Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Agile vs. Design Thinking: Difference, Similarities, and What You Must Prefer?

Creating an innovative user-centric product requires a solid strategy and approach in the high-end competitive market. This is where agile and design thinking comes into the picture. 

Are they similar? Can we use any of them in any scenario? Such questions pop up in every organization’s mind while devising their strategy to go ahead.

Well, a thin line of difference makes both approaches differ. But both work on the same philosophy, such as working on customer feedback, iterative approach, reduce potential mistakes, leading to a better and more efficient product within time.

Emphasizing the same philosophy, no organization cannot use them interchangeably. To leverage the actual benefits, it is recommended to bring both approaches together.
This article explains both approaches, how they differ, and how you can merge both worlds to get optimum results.

What is agile, and how is it relatable to design thinking?

Agile refers to the principles and methodologies that have accelerated the pace of software development while reducing potential bugs and fixing them early. It is an iterative process focusing on customer feedback to deliver what they expect. 

Agile Development
Ref: Image

Agile enables teams to work closely, from gathering requirements to delivering high-end products. The product is built in small increments while receiving consistent feedback from customers. This leads to a faster development process while eliminating bugs. Agile helps in building the product in the right way.

Agile came into the limelight in early 2000, allowing developers to carry out experiments, engage potential users, and so on.

If you have heard of design thinking, it must sound similar. Does it resemble another theory? Yes, the fundamentals of agile management arise from the theory that defines design thinking.

But what do you mean by design thinking?

Design thinking is the process of uncovering potential issues that need attention and solution. It requires you to understand the end users, work on new ideas iteratively, make assumptions, and then redefine the original problem. Design thinking helps to build the right product.

The primary purpose is to find a possible alternative solution that might only sometimes be apparent. Below are the different stages of design thinking, making the process easier.

image 1
Ref: Mendix

The Blurring line between Agile and Design Thinking

assets LfYgu2F XiHikZR7kFy MO7daBQlLDYVEhY1I4x MO7dt7b4zSOdzh9qiv9 Jonny BubbleDiagram1 e9a5295d0be6b88561219ef07bf0e186
Ref: Agile BIM

Some debate how to use these two mindsets to achieve their ultimate goals. But, you must know about the blurring line between them to find a perfect way to blend them.

The significant difference lies in their purposes. They have different approaches to achieving any business goal. Considering that design thinking also revolves around users, ask for their feedback to deliver a better quality product. 

But what is it that separates both approaches? The significant difference lies in their core and execution.

agile vs design thinking
Ref: Eleken
  • Design thinking allows you to define the exact problem, letting you the way to find new ideas and experiment with them to find the best possible solution to resolve it. People work to define a solution as per the customerā€™s requirement. In this approach, people bring new ideas to experiment continuously and see what solves the problem.
  • While in contrast, agile helps you solve the problem in the best possible way. It is a methodology widely adopted within organizations that help them adapt to changing customersā€™ needs. Significant emphasis is given to the product development process, breaking complex tasks into smaller units, getting real-time feedback from testing, and continuously improving the entire SDLC process.

The common thread between Agile and Design Thinking

You cannot say that agile and design thinking are mutually exclusive. They work beautifully when combined. It gives rise to another mindset level to speed up the development process seamlessly. 

Design thinking helps you handle complex problems and explore new opportunities in a world full of uncertainty. In such scenarios, agile helps to create dynamic software. 

Below are some points that link agile and design thinking methodologies.

  • Customer-centric

Both approaches cater to customersā€™ feedback to fine-tune their products based on the changing requirements and improve the product. 

  • Iterations

Both approaches believe in the repeated improvement of the product. It lets the team conduct experiments in each iteration and make the product better with each iteration. 

  • TestingĀ 

Testing each component or module of the product is a significant concern of both methodologies. In the agile approach, the product is created in small chunks; thus, testing each chunk is necessary to check if it is working as expected or not. 

Testing is also an essential aspect of design thinking, as it helps the developers validate their ideas to come up with better solutions to fix the problem. It uses concepts like UI mockups, sketches, and similar visual artifacts for early testing and to improve the process via learning. 

  • Team collaboration

We need a team that collaborates to understand the product requirement to leverage the benefits of both approaches. They must have the same mindset; they can only move forward in the right direction and achieve success.

To boost collaboration, the team conducts user research and brainstorms to enable balance across product discovery and delivery.

Where are both worlds separate?

Despite the common grounds, you cannot use both approaches interchangeably. Below are the reasons why.

  • The origin of the problem.

Agile provides guidelines for building the right product in a proper way. This approach suits you well for solving predefined problems where you can execute the solution instantly to speed up the process.

While in the case of design thinking, people focus on finding the correct problems along with their potential solutions. It lets the team experiment with their ideas and learn from their mistakes.

  • How does the team use the feedback?

Both approaches use the gathered feedback differently, creating a solid difference. 

In the case of agile, the team creates an MVP (minimum viable product) that can be shared with customers, then measured and learned. They get feedback based on MVP and improve their build. 

While in the case of design thinking, there is a different workflow- learn, then measure, and finally build based on the learning. 

Design thinking capitalizes on user feedback and checks if there are any unsatisfied requirements.

  • Development process duration.

Teams following Agile processes work in the shorter duration of development cycles called Iterations which are usually between 1 to 3 weeksĀ 

While in the case of design thinking, a lot of brainstorming, and discussions take place to find multiple solutions for the same problem. Then the team validates each of these solutions. Every solution that is more Viable, Desirable, and feasible would be selected to implement.Ā 

Leveraging the power of both approaches

problem and solution
Ref: Research Gate

Why not combine them? Why not leverage the best of both worlds and handle complex scenarios more efficiently? This way, you do not have to choose between them.

Today, many companies are implementing both approaches with a balanced mindset team, moving towards achieving their goals like a pro. Both approaches complement each other. 

You will get a smooth working environment where every team member works together with a nice balance of both approaches.

But how can both help streamline the user-centric product development process?

Letā€™s see what else is remaining to unfold.

With a mixed mindset, every team member brings new ideas to experiment with. This way, the team can embrace a user-centered innovation to transform the entire product. 

  • Avoid putting efforts in the wrong place.

With agile methodology, you will get feedback after submitting a part of your product(In smaller Increments). But with a design thinking approach, you can easily save time and effort in creating unfruitful ideas. The design thinking approach helps also eliminate ideas that are not Viable, Desirable, and Feasible. So that the right solutions are considered for implementation.

  • Understanding the roadmap of the product.

In the case of design thinking, the team focuses on repeated ideation and continuous feedback from the beginning of the development. Thus, making it challenging to estimate a fixed timeline. While agile provides a clear path for growth, helping the team members to estimate the timeline.

  • Implementing the right changes at the right time.

Solutions arrived out of the Design Thinking process can help build the right product at right time.

How to overcome potential challenges in combining agile and design thinking?

Combining both approaches can be challenging for the team to implement. If you follow the specific step, you can easily overcome those challenges. 

As we have discussed, design thinking helps you explore potential problems and find solutions, helping you move forward and create the right product. At the same time, agile defines the correct way of doing things. Companies can leverage their combined benefits if they do it correctly.

Below are the potential challenges that teams must consider.

  • Choosing the proper methodology for a specific stage can take time and effort. To eliminate such issues, the team must focus on high-value and low-risk opportunities and combine both approaches to find a potential solution. 

In most cases, design thinking is used if you are stuck in the early SDLC process, and you choose agile if you have already defined the problem and are at the implementation stage. To create a better version of your product, the team must believe in generating and experimenting with new ideas.

If you are still trying to figure out where to start, you must focus on design thinking first. Try to find the problem and create a framework that will solve the problem. Then kicks in agile emphasizes team collaboration, helping the team to see the purpose of consistent change and adapt accordingly.Ā 

  • If the product is complex, it will take more time to complete, and it is at risk of facing more issues throughout the process. To eliminate this issue, you must include ScrumMaster for efficient planning and solution design. It will also include breaking complex requirements into smaller stories and iterating them.

Wrapping up

After considering the overall picture, we know where both approaches differ and how any business can leverage both benefits. If businesses understand the core of both approaches, they can fill the gaps and innovate their product development efficiently. 

In the end, all you need is to focus on the customerā€™s demand and adapt accordingly to their changing requirements. Only then can you provide a better user experience. In this article, we have explained both approaches in detail, along with their benefits and challenges of combing these approaches. 

So take your decision well, and implement the correct approach suited to your business requirement.