Is Design Thinking The New TQM?
October 22, 2015 Batten Institute University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Contributor Forbes

Is Design Thinking The New TQM?

The signals seem to be strengthening that design thinking is moving mainstream – witness the September Harvard Business Review featured spotlight on the evolution of design thinking (DT) and its central role in innovation, including the assertion that design thinking “needs to be a core competence.”

Sounds dramatic – but I’d like to push the argument for DT even further and ask: could design thinking be the TQM of the 21st century? In other words, could it drive a transformational shift in what innovation in organizations looks like, much the same way that TQM did for quality?

Beneath that eye-catching headline are some serious parallels worth examining further. Once upon a time, managers thought that quality belonged to a set of experts – but TQM taught us that quality had to be everybody’s job. It’s hard to believe today, but as recently as eight years ago when we started our research at Darden on organic growth, most managers looked at innovation in a similarly limited way – they felt that innovation was the Product Development Department’s job. As HBR points out, that view is changing fast – an organization where everybody isn’t on the lookout for ways to innovate – not just in products, but in processes and strategies as well – is likely to get into trouble in today’s complex, changing world.

But it took more than an increasing interest in quality to drive transformative change – it took putting something concrete in the hands of managers. It necessitated moving beyond telling great stories to engineering tools and processes. It took Total Quality Management – systematic, teachable, and tool-based – to move the new view of quality from high-level rhetoric to new business practice.

Our research at Darden and experience in the classroom with hundreds of managers demonstrates that design thinking can do for innovation what TQM did for quality: introduce a common language and teachable methodology that equips non-designers (meaning everybody else in the organization: accountants and marketers and HR staff alike) at all levels to learn the new ways of thinking and behaving that innovation demands.

We have studied design thinking being used to address issues ranging from processing vendor invoices in Istanbul, to increasing blood donation in Peru, helping impoverished farmers adopt new practices in Mexico, keep at-risk California teenagers in high school, and reduce emergency room visits in Dallas, Texas, and ICU patient stays in Melbourne, Australia. We have even seen it help manufacturers and government regulators find common ground in Washington, DC.

But using design thinking to make innovation a genuine organizational capability means moving beyond great stories and new vocabulary – it requires old fashioned process and tools that we know institutionalizing anything in organizations requires. That is the promise of design thinking.

Jeanne Liedtka is Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and author of several highly acclaimed books on design thinking in business settings. 

 

This article was written by Batten Institute University of Virginia Darden School of Business from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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