A new wave of progress is sweeping through product management - design thinking. Whether you’ve heard of it or not, design thinking is a great tool for any PM to have in their belt. Improving focus on the user and innovation - what more could you ask for in a product management process?

Want to learn more about how design thinking is reshaping the product management scene? Keep reading for all the information you need to implement design thinking in your organization.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to creative problem-solving. This process focuses on the user, understanding their needs, and solving their problems. Helping to bring your customers what they want, and aid your team in creating innovative solutions for your product.

This focus on the user allows you to solve the right problems the right way, as you have walked in the shoes of your customers to fully understand their pain points. This will save you the time and frustration of heading down the wrong path and fixing symptoms of user pain instead of the cause.

The design thinking process calls for empathy, user research, being inspired, iteration, and reduced ambiguity.

Stages of design thinking

There are a few different steps that will allow you to get the most out of design thinking. This structure can help to change your team’s behavior and perceptions - leading to a better understanding of the design thinking method.

“Anytime you’re trying to change people’s behavior, you need to start them off with a lot of structure, so they don’t have to think.”  -Kaaren Hanson

So in a way, the design thinking method helps to understand your users better while structured to seamlessly change your team’s approach!

User research

The first stage of design thinking is user research, and you might be thinking: “we do user research all the time, what’s so different about this?” User research in the design thinking process is much deeper than the standard research method.

Design thinking involves stepping into the shoes of your users and doing some ethnographic research. Ethnographic research is a type of study where you observe people in their environment - in the case of product management, this means observing and taking part in your customer journey. The jobs-to-be-done framework is a great starting point to think about this.

Understanding your customers in design thinking involves an immersion into the customer role and taking the customer journey alongside them. Going through the steps a customer would take can allow you to empathize with their pain points and allow you to think about how to solve problems in a meaningful way.

User personas

Once you have immersed yourself in user research, you will likely have a large amount of qualitative data. Sorting through this and making sense of it can be daunting but is so important to find the key data points in the mass of notes. You should be looking for key patterns emerging and key challenges faced by your customers.

After finding the key problem points you should generate user personas based on a specific group’s key problems and point of view. This will allow you to further humanize the problem and remember why solving the problem is important in further stages.

Idea generation

To start generating ideas, you may want to ask your team, “if anything was possible what would the ideal solution look like?” This will allow more creative thinking as there is no constraint of ‘possible’ and through this process, your team will also likely become unhappy with the status quo. Design criteria can be constructed out of this discussion.

After this, your team should spend some time individually brainstorming to come up with solutions that meet the design criteria. Then come together to discuss their ideas and come up with a short list of the best potential solutions. Try to focus on innovative and out-of-the-box solutions!

How embedded analytics can enhance your customer experience
Analytics can enable you to access a bunch more benefits for you and your customers. But it requires the right approach to really provide the value you need - which is where embedded analytics comes in.


With a few of your short-listed ideas, you can start to prototype. These prototypes should allow you to test the solutions less expensively, while still being able to see and use the solution. This can make the solution more visible and easier to understand, allowing better decision-making around its viability. While still allowing major changes to be made without large hardship if the design isn’t right.


Using your basic prototype, your team can slowly begin to test, iterate, then test and iterate again and again until you solve the customers' problems in a valuable way. Testing in small experiments also allows your team to learn through action and challenge their biases.

Half of your product management team may be convinced that a solution will fail but through testing, you can prove that it will work or vice versa! This is crucial in making the most of design thinking to create innovative solutions based on user experience and data - not biased opinions.

Benefits of design thinking

If the benefits of design thinking to your product management function weren’t already clear, let’s break it down.

Makes innovation simpler

The design thinking process is structured to help your team be more creative and innovative. This allows the process of coming up with out-of-the-box solutions to be much easier than without the structure in place.

Focus on your customers

Design thinking is super focused on your customers. Learning about their experience and living it are two different things but design thinking blurs that line and allows you to see what your customers see.  

Get to the root of the problem

This focus on your customers helps to find the root cause of problems rather than trying to solve symptoms. Ultimately saving you time and giving your customers a better experience more effectively.

Removes biases (keeps you data-focused)

By prototyping in this more basic way, your team’s biases can be challenged and tested. This allows you to be data-driven, avoid opinions and discover the best ways to solve problems for the users.

Final thoughts

It’s no wonder that design thinking is growing in popularity amongst product managers as this process allows more focus on the user, their problems, and the best solutions to the issue. By focusing on your customer like this you can solve the cause of the problem in an innovative and data-driven way!

Want to learn more about design thinking? Check out this podcast episode.

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