Adopting a design-led approach to projects

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Posted by Kirsten on 15th Feb 2017

Design thinking is increasingly being adopted as a means to tackle ever-more-complex scenarios – nowhere more so than in the public sector. This is a topic to be addressed by Christian Bason, CEO at Danish Design Centre, an independent organisation funded by the Danish government that acts as a knowledge centre on design matters for businesses, at the APM Conference in April. Bason is passionate about the role design thinking can play in achieving the best possible outcomes in the public sector. His full article, ‘Delivery by design’ will appear in the latest Project journal, due out on 1 March.

Design thinking focuses squarely on the user. If a product can be designed with the end consumer in mind, so the thinking goes, why can’t the same approach be adopted for the way in which processes and services are designed?

In this way, the end result could be something simple, intuitive, pleasurable to use and, ultimately, more effective.

“Public sector design is about creating more value for people,” says Christian Bason, “Design is an approach to solving problems and developing innovative solutions that is human-centred, experimental and challenging in nature.”

The hope is that a design-centred approach will engage citizens in new and more innovative ways, while dealing with an increasingly complex stakeholder landscape. And that level of complexity can only increase with the advent of Brexit, believes Bason.

A flexible approach
Then there is the notion of rehearsing the future. Design is about creating something that is not yet here, Bason says.

“It is about prototyping and testing, being curious about whether something will work for people, but being humble enough to get feedback. It is also important to be confident enough to discard something if it doesn’t work, rather than assuming that, because it is being delivered by experts, it must be right. Lots of business programmes and public policies turn out not to work in real-world settings.”

This sort of approach does not come naturally. Project managers are used to managing risk and delivering on deadlines. The lack of control posed by design is challenging, and doing something that has not been done before is inherently risky. The cultural change required is not something that will happen overnight.

Bason’s advice is to “just get started”. The best way to learn is by experience, he believes: “Start by spending time with the end user and take it from there. Consultancies can help, and that will obviously have cost implications on already tight budgets.

Christian Bason will be speaking  at the APM Project Management Conference on 27 April in the New Practice stream, looking at new ways of working: “Good managers are involved in innovation, searching for new solutions with new ideas, not just delivering the norm. That means the solutions space has to be left open for a long time while new ideas are constantly floated and tested. There is no set endpoint, and managers must be able to navigate the unknown.”

*The full article, Delivery by Design, appears in the latest Project journal, available from 1 March.

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