Integrating Design Thinking into Corporates

A recent article on Marketing, was an interview with Telstra’s head of design practice, Cecilia Hill, discussing how she is integrating Design Thinking into Telstra.

Following is a slightly abridged version of the article. You can read the full article here.

Team Background

  • has been in place for three years
  • is charged with energising the business around the concept of design thinking
  • built upon existing UI and UX teams
  • expanded its ability to respond to requests from the business to use design by reaching into product innovation and service design

How did the design practice get started at Telstra?

Three years ago, the product group in Telstra was headed by Kate McKenzie, who’s our COO now. She and I were talking about what design thinking could do, and how it could help product innovation and design.
On a trip to the US, she met with IDEO and a few other key players in the space. She came back and said, ‘Cecilia, is this what you’re talking about?’ I said, ‘Yes, it is,’ and she gave me the opportunity to run a project, to look at some innovative new solutions for our customers.
We came up with an idea where we allow our customers to take their home broadband allowance with them on the go, and use it on a mobile with a Wi-Fi network – that was essentially the idea behind Telstra Air.
Kate became the executive sponsor. Her and I then took it to [then-CEO] David Thodie, and three months after that project said, ‘Hey, this is what we should be doing more of… this is how design thinking can help in innovation and product design,’ and we recommended that we set up a practice to do it.

Does your work reach into internal processes and structures and things like that?

Absolutely. To be able to deliver great customer experience, which is the outcome of doing design properly, we have to make sure that our processes are right: that our front-line staff can sell what we produce, they have the right systems they can use and our call centres know how to support our staff.
We work in a very hybrid approach, so when we design a new idea, we make sure we have people from strategy, product, channels and marketing all in the same room. We go through a really rapid exercise of prototyping and testing, both with internal processes and people, as well as with customers.

Has your design thinking model or the methodology evolved?

Yes, we are learning how to best embed it into the business. We know that a pure design approach would not work. It would take too long. You have to take people on the journey, essentially, and you have to meet business outcomes.
If every single time [you have an idea], you have to go and spend four weeks in customers’ homes to really understand their needs, problems and behaviours, then we will only be doing four projects a year. We still do that, but sometimes we actually go into prototyping and testing rather than ethnographic research.

When you started the practice three years ago, it must have seemed like a humongous task?

And it still is. We have just scratched the surface.

What are the key challenges?

The key challenges are how we message internally and the speed that we need to get things to market in a competitive landscape.
Change is constant and having the right capability internally is very, very hard. It’s very difficult to attract the right people, to keep them and to say to senior leaders, ‘We need to double the size of the team.’

Is the type of staff very different compared to who would have been working at Telstra 10 years ago?

Absolutely, definitely. I employ not just pure designers, I employ industrial designers, visual designers, interaction designers, experience designers, service designers. But I also employ people who come from a strategy background, for example, who understand the concept of design and think that way but can’t necessarily put pen to paper and do drawings.
For us it’s about the right mindset, and that mindset is what’s different. Asking questions like the ‘what if?’ and ‘how might we?’ and not accepting the status quo – that’s what we’re looking for.

What key takeaways from your experience can you give to others who might be considering or conducting a similar project in terms of trying to change how things work within a business?

My biggest learning is just don’t give up. Essentially, you need to change the culture of the organisation: that’s what you’re trying to do. That is not something you can do in six months. That is probably a five-year journey.

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