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People-Centered Problem Solving : An Introduction

There’s one thing I’ve realized over the years working on various digital products for different audiences: It always starts with people. Understanding user needs is the foundation of a successful solution. In User Experience (UX), a field I’m practicing for years, there’s a saying: “You are not your users.” That means that even if you believe we know what your customers want and need from your product, you can’t be 100% sure. Even when we think we know, their behavior in the product we create will often surprise us. As solving complex problems is challenging and requires constant adaptation, UX professionals must learn and improve their methods, to better suit their team.

Curiosity is the foundation for creating real value.

Having multiple tools in our toolbox allows us to offer diverse tactics and ways to achieve our goals. Over the years, I’ve researched and applied methodologies from “user/market research,” “Human Centered Design,” “Design Thinking,” and various “Innovation tools.” Here’s a little truth that no one talks about: The methodology’s name is of secondary importance. How you apply the tools, which tools you use, or the method you work with – it’s entirely up to you and what works for you.

The real magic lies in understanding people.

Understanding customers is crucial, especially if you create products or services that serve people. That’s true whether it’s in the digital or physical world. But work processes become successful when we also understand the people “in the boat” with us: our team, people from other teams, and decision-makers. Using the right tools that effectively bring everyone’s voices and wisdom to the table starts and ends with understanding: Who are we working with? What tool will help them bring out their best? What tool will help them shine and make the solution excellent?

Enter, Design Thinking.

Facing the challenges of promoting work efficiently with teams I’ve worked with, I began searching for tools I could share with them. And then I found Design Thinking and my world changed. For the better! Design thinking is a term that emerged in the 1950s in books dealing mainly with solving “Wicked Problems.” It refers to a set of cognitive, strategic, and practical processes used to develop design solutions (proposals for products, buildings, machines, communication, etc.). Various design fields have used many usages and aspects of Design Thinking. Over time, the method has evolved to serve business innovation processes, organizational optimization, creative innovation, and many other uses. Understanding the need is always the driving force in all implementations of the method. When we deeply understand who needs it, what they need, and most importantly, why, we can create people-centered solutions. *** Personally, I think the term “Design Thinking” is somewhat misleading. It associated the methodology with design, which distracts us from what truly drives and promotes the process: the people. I call the approach I molded “People-Centered Problem Solving”(PCPS)™.

When does "People-Centered Problem Solving" come into play?

I once worked with a company that developed a product for doctors. We planned a meeting with users for “Usability Testing.” Usability tests allow us to examine whether participants can perform tasks we’ve defined in the product and how easy/difficult they are for them. We also discover insights from our users for the product’s improvement. We had a preliminary conversation with the company’s team and confirmed with them the test that users would go through. The team began asking many questions they wanted us to clarify with the users. In usability tests, we prefer not to ask questions but to observe and clarify insights participants mention. So I suggested using a tool from my PCPS toolbox called “2×2” to map their questions and define topics collaboratively. We mapped questions, iterated and refined them, and grouped similar questions using an online platform (Mural) that I had prepared. Here’s what the board we worked on together looked like:

At the end of this brief thinking exercise, the team had a mutual understanding of the topics we wanted to explore with users during the usability tests. This approach allowed us to meet both the expectations of the people we worked with and learn more effectively about the people for whom we all worked.

Why People-Centered

There are numerous articles discussing specific points where “Design Thinking” based methods should be applied. These methods are correct and effective. Undoubtedly, many methods have proven time and time again to be effective and valuable for the product. For example, conducting user research at the beginning of the process to identify the need from the perspective of the people who experience it. Or creating a prototype you can test with people to ensure the solution works for them (usability testing). But let’s face it, it’s not always possible due to time, resources, or budget constraints. I believe understanding when it’s possible, necessary, or mandatory is part of understanding the people we work with and knowing how and what to offer so we can build people-centered products together. Challenges that require “people-centered problem solving” arise at any point when multiple people want to think together about a complex problem. If you:

  • Manage product teams aiming to tackle a business challenge for customers

  • Manage user experience teams seeking to improve work processes

  • Are an entrepreneur looking to consolidate your concept into a product

  • Are a doctor wanting to improve a process for patients

  • Are an educator looking for ideas to solve a challenge

  • And more

And, most importantly, if you:

  • Are curious to learn from others

  • Encourage creativity

  • Appreciate courage

  • Are open to collaborative thinking

  • Enjoy open conversation

Adopting and implementing “people-centered problem solving” will enable you to flourish and solve problems effectively, proactively, and efficiently.

To Sum It Up

“People-Centered Problem Solving” is my worldview. I invite you to explore where it aligns with you, whether your work processes focus on people, and if these tools can help you grow and produce higher value for yourself and those around you. Not sure where to begin? Feel free to contact me.


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