Over the years, a number of IT service management (ITSM) frameworks/approaches have been created to guide IT departments in how best to build and run their IT operations. These ITSM frameworks/approaches describe the best practices to design, deliver, manage, and improve the ways in which IT services are employed within an organization.

Now, in the age of digital transformation, which is impacting almost every industry, IT is increasingly becoming a central business process and new business models are becoming increasingly dependent on it. Instead of IT being a business support function, IT is needed as an innovation engine within the company.

This means that CIOs must find ways to promote and institutionalize innovation. Design thinking can be one of the ways to do that – please read on for more information on how…

What’s Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that’s rooted in empathy and understanding of the customer for whom you are solving the problem. It relies heavily on a process of co-creativity involving feedback from the customer/end user and it’s generally sequenced in five iterative stages:

Stage 1: Empathize (Understanding)

This stage is about really penetrating and understanding the problem and asking the right questions, which involves brainstorming, mind mapping, consulting experts, and observations to engage and empathize with users to understand their experiences and motivations. As well as immersing yourself in the physical environment to have a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved.

This stage should be allocated enough time to gather a substantial amount of information, which will then be used in the next stage. We should also ask why the existing solutions or processes are not working by collecting maximum feedback from the end users.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”― Albert Einstein

Customer journey mapping is one of the most commonly used techniques to discover and understand end-user pain points – by visualizing the whole user experience and emotions in doing tasks to achieve a specific goal and representing those steps and pain points in a timeline graphic or visual map.

In common ITSM practice, collecting feedback information from end users is usually via simple customer satisfaction surveys. And anyone who has ever tried such surveys knows the ambivalence of the results.

Stage 2: Define (the Problem)

After an exhaustive analysis and collaborative work with end users in the first stage, the second stage hopes to give a definition to the design space by characterizing the problem that should be solved. This helps to limit the design perimeter to a realistic size and brings the involved team together around a key statement which will be the input of the next stage.

For ITSM, the statement could be: “How could we encourage end users to use the mobile application to create and follow their service requests for a better interaction with the service desk?”

Stage 3: Ideate (Generating Ideas)

During the third stage, the team is ready to start generating ideas. We have started by understanding end users and their needs in the Empathize stage, and we have analyzed and synthesized the gathered information in the Define stage. And have thus ended up with a key statement which defines the problem.

With this solid background, the team members can start to “think outside the box” to identify new solutions to the problem statement we’ve created. At the beginning of this stage, it’s important to generate as many possible ideas and problem-solutions to help uncover unexpected areas of innovation using ideation techniques such as brainstorming.

After this, rating and selecting ideas should be performed in order to take the team to the next (prototyping) stage.

Stage 4: Prototype

Prototypes serve to make the selected ideas tangible. It should not be perfect, but fast and easy to understand.

It’s desirable that they be repeatedly discarded, changed, and optimized during the process. And the less effort put into a prototype, the easier it is to give it up. So, during this stage it’s important to make as many mistakes as possible, as early as possible, in order to learn and gain insights for the feasibility of potential solutions.

Prototypes are something tactile. The use of building bricks, Lego, scissors, glue, paper, role-playing – everything is allowed. The selected location prototyping should be equipped with sufficient material and designed accordingly.

In this experimenting phase, the prototypes may be shared and tested within the team itself to receive as much feedback as possible – to improve and adapt it before moving to the test phase.

Stage 5: Test

In this final stage, the test of the prototypes always takes place with the presence of potential end users, because the feedback from “outside” is an essential element of the testing. So:

  • What do the testers like best?
  • Which wishes are expressed?
  • Which questions are asked?
  • Do the testers have new or complementary ideas?

All of this feedback should be carefully processed and translated into new iterations. And there’s no reason to defend the prototype against criticism at this stage – the feedback serves to the improvement of the prototypes according to the experiences of the end users.

Finally, it’s important to note that these five stages are not always sequential, and more than one stage could be performed concurrently by different groups within the team.

Use of Design Thinking in ITSM

The design-thinking approach makes it possible to create more effective ITSM solutions, because they focus on use, and on the human, more than on process and technology.

The end user/customer is at the center, and we start by understanding their needs and analyzing their experience(s), and finish by testing the solution and collecting feedback from them before deciding on what the final product or solution will be.

Also, providing ITSM teams with an open environment and simple rules such as “betting on crazy ideas” allows to them develop their collective intelligence. “Fablabs” can be made available to these teams, which allow them to work in a collective way by facilitating the communication and the exchange of ideas using workshops and brainstorming sessions between ITSM teams, end users, and other stakeholders. Design thinking should ultimately help break up the established structures and habits, and put the ITSM team in a creative and collaborative mode.

A good example (for design-thinking use) is the traditional ITSM change management methods that focus on minimizing risk and ensuring reliable operations. This can be necessary and correct in many cases, but the change cycles tend to be too long. In today’s dynamic business environment, high speeds and more innovation are needed.

Another example is the development, provision, and communication of the service portfolio. In my experience, it can be difficult for IT departments to move away from old, technology-centric categories that are simply named differently and offered as “pseudo-services.” Such that Office365, Single Sign-On, or SharePoint still appear in today’s IT service catalogs.

Enabling Digital Transformation

Design thinking also gives IT a better platform for readying the organization for digital transformation. The tools for this are provided by the design-thinking stages of “Empathize” and “Define,” which allow an iterative development of the understanding between IT and end users/customers to result in more modern, dynamic processes and service portfolio.

It’s ultimately the development of user-oriented IT services, something that’s necessary for IT to be able to fulfill its desired future role as a driver of innovation for the entire company; with the services continuously adapted and developed as needed.

Are you using design thinking to improve your ITSM? If so, please share your successes and learning in the comments.

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IT Service Manager at

Saad Mousliki is an experienced IT manager with 7+ years of qualified success in IT/IS and ITIL. He is Microsoft certified and has in-depth knowledge of IT service management, web/mobile/cloud apps, and telecom. He's currently working on an ITIL adoption and ISO20000 certification project in a large company, and is also a blogger who frequently shares knowledge related to ITIL, cloud/mobile, and JavaScript.

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