Design Thinking: Dealing With Wicked Problems

by Vidya Priya Rao    Feb 13, 2017


With the digital tsunami moving at a rapid pace, your business too has set an or planning to establish a task force with the charter to “design the approach and vision for your digital presence.” Irrespective of the business size, this poses a challenge to you as transformation experts to get there. Kickstarting the activity can be a bit overwhelming – as it needs you to address the challenges associated with the leadership mindset, customer experience, employee experience, increased competition, stakeholder engagement and last but not the least talent war to design the journey.

With this brief in hand, am sure as design thinkers you are both excited and a little nervous about the scale, scope and reach of the problem in hand. You know that omnichannel transformation is a journey, and your organization needs to have a clear purpose and a customer experience map to guide them. You also rethink core functions across the enterprise, adopt a new business model and build an integrated plan to achieve seamless omnichannel experience for your customers. 

So you asked yourselves, Are we just redefining our digital presence? With the available digital technologies, what are the new visions of future we can suggest to create awareness, engage and retain customers? Whom are we designing for customer experience or employee experience or stakeholders? How is this impacting our current business model?                                          

Solving a complex problem that defies the transformation team

With limited data and insights to define and address the problem,  you realized that you can’t predict the solution at the beginning of the process nor use the typical approach to resolving a regular linear problem.

The conventional linear approach being:

·         identify the problem

·         brainstorm solutions

·         identify criteria for evaluating solutions

·         evaluate alternative solutions

·         select the best alternative

·         apply the selected alternative to the client problem

To excel in this transformation journey and meet the diverse challenges posed by ‘digital,’ you realize that you need a different approach, and a little research you realize that design thinking approach is the way forward.

In design thinking, the brief like this – is a problem with no standard algorithm to solve is called a wicked problem. The more you attempt to address it, the more it reveals itself.

You also realize that this project cannot be treated as a customer service + marketing - technology project, without paying attention to the people and process impacts of the new capabilities. As the complexity arises because of the interconnections, between people, processes, technology, systems and the intricate feedback mechanisms. It requires that multiple stakeholders can share their different viewpoints of the problem and arrive at a common vocabulary and leverage the collective and holistic intelligence, rather than fragmented or individual knowledge, to solve it.

A regular, linear problem can be explained this way:

problem ——-> solution

A wicked non-linear problem can be explained this way:

Complex problem ——-> solution ——-> more complex problems ——-> more solutions——-> iterate and continue till you find the best solution.

Dealing with the wicked problem brief 

To kickstart and decode the brief, you decided to ask some fundamental questions:

·         How is their current performance?

·         What are our client’s ambitions and priorities?

·         Who are the customers they want to attract, what are their needs and expectations?

·         What are the moments of truth along the different touchpoints?

What is the cost to acquire new customers? Are they losing existing customers more rapidly (churn)? What is the switching cost of the customer?

·         Are they getting less favorable reviews online or in social media vis-à-vis competition?

·         What is the existing customer lifetime value?

To answer these question,

·         you spent time with your client and their customers, you searched the web to read comments and feedback from customers,

·         did mystery shopping at multiple outlets and website,

·         scanned through tons of emails and documents, analyzed them

·         observed the interactions and noted the employee behavior and customer response across multiple touchpoints

·         chatted with staff helping customers

·         interviewed existing and potential customers to understand their behaviors to design the services that would fit around their lifestyles.

 As you were not following a linear process and needed to address the different variables at play, you also conducted multiple design thinking workshops with relevant stakeholders in the client organization to get an understanding, of how they will

·         arrive at a single view of the customer, product, inventory, order, pricing and promotions; and service experience across the different channels

·         improve efficiency, time and speed of delivery

·         improve collaboration, cross-functional working and customer experience

·         think outside the box to improve productivity, innovation, and competitive advantage

·         manage change, complexity, and risk

·         engage, retain and grow their talent.


The shared insights you gathered and uncovered from all the data analysis experimentation, observations, diversity and interpretive collaboration and the collective intelligence of diverse stakeholders from different workshops were phenomenal.

·         You met customers who did not like the services to those who valued it

·         You collected the stories of customers and employees highlighting their needs, expectations, and viewpoints

·         You got new, unexpected insights, having the potential to offer new value-added services

With a focused approach in less that ten weeks, you will have the basis to design the strategy and vision of your organization, designed to solve real needs of the customers, employees, and stakeholders. You also had an enthused client team bought into the process to “design” the future, and keen to changing the way they approached problem-solving to delight their customers.

[The author is Founder and Director at Innovatus Marketers Touchpoint]

[Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Trivone Media Network's or that of CXOToday's.]