Scaling Design Thinking in the Enterprise. Best Practices From a 5-Year Case Study

This is an excerpt from the Scaling Design Thinking in the Enterprise ebook, written by Julie Baher, and originally published on
Part 1 and Part 2.

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Step 3: Following Through With Lean Startup

Design thinking helps everyone to focus on the right problem to solve. To then teach others to create the right solution, it helps to borrow a few tactics from Lean Startup.

Lean Startup provides a framework for presenting an idea alongside a business model, getting market feedback and continuing to refine, or pivot entirely.

Both design thinking and Lean Startup help define your offering.

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Design thinking starts from user empathy, arrives at several ideas, then ends in a prototype. If your idea is a digital product, you might create prototypes with your team in a collaborative platform like UXPin. If it’s a physical product, you might create a prototype with 3D printing or manufacturing-on-demand. Or, if it’s a service, you might run a limited pilot.

To quickly understand the overlap between Lean Startup and design thinking, the Nordstrom Innovation Lab created a useful diagram showing how the two processes fit together.

Once you’ve arrived at that prototype, Lean Startup starts to work in parallel with design thinking. Lean Startup helps answer the question of how you’ll turn the product idea into a business for the target market. Both practices share the same methods of testing, iterating and refining.

To continue with the example from Citrix:

  • As we worked with the Education team, they created several new ideas to deliver better training. Once they built a few prototypes, we ran several testing sessions with customers. This first stage lasted around 6 weeks.
  • We gave the team specific assignments for each part of design thinking. For example, team members (from multiple backgrounds) were assigned to a certain number of customer interviews. As we ideated on the customer input, the team was assigned to create simple prototypes of new concepts. We scheduled regular meetings to consolidate learnings as we went along.
  • Once the concept was refined, it was moved into testing where operations team members could join in and help launch our pilot. This took several months, as there was quite a lot of work to develop a course (your mileage may vary depending on what you build).
  • Finally, we ran pilots of the course in our training center where 8–12 customers attended in-person.

So, what were the results?

We launched a new course for Xen Desktop that helped them better understand their options first. In the past, training was too product-focused, walking users through features screen-by-screen. This was akin to following a very strict recipe assuming the users already knew what they were cooking.

From our customer empathy work, we learned that IT professionals first needed greater context before even thinking about deploying the product. They needed to weigh different deployment options and assess their current infrastructure to customize the deployment approach.

The design thinking work led to a new set of principles for Xen Desktop courses:

  • Offer a “Tell me, Show me, Let me” experience with easily digestible pieces.
  • Quickly establish the instructor’s credibility.
  • Rely less on lecture, and more on discussion and hands-on labs.
  • Provide resources students can take home.
  • Offer reinforcement exercises (same types of exercises, but with less hand holding to demonstrate proficiency).
  • Create a community between students and instructors.
  • Offer the opportunity to “Ask an Expert” (either product team member, someone recognized in the field or who previously took the class).

Based on those insights, the Citrix Education Team reworked the content to teach this upfront analysis. The new courses were now only 20% lecture and 80% interactive exercises. They added more hands-on opportunities for students to practice their skills. Additionally, they created “learning to-go” which were take home materials for customers to use back in the office. They also launched a community for the trainees.

The results showed in NPS scores increasing by roughly 30%.

In the previous example, the business model remains unchanged.

For GoTo Meeting, however, we prototyped several experimental products. One was a freemium cloud version of the GoTo Meeting. We launched an MVP, then fine-tuned KPIs for many months. During that time, we ran different experiments to test if we could increase paid conversions to the full offering. We tracked and optimized for:

  • Direct signups and freemium app usage
  • Frequency of freemium app use
  • Upgrades to paid plans

The new freemium model proved successful enough that it’s now part of the core product line.

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Here’s how to make design thinking and Lean Startup work for your established organization:

  • Start small — Corporations are naturally immune to change. Don’t be afraid to compromise early on. The Xen Desktop project was a bite-sized pilot where we involved just a handful of employees and customers. However, we adjusted the timeline for the realities of the enterprise, which is why it required months rather than weeks to improve the experience.
  • Immediately unpack assumptions — The wrong assumptions will cost millions. If you do nothing else, plan a 30-minute session at the beginning to reveal knowledge gaps. The activity helps prime people for experimentation. Simply ask: “For our ideas to succeed, what must be true?”. Oftentimes, people aren’t even aware of assumptions until they see them tallied in front of them.
  • Not all prototypes are created equal — Stakeholders might not understand that prototypes don’t always reflect intended builds. Since you’ll be testing several prototypes with the Lean Startup method, explain to stakeholders the context of each experiment. You may kill a lo-fi prototype after testing, so explain that it’s only meant for learning. Since a later mid-fi or hi-fi prototype will probably be implemented, mention that they represent viable decisions.
  • Clearly explain your experiments to your manager — In a corporate environment, it’s almost a taboo to admit that you’ll fail. Set realistic expectations upfront with your manager by explaining the intended timelines, costs, and desired learnings of each experiment. In every subsequent 1:1, communicate specific insights from user interviews or usability tests (and how they helped invalidate potentially expensive ideas).


Whereas UX testing focuses on improving the design, Lean Startup tests not only the product but the business model and market fit.

So while the product might be very usable, you might find that the original target audience just isn’t interested. You’ll need to either (a) change your prototype or (b) change your audience.

Similarly, you can try attaching different business models (subscription, license, freemium, etc…) to your prototype to see which resonates with your audience.

An easy way to do this is prototyping the website that goes along with your concept. In 30-minute to 1-hour sessions, encourage users to think aloud as they explore the marketing content, business model and any existing visuals for your concept. Triangulate the feedback against your user interview learnings — then you’ll have input on both your idea and business model.

Ongoing: Measuring Success

As you start the pilot project, you’ll need to measure success for spreading design thinking and its impact on projects.

Circulate the initial goals with all the stakeholders, then update them periodically until the project concludes.

To measure the outreach of our design thinking effort, we tracked:

  • Number of employees trained.
  • Number of locations/offices reached.
  • Total number of instructional hours a year.
  • Number of trainers/evangelists across the company.
  • Number of ideas generated.
  • Number of experiments run.

To measure the bottom-line impact, we examined a variety of project-level metrics:

  • Money saved by the organization as a result of productivity increase.
  • Changes in NPS scores.
  • Changes in call support volumes.

You can also use other measures such as sales, product reviews, or new markets served over a specific period of time (30, 60, 90 days).

For the Xen Desktop project, we planned to track customer satisfaction with the new courses, their ability to be self-sufficient with their products (support calls volume) and sales of training courses. We hit all these goals (especially the 30% increase in NPS scores).

In another project with our Legal team where we redesigned the experience of compliance training, we estimated that the new approach (both a process and product solution) saved the company several million dollars per year in employee time.

You might save time, save money, or reduce the number of customer complaints or service calls. Every business cares about those metrics.

In another high-profile project (GoTo Meeting redesign), we used before/after measures of Net Promoter Score and decrease in call support volume to show improvements (10 points, and 66% decrease, respectively).

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As you work with teams on their projects, or even if they run the projects themselves, I recommend you track the benefits to the company. Celebrate your wins and publish them around the office.

At the conclusion of every project, we wrote a brief article for our intranet outlining the success metrics and highlighting employee efforts.

Also, with the project lead with whom we partnered, we presented the results to their executive leadership (usually in a 1-hour meeting). This let us craft a memorable narrative, but also helped boost the project lead in front of their bosses. Leadership saw how the lead quickly applied new skills to improve an actual business project, and we deepened our advocacy with the lead.

If executive leadership can’t spare the time for a one-hour “retro” meeting, a simple email works just as well. Show the designer as the facilitator, and the project lead as the hero:

  • Summarize the overall process (overall timeline and key activities).
  • Bullet the challenges and how the project lead used key activities to reveal insights.
  • Bullet out the business results.
  • End the email with any specific suggestions for the leader’s team processes.

In doing so, the designer looks more like a business consultant, while the project lead looks like an even more valuable team asset. The more project leads and leaders you involve, the more the process sells itself.

Final Words

Growing design thinking from its roots in UX to a company’s core competency is a journey. There’s no right or wrong path.

As you set out, adapt your tools and approach to fit your company’s unique culture and UX maturity.

Track success and present ROI to the people who matter. Along the way, integrate design thinking with other key approaches, such as Lean Startup, to ensure successful follow-through.

And, if all else fails, trust the process. Use the tools of customer empathy to learn about your own organization. Test and iterate your design thinking rollout plan. Keep learning from your failures, and don’t forget to celebrate your successes.

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