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Insights / Blog / Business

Why Design Thinking is essential in Digital Business

October 06, 2016
Alain VeuveAlain VeuveManaging Director, AOE Switzerland

For a long time, E-Business projects were implemented in a manner similar to the construction of road tunnels: The entire undertaking was specified during a planning- and conceptualization phase – afterwards the project was implemented exactly along these predefined specifications. Though I still get the impression that most people want to proceed in this manner, I’ve perceived a change during the past two years toward smaller, more agile steps. This isn’t surprising. It’s almost inevitable that you have to reposition yourself in times of Digital Transformation.

(Reading Duration: 4 minutes)

An armada of moderately successful projects

Whenever I speak with representatives of the digital sector, I repeatedly realize that, although large projects are still being implemented, they are usually only moderately successful for the customers. To be more precise: Taken in and of themselves, the projects are successful, but the output, e.g. the E-Commerce platform, doesn’t deliver the expected return from a business perspective. Usually, this has less to do with the return than with the investment itself.

Investments that are too large and investments that are too low are poison

For, most customers make the mistake of either investing too much or too little money. I’ve often found that budgets in the digital sector are set by people who can’t even begin to assess how much the B2B portal or the new E-Commerce initiative will cost, to mention just two examples. Or a large number of service providers are kept busy with cost estimates.

Balancing act between investment and return

Determining the right budget is a balancing act. This balancing act is only further complicated by a concrete, specified vision of the item to be delivered. Because the truth is, that you can usually neither calculate the investment nor the return so accurately.

A culture of small steps

For this reason I’ve become a big fan of Design Thinking during the past few years. In this approach, one comes up with an idea for something, implements it as a prototype and then tests it together with the customer. The successful components are developed further and continue to be part of the process.

This is a particularly elegant way to combine the development of the business model with the development of an offer, in a manner of speaking. If you as a company want to launch digital products, you can use this approach to make small, secure steps.

Guaranteed learning curve

One of the primary benefits of this method is that all stakeholders follow the same learning curve. This is essential because the average “person responsible for all things digital” doesn’t have a lot of digital business experience.

How to begin?

I think it’s best to find a development partner who already has experience in developing digital products. Ideally, one can learn from the partner and bring a product to market with relatively low investments at the same time.

In working together with the service provider, it’s advisable to agree upon a 12-month retainer in which a diversified team is available full time. Ideally, this team is not only comprised of developers, but also has UX- and CX designers as well as people with experience in digital product development that bring a business background to the table as well.


This approach offers significant advantages: For example, investments are generally lower because faulty development is recognized at an early stage and the course can be adjusted. Also, it helps to minimize time-to-market. Thirdly: Internal employees within the team can learn from the experience of the external provider. Fourthly: As a rule, you speak with potential customers early on with this approach, which provides you with valuable new input. And, last but not least, it simply is more fun for all participants to create something where you can see results in a shorter time. One shouldn’t make the mistake of underestimating this motivation. For, it is this which even makes it possible to develop really good and new solutions. And that, after all, is what we really want when developing digital products.

TL;DR: Small, tested steps are to be preferred over large projects – Design Thinking supports this approach.