Part One: The Designer as a Consultant — How we helped a company with 28,000 employees start thinking about culture change

Sketchnotes by IBM Garage Designer Krissi Xenakis on client design strategy and use case.

1. Empathize. It’s important to meet the client where they are.

As with any problem, the first step to crafting a solution is to gain a clear understanding of existing blockers, their context, and any associated user pain points. We kicked off engagements through complete immersion in the company’s day to day to observe and empathize with their current method of working. What are their biggest challenges and barriers? How is this inhibiting innovation internally? In addition to observing, we conducted design thinking activities such as Empathy, Stakeholder, and As-Is Scenario Maps to create a shared understanding of their setbacks. This achieved two things: trust and a relationship within the organization and a new way of tackling problems for the team. By instilling a co-creation mindset, the team tended to agree with our suggestions for their practice as well as approach us with any questions.

Brainstorming and converging on the high-level needs and goals of the Innovation Team.

2. Define. “A problem well-stated is half solved.”

-Chris Kettering (Head of Research, GM)

Try and focus on the Why or motivations behind the actions and behaviors of the team when defining a problem statement.

3. Document. Documentation is a deliverable.

The clients’ goals and needs were defined, and we found producing clear documentation necessary to align the team. We don’t just mean typing up a note and emailing it out to everyone. If resources allow, printing any process flows or key values and practices that have been defined on a large plotter and hanging them in a central location is key.

  • intake process (how do you decide what kinds of work to take on? How do you prioritize that work?)
  • communication best practices
  • use cases from completed workshops
  • engagement lifecycle (what is the end-to-end process of a typical engagement with our team?)
One of the artifacts we created was  documented strategy for designers looking to see their career trajectory at Duke Energy.
One of the created artifacts was a documented strategy for designers looking to see their career trajectory.

4. Mistakes. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

-Kelly Clarkson (Just kidding, it was Friedrich Nietzsche)

Another way we supported the client team was through a week-long Design Thinking bootcamp where they could practice facilitating activities with their coworkers.

5. Change. It takes time.

As with most things, transforming an organization’s culture is a process that takes time. It’s easy to lose motivation when you are not able to see immediate change or benefits from the effort. It can be tempting to take on short term quick wins where outcomes are more tangible than to invest in long term culture change, and we definitely noticed this happening during our engagement. There was a general abatement of enthusiasm from the team a few months after the initial excitement of a new venture had settled.

A decal in the company’s innovation space.
  1. Clearly define their challenges and goals
  2. Establish and document a working agreement to achieve team goals (we’ll dive deeper into specific documentation artifacts in a future article!)
  3. Learn by doing! Acknowledge team strengths and weaknesses and learn from them.
  4. Change takes time; it’s important to celebrate the incremental wins along the way that contribute to the team’s long term vision.



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