Applying design thinking to identify urgent and important business problems

The business owners need to build a framework that can address immediate issues and prepare for future scenarios. Design Thinking approach has proven to be effective against such “wicked problems” for businesses. Let us try to use their principles and build the required framework for the contemporary scenario.

‘What now’ and ‘What then’ – the two phrases have been baffling businesses of all scales and sizes across the globe. Business owners are juggling between taking action on urgent matters and planning for the way ahead. The cherry on the top is the shifting legislative and economic landscape around the world. Even internally, the teams need to be motivated to channelize their focus on the business vision. It seems like the pandemic has qualified a whole new category of problems. These aren’t simple one-liner business challenges. These are multifaceted problems that are attacking multiple business vulnerabilities at a time. The Design Thinking approach had been guiding problem-solving frameworks in the past. It only makes sense to once again set up a Design Thinking Process to deal with the confusion that has surrounded the business world. Let us try to understand how this can be done.

Multifaceted Wicked Problems

In 1967, American philosopher C.W. Churchman coined a term – Wicked Problem. The term categorizes a class of problems that are socially complex and rigged with ambiguities. In other words, one may find it impossible to define the problem itself, let alone solve it. With the unforeseen situation that the world is dealing with, businesses seem to be hit by a wave of wicked problems. Let’s talk about ‘remote work’ for instance. Over time, the companies started to realize a list of problems with remote work and all of them as complex as the other:

  • Project Management. A lot of companies working with distributed teams had already started taking Scrum calls on the phone or the internet. However, the remote work situation has further distributed the teams. Managing the work at a centralized level is now more difficult
  • Employee Motivation. Human resource management is suddenly loaded with overwhelming queries. Employees are querying about
  • Updated work policies
  • Leave management
  • Measures for mental well-being

Moreover, the HR team is also working on conducting engagement activities. They are holding useful webinars to maintain communication with the teams. Of course, all of these points have underlying issues of their own.

  • Socio-Political Awareness. Everyone feels saturated with the amount of information being released on a daily basis. Many employees find themselves triggered by this, and it has obvious ill-effects on their health and productivity. The effects of the flood of information coming from official sources as well as social peers have started to show in the work as well.

There are many scenarios like remote work that are plagued with such wicked problems. The business owners need to build a framework that can address immediate issues and prepare for future scenarios. Design Thinking solutions have proven to be effective against wicked problems for businesses. Let us try to use their principles and build the required framework for the contemporary scenario.

Empathy against Confusion

One of the best things about the Design Thinking Process is its minimal dependency on the sustainability of a solution. Every solution prototype is fed to a testing-feedback loop and is improved for the expected end-user experience. Take e-commerce businesses for example. When the pandemic hit the world, the apps took some time to register that change. Initially, they started listing the essential products on the homepage. Gradually, they also started assuring customers about shipment and delivery safety. Now, some of the businesses have already started putting their products on “Sale”. None of these decisions were meant to stay long term. But they addressed the problem at hand while leaving space for the business to plan for what’s ahead.

Design Thinking is an empathy-based approach. It tries to define the problem from the end-users point of view. In this instance, the end-users are the businesses dealing with the post-pandemic world. Therefore, it would be wise to empathize and begin with what’s at the root of the current business challenges :

  • Firstly, the customers being served by the business no longer seek services per se. They are more interested in fresh experiences. They rarely care if the company website has a chatbot for their queries. They would prefer a one-to-one call with the minimal waiting time. The same can be said about the internal teams. A contentful experience with employers will motivate teammates for maximum productivity.
  • The customers too are eager to find their way back to the normal relationship with the companies and brands they were loyal to. However, with measures like social distancing, their priorities on these matters have shifted.
  • Moreover, the bandwidth for experimentation has substantially reduced for the business owners. More focused on the crucial customer services, the room for trying new approaches is closing in. However, at the same time, they are forced to incorporate certain transformations to stay afloat.

Based on these observations, the Design Thinking experts can help the businesses to define the problem in terms of –

  • Improving the experience for both customers and internal teams
  • Finding new ways to establish a relationship with customers
  • Finding ways of experimentation within the current bandwidth

With its divergent nature, the Design Thinking Process encourages as many ideas as possible. Ideation is, certainly, important for these times. Brainstorming over the problems defined above would lead to the desired problem-solving framework. At the very least, the businesses will be able to understand their situation better. They would be able to understand what works for them specifically. Maybe improved communication is the answer, maybe some policies need to be modified, maybe some third-party tools can help. No one actually knows right now, but this seems to be the best way to change that.

Conclusion

The Design Thinking approach has been applied time and again against the wicked problems of the world. The complexity of the present and the uncertainty of the future are creating a sense of fear among business owners. Building a solution framework rooted in design thinking is a great way to deal with this fear.

Scaling E-Learning Platform to Serve 1 Million Concurrent Users – A Case Study

The client believed that with a few changes in place, their e-learning platform could serve a larger number of end-users. iauro collaborated to build a futuristic e-learning experience

What is the right technology to build a futuristic E-learning platform? Is there a scalable architecture that can help if, say, there is a sudden spike in the number of concurrent users because of a global crisis? How do iauro find a sustainable tech stack that will make the platform engaging and interactive for the students? Questions like these have been plaguing the edutech market for a while now. The pandemic is forcing the edutech leads to rummage through their technical resources for the answer. A right technology stack can help with the rising demand for online education platforms. iauro collaborated with an edutech client to work-out a platform that can deal with these challenges. The aim was to connect any number of keen students with the right educational resources. This case study about that e-learning platform will bring some hope in these chaotic times.

Challenges for Learning

By the means of their E-learning platform, our client had been offering study material in major cities of the country. They had a successful 20-year long journey in the education sector. Substantial experience in the sector enabled them to foresee any changes in market trends, and pivot accordingly. The client believed that a larger number of users could benefit from the personalized course material and smart mock-tests. They concluded that in order to do so, a few things needed to be in place

  • An architecture that can scale for a larger number of end-users. It should also be able to integrate regular updates without slowing down the performance
  • A user experience design that is engaging, interactive and yet lightweight
  • Provision to allow accessibility on mobile phones, tablets, and all such popular devices. Moreover, learning resources should also be available online. 

Incorporating these features in the platform would enable the client to serve a million end-users at a time. Their determination and iauro’s experience with edutech, collaborated to pave the way for what followed.

Building the Future Learning

iauro and the client discussed the client’s vision for the platform. Design Thinking helped iauro understand the need for the changes required and a suitable roadmap to make them happen. Post the ideation, iauro decided over the tools and technologies that could help us in this endeavor:

  • Microservices Architecture (MSA). For scalability, microservices architecture was possibly the best option available. It is domain-driven, agile, fast performing, failure resilient, and flexible. As the number of end-users would increase, the microservices would scale to serve them. Moreover, microservices are technology agnostic. Their intercommunication protocols are indifferent to the underlying technology. This was helpful for our domain experts to find the right technology combination for every service offered by the platform. With the help of MSA, iauro was able to build an improved platform faster.
  • Design Thinking. With the help of the Design Thinking approach, iauro was able to understand the pain points in terms of end-user experience. This helped with a total renovation of the platform interface and user experience design. The approach also helped us identify and suggest other possible changes including:
    • Database management
    • Cross-platform functionality
    • Infrastructure changes 

The aim was for the platform to be easier to handle for the young students benefiting from it.

  • Incorporating AWS. Amazon Web services are cost-effective, reliable, and secure. The database management for the platform was highly optimized by the cloud functionality. Because of its immense popularity and offerings, the use of AWS was also necessary to make the platform ready for global use in the future. Moreover, it would also help with the platform’s ability to be operated on a variety of devices.
  • Multiple devices and Offline. iauro revamped the platform to be functional on android devices, iOS devices, and Smart TVs as well. Moreover, the platform would also be able to allow offline downloading of course material. The learning resources were, therefore, readily available anytime.

The evolved platform was as good as new. It was now actually capable of serving a million concurrent users. Once again, the client found a way to pivot for future changes.

  • The platform can now scale to a much larger number of students on their android and iOS mobiles, tablets, and smart TVs.
  • With better scalability in place, the platform could also cater to a wider range of education curriculums and examination courses.
  • The offline download feature made learning resources more accessible and helpful.
  • A later collaboration with a telecom giant enabled the platform to be available on a set-top box as well.

A determination to serve education cannot and should not be hindered by technology. With the right expertise and vision, the client and iauro built a platform that is seamlessly working even during these uncertain times. More and more students are turning towards online learning, and our platform is ready to serve.