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Design Thinking for a Business Analyst

Design thinking is a concept that was first introduced back in the 1960s and has recently gained a lot of traction in the business world.

Adopted by many high-profile FTSE 500 companies such as IBM, Apple and Google to increase innovation and improve products and services, design thinking is becoming a part of everyday operations in organisations across the board.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking refers to the ‘cognitive, strategic and practical processes by which design concepts (proposals for new products, buildings, machines, etc.) are developed by designers and/or design teams. Many of the key concepts and aspects of design thinking have been identified through studies, across different design domains, of design cognition and design activity in both laboratory and natural contexts.’
Essentially design thinking revolves around gaining a deep understanding of the people that a product or design is being created for. It is widely accepted that there are five different phases of design thinking in no particular order;

  • Empathise with your users
  • Define users needs, desires, problems and your insights
  • Ideate by challenging common assumptions and creating innovative solutions
  • Prototype and start creating effective solutions
  • Test your solutions


What does this mean for BAs?

The very nature of a business analyst role is analytical, and this is unlikely to change, especially in an era of rapid digital transformation. However, this doesn’t mean that certain concepts of design thinking can’t be applied in practice to the role of a Business Analyst. Design thinking is in essence just another form of business analysis and many BAs will have used design thinking concepts in projects before. Perhaps the most common areas that business analysts can apply design thinking are scope definition, requirements elicitation and analysis and validation of decisions. The depth and length of the process will largely be depending on the scale and complexity of individual projects, and as organisations are becoming increasingly agile, so to will the concepts that business analysts are required to use.

Embracing design thinking

For business analysts embracing design thinking can allow them to become more analytical, user-centric and effective. By applying the skills and techniques developed as a BA and undertaking further education, this can also accelerate growth and career trajectory. Approaching a project with a purely business or analytical mindset will no longer be enough – for a Business Analyst, this could mean developing elicitation techniques, rhetoric skills, facilitation, and influence for a more effective project outcome.