Design Thinking for Business Analysts



This article was motivated by the Harvard Business Review September 2015 Issue that introduced the concept of Design Thinking as a central theme for a series of articles. The articles focused more on the evolution of Design Thinking and presented numerous examples on how organisations have changed to embrace Design Thinking as a central orientation to how they innovate and deliver solutions to the market.

Design Thinking for Business AnalystsThis design thinking process is driven because change and innovation seems to be central to what allot of organisations are experiencing. To meet the challenges associated with this, more intelligent ways of working need to be conceived. As organisations are integrating themselves horizontally, and technology is supporting this and enabling more cross functional collaboration and mobility. This creates a new environment and provides a platform for different ways of working that are more engaging, transparent, faster, and higher performing.

Design thinking is a consequence of this environment and as such has become a popular creative and collaborative discipline.

This article extends design thinking into a process and method that uses a range of common Business Analysis techniques to drive engagement through collaboration. It provides more structure to either side of the creative process to one better frame the domain of concern, and secondly after creativity has produced ideas, to prototype, refine, test and learn. The article also positions this process as a better way to arrive at a business case or pre-project phase, since it provides enormous insights through an engaging discovery process; something that would never occur within a traditional environment into investigation investment feasibility.



This design thinking process provides a structured process that encapsulates creative stages with analytical ones to provide a framework to establish an innovation incubator within the pre-project context within a traditional PMO.

Rather than traditional business planning this kind of process is initiated before projects start providing a sound basis to justify a course of action and capital investment. Businesses can have much higher degree of certainty and less ambiguity when signing off business cases knowing that specific design details have been taken into considering through collaboration, testing, and trial and error.

The alternative is a stage gates waterfall approach that doesn’t maximize stakeholder engagement; collaboration is planned as often serialized tasks that are stretched out over the course of the project, where actual benefits are only understood after implementation and testing when users are engaged. This is after the majority of design decisions have already been made.


What is design thinking?

This article formalizes design thinking as a process of innovation. The process of innovation starts with defining a problem or needs and concludes with kind of tangible outcome that can be a solution in itself or a basis to iterate. The process makes use of techniques; some of which are divergent for creativity while others are convergent that aim to analyse and refine through rationale.


Design thinking has a number of principles that guide the structure and behavior of individuals working within teams.

·        Dependent on information that is either from the individual or the team>/span>

·        Ideation must be a social collaboration within small teams

·        Ideas from individuals must be communicated and shared to become tangible

·        No Judgement of ideas within ideation; questions can be raised to produce further ideas

·        The aim of ideation is to produce the greatest lateral breath to maximize options

·        Generated ideas should either be refined, expanded or eliminated from consideration

·        Supports evolution through repetition not perfection through planning 

·        Ambiguity is more acceptable than certainty

Process and Method

The following process defines how design thinking should be conducted through a set of business analysis techniques.

It is intended that the following process can be conducted quickly and iteratively. Based on the broad range of scenarios it is not possible to give concrete timeframes due to the potential complexity of what is being created and tested.  The minimum could be a single sprint cycle for something simple (1-2 Weeks, simple feature testing) to something complex involving a new solution, customers and market feedback. (1-3 months.)




Define Problem/Need

Define a high level description of the problem or business need being explored;

  • Statement should be as broad as a mission/vision statement or as specific as an objective
  • This statement should adequately frame the domain of exploration and therefore define a scope; included and excluded
  • Should provide a starting point for research and information gathering


Context Diagram

Domain Mapping

Problem/Business Need

Mission/Vision Statement

Assertion Statement


Research & Percolate

Research the domain of exploration;

  • Gather as much information possible relevant to the ‘Define Problem/Need’
  • Individual team members should conduct investigations separately or in number of pairs, or small teams. (Allows for divergent investigations to occur.)
  • Information should be elicited from relevant stakeholders; results should be documented and confirmed
  • Participants ‘sleep on it’



Document Analysis




Active Listening


Rest and Recover 


Come together in a cross-functional team;

  • Generate ideas within a collaborative environment using a range of techniques
  • Ensure that the team or teams are genuinely cross functional through different viewpoints and stakeholder concerns
  • Different individuals with different experiences, knowledge and ways of thinking will by definition produce divergent results


Generate ideas;

  • Start by presenting the defined problem/need
  • Iterate through group members and elicit ideas;
    • Initial round should be based on outputs from Research & Percolate
    • Subsequent phases should generate new ideas from existing ideas
  • Ideas are purely conceptual, not tangible with anything built or constructed
  • Ideas are documented texts, graphics and video


Facilitate energetically, balancing social dynamics;

  • Facilitate the session by orchestrating the team to drive idea generation
  • Mediate dominance and amplify passiveness
  • Maintain velocity by “keeping the ball in the air” by;
    • Asking questions
    • Requesting more information
    • Requesting Clarification
    • Return to scope in idle moments for consideration
  • Do not judge or remove ideas, unless outside of scope

Brain Storming

Mind Mapping

Graphical Dictation

Free Association

Fish Bowling

Idea Dart Board

Tactile Usage of Models/Props

Analogies and Metaphors

Collaborative Games




Formalize ideas into prototypes;

  • Prototypes or models should be created to turn a conceptual concept into something tangible
  • Allows for another level of specification and detail to be discovered
  • Prototypes should be created to allow for a broad range of options to be considered for possible productionising
  • Establish a Comparison Criteria that is generic and can be applied to all prototypes. I.e. Time, cost, complexity, vendor assessments, etc.


(People / Process / Technology)


Select the preferred candidate prototypes;

  • Use the previously established Comparison Criteria and rate each prototype
  • Select the best prototypes as candidates for testing and experimentation
  • Define the advantages and disadvantages for each candidate


Tractability Matrix

SWOT Analysis

Criteria Scoring

Analytical Thinking

Critical Thinking


Test & Experiment


Test preferred candidate prototypes;

  • Define hypothesizes; test cases and predicted outcomes
  • Define assumptions for the predicted outcomes to be true
  • Design and run an experiment
  • Document and summarize results






Big Data & Analytics


Evaluate test results for lessons learnt and next steps;

  • Consider the test results from all candidates in line with predications
  • Determine actions for each prototypes;
  • Reconfigure and Probe;change existing or define new test cases to extend specification of candidate.
  • Determine candidate OK for formal launch
  • Or Return to Test & Experiment (Evolve Candidate)
  • Back to the Drawing Board;elimination of ideas or additional ideas have been discovered that require additional candidates
  • Return to Ideate (Generate New Ideas)
  • Eliminate;remove from future experimentation (Remove)

**When candidate reaches an acceptable level of detail and acceptance;

  • Prepare candidate(s) for formal initiation
    • Candidates can be used as a basis for
      • Formal initiative
      • Project
      • Business Case



Root Cause Analysis

Critical Thinking



Usually business planning is conducted with limited tools or insights to adequately assess the feasibility of a strategic initiatives associated with strategic objectives, that is an output of planning at the highest level.  Most organisations lack the capability to fast track a discovery phase concerning projects and instead adopt a linear approach to progress mainly due to project overhead and SDLC. Once an C-Suite or operations employee has an idea, the organisation needs a way to fast track the discovery and design process to understand what works and what does not, within a light weight, fast and effective process.

Because this approach is pre-project, budgets that funds this would be from operational expenditure and therefore could be accommodated more as a constant, rather than a temporary endeavour like a project. Who wants to only innovate some of the time?

An organisation could establish an ICOE (Innovation Centre of Excellence) as a core capability of enterprise and build an engagement model allowing services and capabilities to be established across business units, allowing for many potential innovation engines to be established in areas of rapid change and growth. Organisations would gain the benefits of multiple constant innovation pipelines. This horizontal nature of innovation also has significant cultural influence since it is no longer project based, but operational, rather it is part of the organisations DNA and values and behaviours.

Design thinking within a structured methodical framework can form the engine of an organisation and a focal point of innovation. It lowers risk, reduces costs, improves performance and changes organisational culture for a more collaborative and effective way of getting things done.

Author: Matt Fishbeck, Sr. Business Analyst

Matt Fishbeck, Sr. Business AnalystMatt is a senior business analyst with 5+ years experience in transport, telecommunications, utilities, technology and automotive industries working with stakeholders to meet the objectives of organisations. Matt is competent across the spectrum of competencies and possesses sound alignment to IIBA best practice. He has engaged stakeholders in large transformation projects to facilitate change by delivering value through best practice. He provides thought leadership through research and development, academia and knowledge of open standards. 

Matt has extensive technical knowledge and is passionate about technology, business, business analysis and business architecture. He takes a dynamic high energy approach to delivery and providing exceptional value to clients through consulting. Matt leverage’s the creative process to innovate and deliver solutions to business. He has worked internationally in organisations in Melbourne, Germany and the UK.
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vlad rybalkin posted on Thursday, October 15, 2015 5:01 AM
Thank you for this article. The mapping between design thinking process steps and BA techniques is helpful as it shows that the gap for those interested in combining traditional BA critical thinking with creative thinking is not that big really. I believe that many BAs have used parts of design thinking process in their work, it is just that frequently it is not done consistently and cohesively.

In my opinion, focus on design thinking helps to put important accent on collaboration between team members and business, qualitative research and experimentation. Furthermore, design thinking is important because it helps to extend focus from only those stakeholders who pay for the software to end-users and people whose day-to-day pains are being addressed through software/app.

There is one challenge I would like to discuss - transition from a broad problem statement to a more specific one that a specific solution would be addressing. In the article you outline a step called "research and percolate" that is followed by ideation.

There could be a problem here if at the ideation stage a problem statement stays too broad. We have recently had a workshop on design thinking in Lviv where we were looking at a rather broad problem statement/design challenge - design a learning culture experience in an IT service provider. This topic is huge. It can touch very many aspects of learning - for newcomers, for seasoned employees, for managers, for those who in fact train employees and so on.

Talking to different stakeholder groups here can help to identify certain pain points but there could still be too many pain points some of which may not be directly related to learning but affecting the learning itself.

Some place between here (results of interviews) and ideation there should be a definition of specific high priority pain points or niche problem statements that can actually be addressed. To do this we have used empathy maps and customer journey maps where we have tried to generalize problems articulated by different stakeholders of the same group through persona. After this we have tried prioritizing the identified pains by different criteria (cost, criticality, etc) to identify a starting point.

Then we have tried dissecting a problem we would like to focus on into a specific flow of activities of a person through customer journey map. This technique has helped to split activities of a persona/user group into a few parts: activities, interaction points, mood board so we could track what is happening with a persona physically and emotionally.

Only then we have started ideating possible solution options meaning that between "research" and "ideate" we have had almost an extra round of "define problem". This may look like an over kill but that helped us to pinpoint a specific problem that we could identify

Curious to hear your thoughts on this. I would also be really keen in hearing about how you have applied design thinking in your projects and if you have ever used it from a-z for a project.

thank you!


donotcross03 at gmail dot com
Matt posted on Thursday, October 15, 2015 8:04 PM
I agree. Depending on the breadth of ideas created the business might have to prioritize ideas, otherwise there will be too many prototypes to generate and test.

The selection criteria within Prototype aims to basically assess prototypes that are then Selected in the next stage. This is where some candidates are eliminated, narrowing the number of generated ideas.

My framework assumes that all ideas are prototyped since it aims to not prematurely eliminate ideas, so that the broadest possible scope is investigated.
vlad rybalkin posted on Friday, October 16, 2015 2:14 AM
Understood. the challenge is that, given all of the iterations and steps in the process, this can take quite a lot of time and definitely be expensive. In case of outsourced development (environment where I work), the customer and the team would need to be educated in this approach for them to understand why it should even be used. This poses another challenge) To start using this approach, customers or the party requesting a specific product should be trained in this approach and understand it
Zaher Alhaj Hussein posted on Wednesday, November 11, 2015 1:26 AM
Thanks Matt. Smart integration between the two,
I think "emphasize" is very important step as well.
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