Design Thinking Blurs The Line Between Process And Experience Design

Lately, I have become a bit obsessed with evaluating the linkage between good process design and good experience design. This obsession was initially sparked by primary research I led earlier this year around reinventing and redesigning business processes for mobile. The mobile imperative is driving a laser focus for companies to create exceptional user experiences for their customers, employees, and partners. But this laser focus on exceptional design is not only reshaping the application development world. This drive for exceptional user experience is also radically changing the way companies approach business process design.

Over the past six months, I have run across more and more BPM teams where user experience is playing a much larger role in driving business process change.   Some of these teams highlighted that they see experience design playing a greater role in driving process change than the actual process modeling and analysis aspects of process improvement.

Instead of putting the process model first and giving the process model highest importance (the traditional model for BPM), these teams put experience design first and then optimize and transform underlying business processes to fit the desired experience. Adopting this type of “experience first” approach is counter-cultural in the BPM world, since best practice dictates a “model first” approach when it comes to good process design.

I recently interviewed Phil Gilbert, from IBM, on the trend of using “design thinking” as a way to prioritize user experiences over process models.  Many of you know Phil from his role as lead strategist and visionary for IBM’s BPM group.  More recently, Phil was promoted to a new leadership role within IBM, launching a group that will focus on driving product design and user experience across IBM's portfolio of software products.

In the interview, Phil outlined key principles of "design thinking" he plans to embed into his new organization and offered up strategies for using good experience design to drive new and innovative approaches to optimizing and transforming business processes.

Podcast: "Interview With Phil Gilbert of IBM - Impact of Design Thinking On BPM"

After listening to the podcast, let me know what you think. Is BPM ready to embrace “design thinking” as a driver for process change?  Are BPM methods out there to support this type of approach?  What do you think BPM teams need to do to embrace an “experience first” approach, instead of only focusing on “model first” approaches.  


Great post and podcast, Clay.

Great post and podcast, Clay. Not only do I believe this "experience first" approach will revolutionize BPM, I also see it being the single most important point of connection between the business and IT. Where Customer Experience and Process come together, in my mind, is really the definition of Business Technology.


Thanks Jeanne. The key is that BPM has to develop new methods that support "experience first". Today, most BPM vendors and approaches force teams to "model first". Beginning to see some good models and next practices emerging, but still seeing a lot of teams struggle with this. Keep yours eyes on this space, is an area we will dig deeper into over 2013.

Worlds colliding

Clay thanks for organizing this and Phil, as always, he's an inspiration. There's probably noone better equipped to actually deliver on this mandate than him at IBM.

While listening to this I found myself reminiscing about my MBA at Rotman (where dean Roger Martin is a design thinking preacher), my days in the BPM universe under Phil at IBM and my new job as a Product Manager for a company where customer-centricity is our Bible.


People in a company experience the "Process" every single day. Of course, most processes don't happen completely on the computer. Perhaps the fact that process steps are being performed on a smartphone is getting analysts closer to the experience (or torture) of the process. In turn, the company is finally learning what they are subjecting their employees to. They say the best way to fix a process is to follow it, and that is because when we follow it, we experience the pain of it. It is good to hear that focus is being applied.

Holistic design can change everything

Thank you Clay & Phil for this informative and spot on discussion about how powerful "design thinking" can be in "process management" and "experience design."

User stories--seeing how it all happens from the end user's perspective--is the best way to holistically see, scope, and create products, services, and processes that truly benefit the end user / customer. Too many companies think simply cutting a feature or two is the way home to hit a timeline or budget but as Phil clearly explains, this approach ignores the end user and the problems they're trying solve. Instead, focus on the end user / customer, what they're trying to solve, and what they care about so they'll use and love the product/service/solution.

--Mack McCoy