Use Design Thinking to Manage Project Risk

What’s your organization’s development process look like? Odds are that it’s a pretty linear version of the Phase-Gate methodology. A cookie cutter approach to push projects through a well defined process that tries to keep things simple. Except that projects are rarely simple. And there are usually a lot of unknowns at the front end of the process. Pair those realities with a linear project strategy and you have a recipe for blowing budgets, schedules, and market opportunities. Those unknowns end up being expensive showstoppers at the far end of the project.

So why wait? Go through your product requirements at the very beginning of the project and identify the key elements that hold the most uncertainty and risk. Take that handful of concerns and build little sub-projects around them. This is a great place to apply Design Thinking. Activities to generate ideas and then prototype and test those ideas with a quick and inexpensive design loop. It's an iterative approach that allows you to solve the big questions in parallel, early on in the development process. Focus on learning. Even from the “failed” attempts. Get smarter and make the mistakes early while it’s cheap to do so and the impact to the project is small.

Take a look at one of your big projects running right now. What are the 1–3 areas that really make you nervous? Isolate them and work with the design team to kick through the questions and find better answers. Then you can assemble those individual solutions together into a better final product. Get the risk managed now before it snowballs into something big enough to jeopardize the entire project.