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Integrating Design Thinking & Agile Methodology for Software Engineering
Apr 20, 2023

Integrating Design Thinking and Agile Methodology for Software Engineering 

To compete in today’s technology-savvy world, organizations constantly focus on quickly bringing high-quality, differentiated products and services to the market. However, the need to “get something out there” might result in experiences that don’t align with the demands of client expectations. If you miss the mark, you might not get a second opportunity.  

Your company’s development methodology—Agile, Lean, Design Thinking, or a blend of the three—can make or destroy any project. The fact that 70% of projects fail to deliver what the client was promised makes this situation worse.  

Typically, designers and developers have had to work within discrete functional domains. You may efficiently release and raise the likelihood that a client’s initial impression will be favorable by creating diverse teams and combining a design thinking approach with agile methodologies.  

Many IT leaders think a single development approach will solve this problem fundamentally — but which is the best option? Continue reading to learn more about design thinking, how Agile and Lean fit in, and how to ensure your product best fits users’ needs.  

What is Agile Methodology?  

Agile is a software development methodology that helps organizations stay adaptive to change. This methodology is leveraged by Fortune 500 companies, small firms, and even the FBI.  

Gartner defines agile as a “development approach that delivers software in increments by adhering to the principles of Manifesto for Agile Software Development.” Hence, Agile is an adaptable and iterative approach to software development created to respond quickly to inputs and feedback.  

Scrum, Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Method, and Feature-Driven Development (FDD) are a few examples of Agile frameworks. Each strategy adheres to the core tenets of Agile, emphasizing the people doing the work and encouraging collaboration between business and IT.  

A key principle of effective Agile development is getting frequent end-user feedback to iterate to the best results. This includes:  

  • Developing the project business goals  
  • Crafting user stories  
  • Building backlogs  

Throughout the Agile process, the team distributes working demos to collect feedback and identify unforeseen needs. Users should be able to provide issues, recommendations, and ideas through built-in feedback mechanisms within the software, both during development and after it is in production. Essentially, a closed loop gathers feedback into the development environment, allowing for continuous iteration.  

With Agile, visual, collaborative platforms give developers and consumers a shared language to discuss functionality and verify presumptions. This occurs while modifications can be made and assessed right there at that time.  

Platforms for low-code development are instrumental in this situation. Developers can continuously obtain new insights to adapt and better align the software product with user and business goals with regular engagement points through meetings and demos.  

From an organizational standpoint, Agile Software Development (ASD) encourages collaboration between software project stakeholders, with transparency and more value perceived by clients. It also increases the product’s quality and reduces the time it takes to address potential issues.   

Only 40% of agile practitioners say they use this approach to manage distributed teams, and 22% indicate it as a method to reduce costs in software development projects. On the other hand, 84% of firms are still at a low agile maturity level.  

Making Lean Collaborate with Design Thinking & Agile   

Agile wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Lean. Lean is a production methodology that began in the manufacturing sector to help businesses reduce waste, foster innovation, and streamline procedures. Although the origins of Lean may be traced back to Venice in the 1450s, Henry Ford was the first to fully incorporate it into a production process in 1913.  

Agile adheres to many of the same principles as the Lean approach in software development, such as rapid and frequent iterative development, short feedback loops, or “sprints” in Agile terminology, and rigid, error-proof methods.  

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Design Thinking Vs. Agile  

You might think, “Are Agile manifesto and methodology merely another name for design thinking?” Both methodologies rely on response to feedback, but they differ fundamentally.  

Agile is a problem-solving methodology, whereas design thinking is a problem-finding approach. It requires a high level of end-user empathy and comprehension of end users and an iterative process of coming up with fresh ideas, challenging assumptions, and redefining problems.  

The primary goal of design thinking is to find alternate, potentially less apparent solutions. There are five stages of design thinking that help accomplish this, which are as follows: 

design thinking

To gain a deeper understanding of this user-centric and progressive approach, consider reading our article on design thinking.    

Why Design Thinking & Agile Methodology are Made for Each Other  

Both the agile and design thinking methodologies include established sets of roles and tasks, as well as principles and frameworks. Together, the two strategies can support teams in aligning and delivering unique solutions that spur growth and offer consumers additional value.  

Agile development is a flexible methodology that relies on customer collaboration and teamwork to respond to market change quickly. The goal is to get to the market quickly and to iterate with improvements continuously.   

Contrary to popular belief, agile approaches do not prioritize speed and flexibility at the expense of the client experience. Customer satisfaction is a top priority when agile development is done correctly. However, Agile teams can risk losing sight of the impact their iterations will have on client satisfaction if they focus too much on incremental changes.  

Design thinking can help in this situation – it can help find human needs and motivations since it employs research techniques from social sciences like ethnography and psychology. Rapid prototyping techniques are another component of design thinking that allows teams to test new concepts quickly.  

Teams run the risk of disappointing and losing customers when they launch solutions that don’t address the customers’ fundamental problems and don’t provide a superior alternative to the competitors. Nevertheless, if development teams get it right, they can create a potential for long-term revenue generation from repeat clients.   

Brands that appeal to consumers are rewarded, claims Marketing Sherpa61 percent of satisfied customers are “extremely inclined to make another purchase,” compared to just 7% of dissatisfied consumers. This focus on customer satisfaction leads to at least one reason why design thinking-driven companies outperformed the S&P by a whopping 228 percent over 10 years. 

design thinking

Source: Adobe 

This demonstrates that businesses that emphasize design thinking are more likely to invest in resources like tools, services, and training. Going back to the issue of legacy systems and processes, design-led businesses focus more on finding solutions by deploying tools that promote innovation, collaboration, consistency, and cross-pollination through design thinking.  

3 Key Practices to Integrate Design Thinking & Agile Methodology  

Human-centered design, leveraging design thinking, is a methodology and toolset that enables finding answers to critical questions such as: What problems do users generally face? How can software products address these problems? How should it be designed in a way that it will be used? How can it be designed from the clients’ perspective?   

As an organization specializing in the design and development of digital products and services, TechBlocks leverages the expertise of its Agile development teams to help answer these human-centered questions. And over the years, TechBlocks has learned best practices for integrating human-centered design with Agile methodology. 

Source: IBM 

1. Balancing Discovery and Delivery to Maximize Results  

Finding the right balance between discovery (researching, analyzing, and building solutions to meet client demands) and delivery (coding, testing, and deploying) has been challenging for many organizations.   

The solution is to formulate and manage a shared workflow that efficiently integrates both activities. By integrating design thinking early in the software engineering process, teams can collect real-world customer insights that help them align with the customer-centric vision, which can increase satisfaction, cut risk, and lessen the need for expensive redesign cycles later in the process.   

recent study by Forrester Consulting for IBM found that using a design thinking strategy can cut development and testing time by up to 33%.  

2. Measuring Outcomes, Not Deliverables  

For design thinking and agile to work together well, each team member must focus on delivering exceptional outcomes for users rather than output-centric goals, such as the number of software products delivered or reduced faults.  

Implementing a “collaboration contract” is a crucial first step for teams that haven’t previously incorporated designers or design thinking. The contract can be a quick activity where developers and team members from different domains agree upon and document how their multidisciplinary team functions. It helps to have an experienced design thinker to coach teams on alignment problems during the transition.  

The entire team needs to be aware of how the group will function moving forward in terms of task duration, modifications, and objectives.  

It is important to remember that when an agile engine powers a team’s delivery schedule, incremental sprint planning and backlog grooming can overpower project management, limiting the team’s ability to explore new methods and challenging problems. Teams may struggle to break out of the agile rhythm when attempting to incorporate design thinking for the first time into an ongoing project.  

To prevent this issue, teams can start small by implementing “hybrid sprints,” which incorporate design thinking activities and goals into the agile sprint plan. By distributing design thinking tasks within a familiar sprint structure, teams can ensure that strategic work, such as user research, doesn’t get lost. Teams can also observe how design thinking connects human needs to organizational goals.  

3. Validate from a User-Centric Perspective  

Agile team members may realize that their agile stories have not been considered or validated from a customer-centric perspective as they advance in their design thinking practice. Some teams use a dualtrack strategy to overcome this problem by employing a single, integrated team of designers and developers who balance their time between discovery and delivery.  

A design thinking mindset can be adopted regardless of the project phase. The transformation moves more quickly when team members are willing to try new workflows and maintain flexibility. Teams that include design thinking and agile approaches can strengthen alignment among stakeholders even before releasing new concepts to market and collect better, more accurate customer feedback.  


Agile Methodology + Design Thinking = Increased Business Value  

These practices are the foundation for a diligent integration of Agile with a human-centered design that can reap many advantages.  

Most importantly, if organizations maintain Agile’s capabilities of speed and efficiency while keeping an eye on users’ evolving demands and contexts, they develop better software more quickly and adapt with more insight and empathy.  

Additionally, combining design thinking and Agile methodology can build a systems approach to design and development. By doing so, all aspects of the customer journey will be considered in the software development lifecycle, improving the overall experience rather than just the digital products.  

If you’re looking to transform your idea from a simple concept to commercialization using design thinking and Agile methodologies, our global software engineering team can get your project up to speed fast so you can stay competitive in the market.  

About the Author

Mukesh Mishra

Mukesh Mishra is an accomplished technology professional with over 15 years of experience in project delivery and software development. He joined TechBlocks as a Team Lead in 2013 and has grown through the ranks to serve as Director of Development in the current capacity.

As the Director of Development at TechBlocks, Mukesh oversees the successful delivery of complex software projects for clients across various industries, including Healthcare, Technology, Automotive, Logistics, and Wearable Devices. His expertise in Agile methodologies, team management, and client communication has led to numerous successful project implementations and satisfied clients.

Before joining TechBlocks, Mukesh worked at several other prominent technology companies, where he honed his skills in software development, project management, and software consultancy. He holds a Master's in Computer Applications from the Medicaps Institute of Technology & Management (MITM) in Indore, India.

Mukesh Mishra