On the Road to AI:  Introduction to Design Thinking


By @Amy Blank

Starting a technical project involving artificial intelligence (AI) is not different than any other project  It starts from the business.  What is the business problem or opportunity the project will address?  For COMMON, looking at starting a project involving AI meant starting with strategic planning.  Once a year the COMMON board spends a weekend in a hotel conference room focused on how to continue the mission of enhancing the careers of our members.  In 2019, the board took a different approach to strategic planning by partnering with IBM in Austin, TX for a Design Thinking session dedicated to the strategic mission of COMMON.   

What is Design Thinking?  IBM states that Design Thinking begins with a set of principles that frame a way to see problems and solutions from a new point of view. These principles provide the foundation for delivering solutions that meet or exceed your users’ expectations. The Design Thinking Process involves the following steps: 

  • Defining personas and their associated attributes 
  • Creating an Empathy map that charts what the persona is saying, thinking, doing, feeling 
  • Creating a Journey map or chart which maps the phases or steps in the persona’s journey along with what they are doing, thinking and feeling at each phase/step 
  • Brainstorming big ideas to address the problems and opportunities in the user’s journey map 
  • Graphing all ideas in a matrix that maps impact vs. risk 

For COMMON’s strategic planning we focused on identifying 3 personas – someone new to the COMMON Community, a partner (vendor), and a long-term member.   We then took those personas and created empathy maps – what are our new members, partners, and long-term members saying, thinking, feeling and doing?  What is their journey and the steps in that journey?  These questions guided the board into the “Big Ideas” phase.  During this step of the process all ideas no matter how large or small are wrote down or sketched out.   

Now that we had some ideas, the next step was to rank and prioritize the ideas – how feasible is each idea and what is the impact of each idea?  Certainly, the ideas with the highest impact and lowest effort or those “no brainers” must get done, but what about the rest?  As a board we reviewed which of the high impact ideas could be facilitated by AI and identified the team that will lead the mission forward.  You’ll learn more in the next article about the next steps that were taken in the process. 

In conclusion, if you have not used design thinking for strategic, project or product feature planning – I highly recommend you investigate it and the insights it can lead.  I also suggest that you find someone that has been through the process in the past to guide you through the process.  And…most importantly stock up on Post-It’s, stickers and markers!   

Interested in learning more about Design Thinking – check out IBM’s Design thinking practitioner course here. 

Amy Blank is a System Administrator at Ellingson Companies. She has been attending, speaking and volunteering at the COMMON Annual Meeting since 2004. Amy enjoys being able to exchange knowledge with other technical leaders and administrators. It is her passion to work with and learn new technologies and in turn teach others how to use technology to work more efficiently.​​