Design Thinking or Lean Start-Up: What To Choose For Your Digital Toolbox?

December 02, 2015  |   Blog   |     |   Comments Off on Design Thinking or Lean Start-Up: What To Choose For Your Digital Toolbox?

Design Thinking and Lean Start-up methodologies are the juggernauts of transformative thought in the digital era, but which should you use?

As an Entrepreneur who lives and breathes this stuff, the language of the two often become interchangeable, yet at their core each started as two quite distinct disciplines.

So… What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking process

For those who don’t know: Design Thinking originated out of Stanford University and is a light-tough framework designed to stimulate and guide the creative process through to a solution or outcome.

As a process Design Thinking starts with no awareness of the past and no preconceived notion of the future or of a solution. It has no concept of market, demographics or links to business models; Design Thinking is exclusively empathetic to those who are observed.

Once an observation has been made: the job or problem can be defined; solutions ideated; and prototypes built and finally tested. While that might sound linear, keep in mind that these stages are all interrelated and are revisited through each iteration until the outcome is achieved.

What is Lean Start-Up?

Lean Start-up, on the other hand, is a management methodology designed to explore and exploit an emerging market opportunity in the most efficient, effective and profitable way possible.

Lean start-up usually (but not always) starts with a vision backed by a hypothesis, which in turn is underpinned by assumptions which the team then sets out to prove or disprove.

The process centres on the mantra of ‘Build – Measure – Learn’, and provides a framework for iterative progression and measurement in a world of ambiguity.Lean Start up

Lean start-up specifically pushes users to remain close to customers who have a demonstrated commitment to buy, and to use comparisons against a data baseline to decide the way forward. By normalising tactics such as Minimal Viable Products, Pivots and Actionable Metrics, Lean Start-up provides a method of thinking that is focused on creating value that is commercial in its nature and scalable as a business.

So how are they similar?

Both methodologies offer a way through the ambiguity that the Digital revolution is now forcing companies to confront. Both assume that customers are unable to verbalise what it is they want us to build; and both assume that a rapid cycle of building and learning is the only process that leads to success.

So how are they different?

While their core components may be quite similar each has a unique take.

For companies that are seeking to become the disruptors rather than the disrupted, Design Thinking is your first step. Design Thinking forces incumbents to drop the deep assumptions we hold about our customers and our industry to start again from scratch.

As a company seeking to build a culture of innovation, again, Design Thinking is a beautiful way to get people speaking a common language.

For companies that have an idea of how they want to innovate, of what their future will look like or are in need of a management blueprint to handle risk and resources, Lean Start-up is for you: It’s structured, measurable, has defined tactics to move forward and will assist you to step from ideation, to offering, to business model, to scalability.

So what should I choose?

While each may seem quite compelling in its own right, neither approach is perfect:

Marry ourselves to “creative freedom at all costs”, and we run the risk of neglecting the commercial realities sustainable solutions require to exist… too much structured process/measurement and we run the risk managing by check boxes, or extinguishing the creative spark that inspired us in the first place.

So with this in mind, the answer of which to choose becomes: BOTH!

Design Thinking can often be the natural starting point to spark creative thought, but as the commercial requirements of the organisation set-in, Lean Start-up enables those ideas to be progressed and explored as business opportunities.

That’s not so say that one necessarily leads in to the other, though they can. More to say that when viewed as components of the same living process the discipline of one compliments the freedom of the other and their collective value becomes amplified.

With Entrepreneurs and Stanford themselves, blending more and more of these approaches, it looks like this trend toward unification represents a significant sharpening of collective thought.

So perhaps with this merging of styles its time for an integrated title?  “Lean Thinking”?… “Start-up Design”?!… Anyone?

Hmmm… that could be a business…


By @wardsco from

Scott (31 Posts)

CEO Digital Infusions

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