Design Thinking in a cultural change project


People are getting used to the “New Normal” after a few months of “working from home (WFH)”. Yet there are still tons of questions to be answered.

A team of around 30 people collected from different countries, backgrounds and hierarchical levels were called to elaborate on three chosen topics: “Remote Work”, “Virtual Leadership” and “Digital Communication”.

The purpose of the whole initiative was to set up some framework and game rules as orientation for a further widespread of the topic in a whole group of 20.000 employees.

Fairytale-like expectation vs complex reality

The whole group of 30 people were invited to join a 3h session to understand the basics of agility. Some basic principles were introduced and the Scrum framework were explained. Not everybody was present in this meeting. Some decided not to participate because they might have gained their own experience in a previous training or projects. Some joined the meeting, but for the very short time, the crash course could not really help them from feeling lost in the early project phase.

Put it in one sentence: A lot of people think Agility is a magic wand; by waving this wand a project could be setup within every short time and results could be delivered immediately. 

Unfortunately, we are living in a real world. A project team for a complex topic with more than 10 members, who are allowed to spend 2-4 hours per week in average, it will take at least 4 to 6 weeks – that is actually 8 – 16 hours by the way – to develop the general understanding about the purposes, the structure and a reletively reliable roadmap.

Scrum? Design Thinking? What is what?

The training at the beginning was focused on introducing Agile in general and the theory of Scrum. It helps to setup regular communication inside of the team, among teams and between teams and stakeholders (representatives from the board).

For such a complex project it is important to follow the Design Thinking principles at the beginning: What are the different understandings? How to build empathy to understand the pains from different regions, departments, functional groups and so on? How to put the generated ideas into testable prototypes before launching and further rolling out? To answer these questions, the basic understanding of Design Thinking is required.

Unfortunately not too many people had access to Design Thinking so far. So all the above mentioned questions had to be broken down into different topics and homework on weekly base, e.g., asking at least 5 people for feedback concerning the changes since the start of the pandemie, categorise and summarise some comparable patterns into personas, develop ideas to solve the pains etc.

The difficulties were:

A. Conduct Design Thinking like exercises without going to deep into theory.

B. Tolerate disappointments and confusion at the early phase of the project. 

My job

I was the teacher to conduct the basic training at the beginning.

I was the senior Scrum Master to coordinate with two other Scrum Masters to keep the jobs done with high motivation.

I have to suggest Design Thinking like tasks without using too many special terms.

My goosebump-moments were to hear people sharing with me: We felt confused at the beginning and now after a few weeks we are totally motivated and know exactly what to do and what could be expected.