Your Startup Needs Design Thinking Right Now

Last year, I had the chance to participate as a facilitator in the Bunker Burst event, which brought design thinking to the US Naval Institute

What’s the Big Deal? 

Popularized by David Kelley who founded design firm IDEO that developed a human-centered approach to driving innovation to organizations, the design thinking method can be used for addressing problems as a team rather than one person making decisions in a bubble.

David Kelley

 David Kelley is the founder of IDEO and Stanford’s


Design thinking reframes how you view challenges and forces group decision-making, changing the fabric of how your startup addresses problems. 

Five Steps to Design Exercise



 Step 1: Identify the Problem

Bring your entire team around a table and ask each member to write down one or two problems on Post-its that need to be solved. Instruct the team to place their Post-its on a wall. Then have each person place a sticker on the problem that they believe most urgently needs to be addressed. The problem with the most votes should be tackled first.

Step 2: Process vs. Outcome

Most likely your team will identify processes that are failing or that should be improved. Examples include “Our social media is not working,” or “Our supply chain is not shipping material fast enough.” You need to reframe the issue to become an outcome question. The easiest way to do it is to ask your team to identify on Post-its, “If we answer this question correctly, what is the outcome we are trying to achieve?” For example, the social media concern mentioned above could be changed to “How do we attract and sell our product to customers?” 

Step 3: Identify Three Personas

Now ask your team to use Post-its and stickers again to identify three personas that are affected by the outcome-based question you are addressing. Some startups will find this harder than others. Start broad then refine so you end up with 3-5 sentences, including a name and/or avatar for your personas. Remember that the personas do not only have to be your customers – they can also be investors, employees, or other stakeholders who are affected by whether or not you answer the question correctly.

 Step 4: Brainstorm Solutions for Personas

Ask each member of your team to propose two solutions for each persona that answers the question only for that persona. If you have six people participating there should be at least 12 solutions for each persona, or a total of 36. Make sure that there is only one solution per Post-it. After that is complete have your team vote for their two favorite solutions, agnostic to who the stakeholders are. Budget and politics should be ignored.

 Step 5: Execute

Once the top three solutions have been identified, break your team up into smaller groups to begin testing the solutions and report back to the decision maker.


1. Use a timekeeper as a forcing mechanism – each of the first four steps should only take 20 minutes
2. Ensure your team is not concerned with money, politics, or feasibility
3. Arriving at an outcome-based question is critical
PS – If you need help with this process, email
PPS – Become the best boss ever with these tips.



By |2018-10-09T13:20:16+00:00May 4th, 2017|Startups, Tips and Tricks|0 Comments

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