesn’t demand the participants to be in a specific location. This flexibility is a huge advantage as your participants will better represent your target audience. 

#5 – Reflect and Walk Towards Success 

The final step is to reflect on the entire product brainstorming, development, and testing process. Evaluate every aspect of your team’s journey, and identify what could have been done better. For example, how would your brand reflect on the design? How would users rate your product management team’s efforts? Do you wish to be a design-led company? If yes, how are you planning to build special bonds with your customers? 

Answering these questions will help you perform better during your following projects and succeed as a team. 

The Key Takeaway – Empathize With Your Customers 

The main idea of design thinking is empathizing with your customers to figure out their problems, challenges, and wishes and then come up with a product that will be genuinely valued. Design-led companies are leading the rat race in their respective industries because they empathize with their users and hence, succeed in creating special bonds with them. 

With empathy being one of the top business skills of the 21st century, it is highly essential that you give design thinking a go. Then, not only will your customers be motivated to work with you, but also your team will be excited to connect with your target audience in innovative ways. 

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