How design thinking can reach product development breakthroughs with agile

We are living in a highly connected and demanding world, where customers know what they want. Everything from doctors’ appointments to ordering groceries is a few mobile taps away. Organizations are striving to deliver personalized experiences to their customers for better retention by being available in real-time on any device and at any location. The products and services developed and delivered to the customers are intended to provide a unique and memorable user experience.


Most projects are generated from an idea and get developed into a product. Fully tech-driven products fail to satisfy the end-user or do not leave the impact as expected. The reason is that the idea that led to the product development did not resonate with the customer’s requirement.

With design thinking and Agile duo, the customer perspective is given the utmost importance considering the product is being developed for the consumer. The question is how design thinking can be applied to agile software development and how will that help.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a method for practical and creative problem-solving. It is an approach to designing a solution for a problem from the customer’s point of view. Instead of getting the product ready and then asking the customers to use it, design thinking enables a product to be developed based on customers’ needs.


Here, we ask the customers what they want and then find possible solutions to answer the pain point. Before the product is developed, customers are asked to evaluate the prototype and share their feedback. With multiple solutions and prototypes, we reduce the risk of failure of the main product and instead go through a few prototype failures.

There are various stages of Design Thinking:

  1. Empathize: In this stage, we ask our customers’ needs and pain points. We collect this data from random people using feedback, interviews, questionnaire surveys, etc. Understanding user feelings and their way of thinking helps us look at the problem with a fresh outlook. Most people think they know what their customers want. The best way to be sure is to ask the customer and collect as much data as you can. Do not remove the filters, do not manipulate or edit the data, it is purely a collection phase.

‘Depending on assumption is the shortest way to failure’

  1. Define: We analyze the data collected and understand our target audience. The target audience may fall under different categories based on their age, gender, job type, location, religion, ethnicity, etc. So, if you have more than one category of customers, then bucket them under different names. Based on these identifications, we create customer personas. Each persona problem may differ slightly and so will their solution. In this stage, we define the problem as best as we can.
  2. Ideate: Here is when your team brainstorms with each other, works individually, uses sticky notes, or jot down in a notepad or whiteboard. The team comes up with ideas for solutions that solve the problem defined in the previous stage. There may be some 10 to 50 ideas and out of these bundle of ideas, we select the 2 or 3 best fitting solutions.
  3. Prototype: Before diving into the complete software development process for 3 different ideas, we create a prototype for ideas. These prototypes are the actual physical form of the solution and are highly interactive. These are not presentations or online demos but interactive functional forms that can be given to the customers to use. It’s a cheap substitute for the main product, takes less time and if there are any problems, we can fix them in the prototype itself.
  4. Test: Evaluate the performance of your prototype by recording user experience. Make sure that you don’t give your users a user guide to use the prototype, or else the whole purpose is lost. We want to test if the prototype is the most obvious solution to the problem.

Design thinking can be applied to almost any scenario for solving business problems. It has evolved from various fields such as engineering, architecture, and business. Agile is used to develop products quickly, iteratively, and collaboratively.

Let us understand the Agile development process and its three basic principles:

  1. Iterative Development
  2. Risk Management
  3. Transparency


Using design thinking, we define a problem and find ideas to solve it. Agile being an iterative process allows continuous delivery and improvement over failed prototypes.

The team works in sprints which are a small group of tasks planned in a sprint meeting and by the end of each sprint, there is a minimum viable product (MVP) in hand. This helps in building better products with customer involvement from the very beginning. With user feedback on the prototype, the product can be modified in various iterations enabling faster time to deliver.

Let’s take a case study to understand the concept of Design Thinking more clearly:

Customer Experience to Generate Traffic and Conversions

We provided our client with a redesigned website with a customized storefront to enhance customer experience and engagement.

Problem: Our client’s e-commerce site experienced a drop in visitors and there was a subsequent downfall in conversions. The website was developed a few years back based on the products offered in the offline stores and the offline customers were educated about the website.

What We Did:

  1. Understand: We talked to the stakeholders to understand their business and values. From there, we surveyed and collected feedback on the website design and user experience from 100 random visitors.
  2. Define: Deep analysis and insight helped us define the problem. Most users were unhappy with the website navigation. To reach point A to B and checkout, the process was not obvious and needed guidance.
  3. Ideate: The team got down to the task of coming up with as many ideas as possible to ensure a better user experience. With 5 members on the team, by the end of 2 days, we had 34 ideas in front of us including website customization, redesign, various templates, changes in images of the products, font size, and color change, and much more.
  4. Prototype: We got down to 3 ideas which we unitedly agreed would help the website deliver a better user experience.
    1. Idea 1: Migrate the website to the latest e-commerce platform that offers better features, high speed, and scope for customization.
    2. Idea 2: Display products under specific categories with multiple images of the product from various angles, zoom options, and a product description.
    3. Idea 3: Performance tuning of the website to accommodate any number of users with time.
  5. Evaluate The prototype was designed and was given to select customers to use and share feedback. The client and our team were delighted with the experience as customers shared positive feedback. The newly redesigned site was easier to navigate and provided better customer experience with interactive features and pleasing aesthetics.

How We Did It:

We combined the stages of design thinking with the Agile software development process to produce prototypes of the product with the chosen ideas. The team worked in weekly sprints and planned the course of action at the beginning of the week. By the end of each week, we were able to achieve progress and continuous automated testing ensured that the prototype was tweaked and refined for best performance.

Techniques used for reaching the desired solution:

  • Guerilla Research
  • Data Analysis
  • Personas Creation
  • Customer Experience Strategy
  • UI Design
  • Usability Testing

Agile methodology coupled with design thinking elements increases the rate of customer satisfaction. With stakeholders, development team, and customers together in the process, there is a culture of success for all those involved.

From converting a hospital to a comforting place to designing a butcher machine for chopping meat neatly and precisely, design thinking can be applied to any scenario for a better product and better way of working.

Also Read: Agile for Rapid Delivery of Scalable & High-Quality Websites