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Experience Design

The Secrets of Design Thinking for Enterprise Mobile Apps

According to IDEO, “Design Thinking is a about believing we can make a difference, and having an intentional process in order to get to new relevant solutions that create positive impact.”
It is also described as being human-centered, collaborative, optimistic and experimental. IDEO follows an open-source process to implement Design Thinking by dividing it into the multiple phases:

Design Thinking Process

Design Thinking Process (courtesy Creative Commons license by IDEO)

How could this process be leveraged in your organization to implement useful and effective mobile apps? Mobile apps represent an opportunity to truly tap into the locked potential of the workforce by imagining newer ways of accomplishing and succeeding at work. For businesses, the apps represent opportunities to engage the workforce, and providing them with more tools to be successful at their jobs.
Just imagine what mobile email did to availability and responsiveness of the workforce. Now we could argue whether its a good direction or a step in the wrong direction – but there is no arguing that people are more engaged and responsive due to a simple fact – they have office email on their mobile devices.
Let’s look at these phases in detail and see if we can marry other innovative practices within these phases.
Listening and observing is a big part of the discovery phase. Luke Hohmann’s seminal book “Innovation Games” describes many game and techniques to accelerate discovery.
Customers in the wild:

(image courtesy flick creative commons)

Marc McNeill, in his essay on “Driving Innovation into Delivery” outlines some techniques such as “Customers in the Wild”. This process involves everyone  in the team going out and observing the customer in their natural domain. This is not just the job of a UX dude. Everyone participates to gain understanding and empathy for the user. In a mobile context, this means observing how employees interact with their phones, what corporate functions are currently being done tied to the desktop, what functions could potentially be done on the go.
Harvesting Social Media:

(image courtesy flickr creative commons)

Have you done a search for tweets with the phrase “Customer Service #fail”. It is a revealing search, if you do in the context of your brand. Opportunities will present themselves. For any given brand, these insights will reveal opportunities to manage customer expectation and prevent negative experiences.
Developing Empathy:
The act of putting yourself in your potential customer’s shoes is so powerful, yet few teams attempt it. Asking questions like “how does it feel” when undertaking a simple transaction can be revelatory. Luke Hohmann proposes games such as the apprentice  and Me and My Shadow, where designers and developers can perform the job of their targeted end-users for a day to gain useful insights. I have used these techniques in the past to accelerate empathy in the development team, resulting in better products.

(image courtesy flickr creative commons)

The team can gather insights about mobile app opportunities by asking the key question “how would i do this particular function on a phone or a tablet”. “will doing this function in a mobile app be more or less effective”
If discovery involved collection of ideas, interpretation phase involves converting these into meaningful insights. It is less about “how” but more about “what”. Interpretation involves gathering the team after the discovery and engaging in story telling based on the insights.
Based on the story telling, the team can start to distill some common themes and make the findings actionable.
The fact that mobile apps can be made focused on a single task and can then be evolved later, lends itself nicely to interpreting the gathered themes and make the insights actionable via smaller apps.
Asking the question “how might we enable our users to accomplish their goals via a mobile app” will result in inspiring opportunities and a springboard for app ideas.
(image courtesy creative commons)

(image courtesy creative commons)


(image courtesy flickr creative commons)

Having done the discovery and interpreted the material, the ideation process’s goal is to produce fresh app ideas drawn from a diverse group of people. This process could last just about an hour but with a high intensity, draw ideas without any constraints.
The goal during ideation is not to think of what apps are possible or realistic. During this process, wild ideas are encouraged and people are encouraged to build on other’s ideas.
Once the ideas are generated, the team can then collectively select the most promising app ideas, that they are personally excited about. At the end of this exercise, a few promising ideas would remain, allowing the team to focus into more details in the final part of this phase.
Ideo recommends prototyping three different version. I like the three prototype idea for multiple reasons. At this stage due to enthusiasm its easy to fall in love with your first idea.

(image courtesy flickr creative commons)

As creators, it is equally necessary to be able to let go of ideas. Forcing the team to come up with three prototypes accomplishes the fact that two out of three ideas will be discarded. So there is no shame in letting go. Another thing is that coming up three different way of doing same thing is hard. It forces one to move beyond the initial hunches and be open to comparative debate and criticism.
Now you could simply sketch the app ideas on paper before coding a single line and decide that its ok or you may actually want to code up the three prototypes and examine the interaction in detail before deciding upon the final candidate.
At this point, its time to create a Minimum Viable Product. (see Eric Reis Lean Startup)
For mobile apps a minimum viable product attempts to address some key question that are in the cone of uncertainty. Will the users conform to your understanding and use the app in the way expected? What difficulties they will encounter using the MVP version of your app? Answering these questions quickly will provide crucial insights.Beyond just answering the usage questions, you will also attempt to use the MVP to drive some technology questions that may in the zone of uncertainty. Keep the mobile app MVP to no more than four weeks or couple of two-week iterations.
Getting the working prototypes or minimum viable product into the hands of your customers is the hardest thing to do. Because this is the moment of truth. Customers who are normally nice to you may not be the best candidate to provide unvarnished feedback. Your feedback group should consist of skeptics and cheerleaders in equal measure. The goal of getting feedback is not to simply reinforce what you think is a right decision but provide a balanced view of where to go next.
Mobile apps are rarely still for long. Facebook releases an upgrade to their native mobile apps every six weeks. Compared to other big enterprise applications, mobile apps can be iterated upon faster. Users expect newer features and revisions to constantly show up in other consumer apps they use and they develop similar expectations of their enterprise apps.
To evolve the mobile apps, the team must be equipped to track analytics from the apps, and also be able to observe the users in the wild using the various functions of the apps.

(image courtesy flickr creative commons)

These analytics and observations provide learning on what features are working and how the overall engagement is with the apps. Automated crash reports provide insight into problem areas within the apps.
Also as a good practice, the apps have a provide feedback feature where the users can quickly submit feedback regarding the app. Sharing these observations with the team help build their understanding of where to go next.
By building a community of users and listening to the feedback, the app roadmap can be tweaked to meet and exceed the goals of the users.
By combining best practices from multiple disciplines and blending in the design thinking process with agile software methods, any enterprise app team can come up with a superior portfolio of apps that delight the customers.

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Amit Malhotra

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