Design Thinking for partnering

Design Thinking for partnering 


Partnering for IT services is very challenging. Whereas the technology side of partnering is usually the least difficult, matching the tangible and fine intangible expectations can make or break the relationship.  

Over the last years, we had many discussions with CIOs about their partnering experiences. Here are some very interesting statements CIO’s made: ‘I never get what is promised; by the supplier and even by my own people’, or ‘The service we got in the past is great, but will this be the supplier that gets us the planned international expansion?’, or a remarkable statement sometimes heard: ‘They [the supplier in case] do not show it in their proposals, but I know they can do it’.  

All these statements refer to the deeper relationship CIOs hope to get, beyond the services that are contracted. So we need to build a broad and deep relationship considering the real operating principles within the cultural beliefs of the partners. This is where Design Thinking comes into play. 


Why Design Thinking? 

Design thinking, a problem-solving approach rooted in empathy, creativity, and experimentation, has emerged as a powerful tool for fostering successful partnerships.  

Key in the approach is the human-centred understanding of the demands and drivers for the relationship. With the creative energy from the teams of supplier and customer, the prototype solution is built. And this solution includes all aspects of the services: technology, service management, security, innovation, problem-solving, resource management, pricing and so on.  

In 2020 we took up Design Thinking as a way of working and made it applicable for partnering to address all these aspects and used it with our key customers. 

Below is an overview of the steps and how we applied them in partnering: 

Design Thinking for partnering


Is early involvement of suppliers enough? 

Today we see often stated that early involvement of potential suppliers in the selection process is highly important. Obviously, by using the available knowledge of the market and matching the requirements with existing service offerings the selection will be more realistic. 

However, the discovery of demand and supply of services should be paired with the discovery of operating principles and cultural beliefs of the partners. Early involvement is fine, but a deep involvement in cognitive as well as intuitive interaction is paramount. 

In the approach of Design Thinking for sourcing we aim to unleash the joint creative energy of customer and supplier teams. Interestingly, the joint energy with the customer is different from supplier to supplier.  


Some remarkable experiences  

In the projects, we came to very relevant insights that would not have been seen in traditional sourcing approaches. Here are some examples: 

  1. A tier one supplier presented their continuous improvement for Service Desk services. It sounded great, the supplier measured the performance of the service desk agents on smart criteria and proposed to report on them monthly. During the test and validate sessions it became clear that the measurement of customer satisfaction and other KPI’s focused on achieving contractual KPI’s for the benefit of the supplier instead of the real satisfaction of the users for the benefit of the customer.  

  1. A top-rated supplier showed that they had an excellent understanding of the customer’s industry in the empathize sessions. But in the prototype sessions, the solutions proposed were still a pack of knowledge instead of a service. In fact, the customer was looking for a service with solid processes, implemented technology and measurable outcomes. They expect the excellent knowledge embedded in building and providing the service.  

  1. A manufacturing customer explained the need for practical IT support on the shop floor as well as in the office. All suppliers involved showed a great understanding and gave their best Transformation points of view. In the ideation sessions, a great solution based on an app on the mobile phone was presented by one supplier. Unfortunately, they had missed that due to security reasons, mobile phones were not allowed on the shop floor. In the same case, another supplier had a solution architect present explaining his personal experiences working in the manufacturing shop floor for over many years at the beginning of his career. Based on that experience the proposed solutions in the Test and Validate sessions were fully tangible and insightful. In that manner, he unleashed an enormous energy and enthusiasm that drove a deep level for partnering. 


What is the role of an external advisor? 

The Design Thinking project starts with finding real challenges of the customer in the Empathize phase. The challenges should enable the supplier teams to understand not only the requirements but moreover the drivers that are behind the requirements. The way the challenges are formulated includes the operating principles and cultural drivers.  

To start, the external advisor is instrumental in helping the customer look in the mirror and to deduct the success factors for the services, taking some distance from the day-to-day reality. Secondly, the partnering advisor defines the material that will be used during the process and that is complete, relevant and fully understood by the teams of both sides. Thirdly, the external advisor acts as a coach to guide the process and make sure the teams get the most out of the interaction. And finally, provide the independent guidance to come to a tangible evaluation based on relevant criteria.  

This role demands a unique set of competencies of the external advisors. Besides sourcing experience, IT strategy, contracting and technology evaluation, team coaching is crucial. 


The game-changer 

Since taking up Design Thinking in 2020, we conducted many design thinking sessions. By that time, we also faced the challenge of developing an online way of working due to Covid. But looking back that became a real game-changer. We succeeded in completing the selection phase (that used to be the RFI phase) within 30 days. In some cases, more than 7 suppliers participated, generating numerous ideas.  

Eventually, the process led to a deep market insight for the customer. Each supplier was evaluated based on their Applied Vision and Proven capabilities for the particular customer situation. And in that manner, a short list was created, very realistically.  

Design thinking for partnering is more than just a methodology; it's a mindset that can lead to transformative outcomes for businesses in today's dynamic and interconnected world. 

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