Leveraging design thinking framework as a strategy for product development

Studies have shown a strong correlation between organizations that prioritise design thinking and improved financial performance.

Leveraging design thinking framework as a strategy for product development
Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

Great digital solutions are demonstrably valuable. This value is evident in two ways: the benefits it brings to end-users and the positive impact it has on the organization. This success often stems from a user-centered approach called design thinking. This collaborative process prioritises the end goal throughout all stages, ensuring everyone from designers to executives works together to craft solutions that solve user problems and drive business success.

Studies have shown a strong correlation between organizations that prioritise design thinking and improved financial performance. Research by McKinsey, for instance, found that companies embracing design thinking achieved 33% higher revenue and 56% greater shareholder returns compared to their competitors.

In this article, I'll explain how organisations can use the design thinking framework to inform product development.

The Design Thinking Process

The design thinking framework is an iterative process used by product development teams to empathise with their users, develop and challenge assumptions, reach possible problem and solution statements, and design creative solutions. No product team can say “We have now developed the solution, hence we watch it grow” because when leaning on the design thinking process, it becomes a journey and not a destination, such that product development teams keep iterating with every new information or insight that comes to knowledge. As an anchor, it is an iterative process even after launching the MVP or market fit.

This process has several stages that guide the journey; which most times must follow each other. In rare cases, development teams start from the middle and work their way to the end as it is an iterative process.


In this phase, the lead researcher, or Product Manager aims to “get into the shoes” of the users. The goal of this is to understand the users, the situations they are in and what their role is in each scenario. Empathy is a key skill in this phase, such that in gaining more information, the Product manager or researcher must seek answers to specific questions that will give an entrance into the user's mind, through scheduled user interviews. Some of these questions include:

  • WHO are we empathising with?
  • What do they need to do?
  • What do they see?
  • What do they say?
  • What are they doing and how do they do it?
  • What do they hear?
  • What do they think and feel? - Their pains and Gains

The set of questions to drive the conversation with users during the empathy phase must be structured in a way that answers the above questions. At the end of this stage, the development will have a clear idea of the user’s situations, needs, goals, and pain points.


Here based on the insights gathered while empathising with the users, the Product Manager can now distil such information into a problem statement. This problem statement will give insight into the identified problem areas and highlight opportunity areas for development where the team can exploit, iterate and brainstorm on for innovative solutions. 

It is important to also note that the Definition phase seeks to:

  • Sharpen key questions: Through the problem statement, the team can develop more questions to be answered during the iterative process.
  • Define the non-obvious points: User interviews reveal the feelings of the users, but the PM must identify and document points and ideas that have not been explicitly stated during the conversations.
  • Reflective time: The PM must take some time away after the interviews to think outside the box, to identify creative problems and opportunities.


The ideation stage is not a one-man job like the defining phase, rather it is a time to collaborate with the larger development team and possibly, more internal stakeholders because the ideas of many can lead to a solution. Here, the PM ensures that there is a brainstorming session where the stakeholders “banter” over the several problem areas, in a bid to document the ideas that are being discussed. 

The ideation stage is the core of the iterative process, such that the development team must ensure that they keep ideating even after launching an MVP or market fit solution because it is necessary for continuous product improvement. In this phase, the key takeaways would be to

  • Identify and develop opportunity areas - solutions to problems do not always have to be software or applications, they could be services already being offered by the organization and only need to be modified to deliver value to end users.
  • Document the ideas shared - the ideas shared during the brainstorming session must be documented to define them. Defining each idea point sets the scene for innovative solutions to spring up, leading to feature development, customer journey and user flows.


The prototyping phase puts into the picture all the documentation gathered from the start of the design thinking process. Here the Product development team starts to create a solution through cross-functional collaboration with the Product manager, engineers, designers, and QA. A prototype is usually the first point of what the solution should look like, evidently solving the simplest form of the problem it is being designed to solve. 

This prototype will then be regarded as the MVP to be released with the sole purpose of validating that the information gathered in the empathy phase has been put to good use by solving one or more of the problems identified in the iterative process.


The end goal of every release within development teams is to ensure that each item of increment delivers specific value to the users. In this stage, the development team, specifically the PM, designer and QA can test the prototype with the users to collect specific feedback on the flows, journey, and experience. The feedback collected will be used in the ideation stage to refurbish the prototype. 

The results identified in the test stage can then be used to re-purpose one or more of the problem areas identified in the defining stage. For every stage of the design thinking process, there is a goal; hence the goal in the testing stage is to gain more insight into what the product or solution can do for the users. 

Is the Design Thinking Process a Linear Process?

Everything explained above seems like a Linear Process yes? Well, that is in theory; in practice, the design thinking process is known for its non-linear structure such that development teams can revisit any stage more flexibly. As previously mentioned, development teams must keep “iterating until awesome”. 

The stages in the process should be viewed as stand-alone modes that contribute to the product development strategy of the team, rather than being seen as a process to be followed in an orderly manner. Evidence of the non-linear process is that with every new insight or knowledge gained, it is repurposed into the former stages to restructure the problems and solutions to eventually impact the solution, leading to a market fit solution that delivers both user and stakeholder value.

This is a guest contribution from Stanley Chileke, product Manager Officer at the Genomic Surveillance Unit (Wellcome Sanger Institute)

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