How to Tackle a Problem with Business Design Thinking


By Parker Lee

Oregon, USA


Every day, we all have challenges, opportunities and initiatives to tackle. I’ve found it best to approach and manage this work using several Business Design Thinking tools.

Before offering a few examples of these tools, let me explain what I mean by Business Design Thinking. Business Design Thinking is an alternative approach for how a business runs compared to a traditional top-down, silo-like organization that plans and operates with linear processes.

Setting context 

The first step to tackling a problem is setting context. Apply the proverbial, “Know Thyself” axiom before trying to solve your problem. By building a framework for your challenge, you will get yourself off to a good start. Clarity on the task to be done is important for excellence in execution, as well as in gaining alignment and participation in the design of your problem’s solution. Gather your associates and work through the important elements of the initiative.

Another great technique is developing a problem brief. This should be done with a group of all the affected stakeholders. Use a workshop session with your stakeholders to complete your brief. I suggest it is printed out as a large wall canvas, then have each participant put ideas on one sticky note and post it in each brief category. Perform an alignment activity to discuss and vote on the agreed upon response.

Key components of your brief should be:

  • Goal: Start with the end in mind and work backwards. What is your goal? On what issues is it determined? Write your goal as a question, i.e., “How might we double our customer base with a completely different service in three years?”
  • Why:       Why do you want or need to address this problem? What is the specific problem you are solving? What is your strategic intent?
  • Available Resources: Do you have a project budget? Assistance from Human Resources? Who is your team size? Do you have access to outside resources such as consultants, contractors or agencies? What technology is available?
  • Parameters & Timing: Are parameters already established? Are you required to stay within certain boundaries? What is your timing? Do you have to demonstrate a solution within one year? Three months? Five weeks?
  • Responsibilities: What is the decision process? Who is involved and what are their roles (e.g., input, recommend, fund, approve, influence, perform)
  • Sponsors:       Who are your formal and informal sponsors? The division head? Key leaders? The president of the company?
  • Measure:       How will you know you are succeeding? What are your measures, how are they taken and how often?


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About the Author

pmwj40-Nov2015-Lee-PHOTOParker Lee

Oregon, USA



Parker Lee
is president of Compass52 and has been actively designing organizations for better performance and empowering change since the 1970s. Previously, he was president and executive vice president of business development at XPLANE, which, under his leadership, enjoyed significant annual growth while delivering innovative design thinking engagements for clients globally. During the “dot com” era, Parker acted as vice president of business development for four pre-IPO technology companies. Parker also pioneered the use of social media for use in communications for the California State Democratic Party during the 2004 election. Lee is a graduate of UC Davis in Organizational Development.

Contact email: [email protected]