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

13 min readNov 5, 2019

This is the Scaling Design Thinking in the Enterprise ebook, written by Julie Baher, and originally published on

A Few Quick Words

Now is a great time to be a design leader.

More engineering-driven organizations are realizing that design solves complicated problems, thereby establishing a competitive edge for their products and services.

You might have heard of billion-dollar corporations like IBM, GE, and 3M hiring C-level design leaders along with hundreds to thousands of designers. Of course, besides just hiring design talent, they hope the new wave of thinkers will instill a customer focus within every employee.

During my five years at Citrix between 2010 to 2015, I was fortunate to gain first-hand experience leading a transformation in product strategy to a customer-centered approach. It began when several senior executives attended the design thinking boot camp at Stanford’s d-school, returning with a new vision for our product development processes.

I was then tasked with solidifying design thinking as a core business competency across the 8,000-person organization. Quite the challenge, wouldn’t you say?

Ultimately this work led to a rethinking of how the company innovated and built products.

Through several programs, the customer became the center of our focus, from how we set the product roadmap to how we tuned the existing product set. We challenged ourselves to push beyond the status quo. We used tools from design thinking and Lean Startup — both of which center on customer engagement and feedback.

This change began in one corner of the organization (championed by the UX team), then grew across the company.

How user-oriented is your organization? What challenges would you face while spreading a user-centered practice beyond your UX team? Where would you start?

In this guide, I’ll explain how my team helped build a more innovative culture at Citrix through practical design thinking. I’ve broken down the process into three main phases that you can scale up or down depending on your organization.

Let’s get started!

Julie Baher, Sr. Director of UX at Illumina (Former Group Director of CX at Citrix)

Design Thinking Beyond Buzzwords

While you practice design thinking every day, outsiders most likely see it as some form of magical thinking. At the very least, it’s certainly a buzzword.

To make others care about the practice behind the buzzword, you need to relate it back to the business and show some real examples of its value. Cut through the jargon and describe it as a business process.

First, I’ll explain how we boiled down design thinking into a 30-second value proposition, then I’ll explain some of my favorite case studies as evidence of its effectiveness.

Design Thinking in 30 seconds

Design thinking might feel convoluted from over-usage, but it’s actually a very straightforward concept.

The core tenets are simply

1. focusing first on customer problems,

2. iterating on ideas, and

3. soliciting feedback to focus and refine those ideas.

At Citrix, we boiled down design thinking into key activities within the stages of Empathy, Ideate, and Prototype.

Design thinking — scaling design systems UXPin Ebook

1. Here’s how we explained the value of design thinking:

“For people in non-design roles, focus easily drifts away from the customer. They might focus on a schedule or an internal process.

Often, as companies scale, many employees have limited or no contact with the company’s customer.

Luckily, through structured activities, we can teach people to refocus on the problems that matter to customers and improve the bottom line.

Rather than latch onto the first solution, employees can better evaluate a multitude of options before committing resources. They’ll be able to better avoid the vicious cycle of incremental effort with minimal customer impact.

As employees evaluate and explore ideas earlier, we’ll waste less money on the wrong issues.”

2. And the elevator pitch version:

“Design thinking isn’t a philosophy. It’s a problem-solving strategy employees can learn to improve their business processes. With the right people teaching it, the company will see more profitable and innovative options appear when making decisions that can cost a lot of time and money.”

Design Thinking in Action

In many organizations, UX teams become facilitators and trainers of a design thinking movement. They help employees in other roles learn this new way of approaching problems.

But before you can lead design change, you need to:

• Know what you’re pitching and how it benefits the bottom line.

• Understand how design thinking fits into the current system and culture.

• Know where to find crucial points of influence that make or break your efforts–it’s very difficult to encourage shifts in process and perspective without a strong fan base.

To show how design thinking can transform products and services, we’ll look at a few examples. These stories will help you understand

  1. how design thinking impacts the business in a variety of industries and
  2. how to craft your change strategy from idea to results.

1. GE Healthcare

Innovation Architect Doug Deitz transformed the MRI experience for children by creating a new offering at GE Healthcare.

Photo credit: Slate

A designer of MRI instruments, he watched a family bring their child in for an MRI. Looking on as the child cried, Doug re-examined his device–but this time from the child’s perspective. Bending down on his knees, he saw the experience in a whole new way.

It was terrifying.

The child’s reaction drove him to reimagine the experience.

Doug worked with a cross-functional team of healthcare providers, patients, and GE designers to transform the MRI design, as well as the testing room, to create a child-centered world where the MRI became a canoe in a river. Not only did this reduce anxiety for the children and family, it saved the hospital medication costs since they sedated far fewer children.

2. Bank of America

Bank of America partnered with IDEO to help their customers save money. Traditionally, that means running a marketing campaign to encourage savings.

Instead, based on consumer observations and interviews, IDEO designed Keep the Change — a program that led to the participation of 2.5 million existing customers and the opening of 700,000 new accounts.

Their program made it easy for customers to save money by rounding up purchases made on their debit cards to the nearest dollar and transferring the difference into the customer’s’ savings account from their checking account.

3. Intuit

At Intuit, a team applied design thinking to create the Fasal app to help Indian farmers get the best price for their produce.

Based on their observations and learnings from the farmers, they brainstormed solutions and then created a prototype app. Based on their SMS-based app pilot, they estimated that the new approach to sharing data about produce prices could net the farmers $250$500 annually.

Within the first few months of launch, the app grew to 500,000 users who now earned more than 20% income. With a solid user base, Intuit can now monetize the app through third-party advertising.


With some examples to reference, now the real work starts.

To successfully implement design thinking across your own organization, you must first align with (or devise) a process for execution and collection of results. Next, you’ll need to quantify those results.

In the remaining sections, I’ll explain straightforward tips based on successful processes at Citrix.

Step 1: Recruit Your Core Supporters

Culture change isn’t one-size-fits-all, and it only happens with conscious effort and supporters.

I liken this to the adoption of Agile in engineering organizations. Today, we take it for granted that most software teams follow agile processes. The forgotten reality is that it only came about through concerted leadership, training, experimentation, and adaptation.

You need both top-down and bottom-up support to get started. That means obtaining executive buy-in and embedding well-placed influencers in the ranks.

I was fortunate to have a wonderful boss (Catherine Courage) who attended Stanford’s d-school program and was also Citrix’s VP of Product Design at the time. She helped identify important key collaborators, funded training and consulting, and was a constant champion.

Draw up a list of the key leaders and influencers in your organization. Ask yourself, where do you see seeds of innovation popping up? Who is looking to engage more with your customers? These folks are your early adopters.

Our strategy at Citrix was to get a few senior leaders (VP’s of our product business units, marketing, finance and IT) on board early. Once they bought in, other leaders started coming to us, wanting to learn more and engage their teams.

Pitching to Leadership

Leaders only need to know two things:

  1. what design thinking is, and
  2. how it meets business goals.

When you approach them, explain everything in layman’s terms with plenty of supporting information.

Highlight relatable examples of design thinking’s business impact. Then, make the connection between examples from other companies and the challenges facing your organization.

What’s on the executives top-of-mind? Did they recently suffer a failed product launch? Are customers complaining about a product or service? Has a new opportunity or market emerged?

You don’t need to be the messenger yourself, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of a PowerPoint deck. Of course, that is the cultural currency at many companies, so boil down your story to no more than 8-slides (executives like a short narrative!) and practice your pitch.

• Outline a challenge or opportunity the organization faces in the current quarter.

• Point out the 3 tenets of design thinking, then dive straight into the elevator pitch. Speak to the pains of your audience. For example, a VP of Engineering needs to deliver solutions on schedule and within scope. Requirements that change late in the process jeopardize their success. When you validate specifications earlier through prototypes, you minimize the risk of delays and costs.

• Demonstrate how similar companies or industries used design thinking to solve that problem (include numbers to show the results).

• Outline how design thinking applies to your company.

• Pitch a trial pilot project, ideally a 3 month or less project so you can return with the results. Either estimate desired business results (e.g. “increase sales conversion for new customers by 15% without affecting churn”), or emphasize that you’ll speak with all stakeholders to craft clear business goals.

• Ask for executive support for just the pilot.

Know where your organization fits along the 8 stages of UX maturity, and adapt your talking points accordingly. As a universal best practice, focus on the quick wins — don’t scare off potential champions by unveiling a grand plan for UX.

Teaching Leadership

Once you get buy-in, it helps to teach leadership some introductory design thinking.

At Citrix, we sent many of our leaders to the Stanford d-school executive bootcamps (From Insights to Innovation and Customer Focused Innovation). We also ran custom crafted design thinking introductory workshops with Lime Design. These events connected executives and senior leaders with our purchasers and end-users, giving them direct experience with the tools of design thinking.

They soon realized we hadn’t truly been listening to our customers when building our products.

Teaching Leadership

Of course, you might lack the budget to hire outside consultants for workshops. Luckily, you can still run a 90–120 minute mini-workshop on your own with 4–8 executive stakeholders. We called it “the taste of design thinking”.

These “taste events” are a variation of the Stanford Gift Giving exercise. The goal is to help participants experience a full design thinking cycle from empathy to prototyping in a short period of time. What’s key is that these were interactive sessions, not long lectures.

• In brief, participants start in pairs and interview each other about a topic you provide. We usually picked a non-work topic such as designing your partner’s before-work morning routine.

• They then sketch ideas and prototype them. The big unveil is that they test the ideas with their partner.

• For the remaining 30 minutes, do a group debrief to discuss how empathy, prototyping, and testing could apply to actual projects at your company.

Following the introductory workshop for our internal IT team, a senior technology director interviewed some new hires to help him create a better employee onboarding experience. Afterwards, he remarked, “I thought we were doing a great job for our employees. But now I see the new hire experience was terrible for some people.”

It was the first time he’d seen the experience through their eyes.

He went on to become our biggest evangelist, and all it took was a half-day workshop, an hour interviewing some new hires, and quickly reflecting on the experience.

Build Your First Employee Fanbase

Once you have some leaders on board, prioritize the first groups or teams you want to influence. Start small and run a few pilots, learning from your experiences as you scale up. Treat evangelism as a design project — you must be willing to iterate on your approach.

1. Training

First, you’ll need to introduce design thinking to employees. The training needs to be tightly coupled with helping them apply it to a real project. Take a learn-by-doing philosophy so that training is hands-on and is immediately applicable to real-world problems.

Use the same “taste of design thinking” workshop to introduce them with minimal investment. Don’t worry–later on, I’ll talk about how to scale it up.

Scaling up teams — uxpin ebook

Before you go too far in training everyone, you want to learn how well folks can apply their new techniques to actual projects. So, you’ll want to shift gears between training activities and applications of design thinking.

2. Project Work

You’ll also need a first success story, so you’ll need to jump in and do a project.

At Citrix, our first project was working with the Customer Education team. They wanted to improve their existing course offerings. As our first internal customer, we led them through an introductory design thinking class. Over the next few months, we continued to coach and mentor their team as they applied the concepts to redesigning their courses.

In the introductory class, we guided the team through the complete design thinking cycle during the 2-hour “taste of design thinking” workshop. It helps to teach concepts by using a topic unrelated to everyday work, helping people to absorb ideas with an open mind.

Next, segue from general concepts to specific, work-related application. I recommend you pre-plan the scope of the team project. A good starting project allows for creativity in the solution space. It should be something important to the business, but not so broad that you’re boiling the ocean.

For our Customer Education team, rather than try to redesign all their training products, we zoomed in on the upcoming release of our XenDesktop training course. These training courses teach IT professionals how to install and configure the product on their servers. During the process, we didn’t specify the platform of the solution (online, classroom, etc). We purposely left the solution space wide open early on so that the end result emerges via the design process.

When working with your pilot team, create a short project brief before diving in very far. These key questions help guide the discussion towards actionable insights:

1. Why do we think this challenge is worth tackling? Why now?

2. Who are your target users? Who might benefit inside the company?

3. Are there any dependencies on other groups? (Tip: you may want to include a representative from that group in your project team)

4. What constraints will the team face? (technology, timing, budget)

5. How will we measure success? (Tip: encourage specific goals like “Reduce churn by 6% in the first 3 months”)

As our project progressed, we discovered that the Customer Education team found the broad exploratory phase of design thinking unsettling. They were accustomed to detailed schedules, plans, and roadmaps.

Since we didn’t know the solution yet, the team held off on activities they normally do at the start of a project, such as scheduling, scoping, and budgeting. As a designer, you probably aren’t afraid of a blank canvas to “go broad before going narrow”. But since many people are hesitant, reassure them that everything will eventually come into focus.

To adapt to various ways of working and microcultures, we included more hand-holding in our training materials as well as scaffolded each phase with clear activities and outcomes for the project teams. These materials helped teams cope with the uncertainty and open-ended nature of ideation.

3. Adapt to Microcultures

At Citrix we found micro-cultures across our US and global locations, meaning some teams required more or less guidance to suit their needs.

I like to describe this as doing internal ethnography on your work culture. Similar to how you develop personas, note the dynamics of different teams and locations.

You’ll probably start seeing some patterns across teams:

• What does the team value?

• Are they a hierarchical or flat group?

• How do they make decisions? By consensus? By one leader?

• Do they gravitate to structure and rules or do they forge their own path?

• Do they have lots of contact outside the company, or are they insular and inward-focused?

These attributes help you determine which aspects of design thinking will come easy and which require more follow up.

Some teams naturally spend time talking with customers, so you won’t need to focus as much on empathy (although, they need to “listen” to customers…so check that they can actually articulate insights about their interactions). More technical teams may possess the skills for prototyping, which means you’ll focus more on helping them evaluate their builds against customer needs.


Both teaching and coaching are key to building a design thinking movement. Start with a well-scoped project or two and use those to learn about your company as well as hone your approach.

You’ll make mistakes, and that’s okay. We made our fair share — the experience is a learning process so be open to change.

As you gain momentum, you’ll want to move on to think about how to scale up your efforts.

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