November 27, 2017

How does design thinking fit the context of the paper and board industry?

Carsten Henke

Managing Director Tieto Germany & Head of Production Excellence, Tieto

Design thinking, a new culture for problem-solving, is an exciting new concept that can benefit even a conservative industry such as paper and board.

If you’re unsure of what “design thinking”, one of the buzzwords of today, really means, don’t worry. A relatively new concept in industrial contexts, it means different things to different people.

Maybe the word ‘design’ evokes a mental image that the term is related only to visual design or user interfaces. Not so.

In essence, design thinking is a tool for solving problems in a new way. It has been called the fusion of the left brain and the right brain. Its central tenet is to look at a problem from a human perspective – which sometimes results in the realisation that the actual problem wasn’t, after all, the problem we set out to solve.

In practice, design thinking involves getting people from different fields and with different backgrounds together to throw around crazy ideas about what to do with the identified problem. The best ideas are quickly prototyped and tested. Failure may come fast, but it comes cheap. Constant iteration will maintain the momentum in the process. You no longer have the temptation to grit your teeth and force an initial solution because you have invested so much in it.

In an industry such as paper and board, which is traditionally a competitive, low-margin business with high investment to protect and rigid strategic decision-making processes, design thinking opens up new opportunities. Although it may sound unstructured and time-consuming, the early ideation process will save time, effort and even money in the end.

New culture, new opportunities

Again quoting what has been said before, innovation is no longer optional. With shorter production runs, the requirement for quicker grade changes and customers’ demand for increasingly short delivery times, optimising the present is a finite resource.

Design thinking helps here. Taking a bird’s-eye view on what began as “how can we change grades more quickly at minimum cost” may eventually lead to “we should look for new revenue streams, can we diversify”, just as an example.

Thought processes like this result from creative and relatively unfettered input by people from different backgrounds at the ideation stage. The keyword is cooperation.

True, design thinking means a cultural change. Hierarchical, rule-based management must give way to leadership that encourages collaboration across organisational boundaries. People need to learn to accept input from outside their own silos. A cultural change will also be needed in adopting the new way of working. Ideation, prototyping, testing, validation. As fast as possible with short cycles.

Paper and board is a conservative industry with large upfront investment. Conservative strategies take a long time to formulate and it takes a long time for investment to pay back. If you speed up the cycle with design thinking, it is like changing from tunnel vision to a wide-angle lens, ultimately leading to better decisions and faster payback. Because the entire process puts the human in the centre, you will simultaneously improve the customer experience.

If you need help in transitioning to a new way of thinking about your paper and board business, we are here to help you.

Read more about Design Thinking: A Design Transformation at Tieto

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