Key takeaways

  • ‘Sketching’ provides a simple way to understand problems from different angles and innovate solutions.
  • Iterative cycles allow the sum of everyone’s experiences to be incorporated and provide true understanding of the challenge faced.
  • A Round Robin approach provides a unique way to bring different parts of the business together to troubleshoot innovation and improve proposed suggestions.

When my son was young, we played a game where one person would sketch a shape and the next person would add to it, passing it back and forth until we sketched something that neither of us could have envisioned at the beginning. Sometimes the sketch would start with a shape or a number: upside down, right side up, a three would turn into a face, or a scene and would continue on until we both felt it was done and we would start another one. It usually started simply with one of us silently sliding a piece of paper to the other with a new starting point: ‘let’s see what he makes out of number 4.’

In consulting, we often use a variation of this approach to sketch solutions for clients. The process starts with a rough sketch of a business or experience problem, adding what we know until we have something which combines our collective expertise. It’s impossible to know what the outcome is going to be until it’s finished but the only way to get there is by working together.

The best part of this approach is that its simplicity makes it a great option for any business looking to solve a problem or innovate a product.

and immersion

In order to improve this collaborative sketch process, truly understanding what people are experiencing is critically important. This isn’t simply sending out surveys to get feedback – it’s attempting to live the experience while designing it. This includes sketching ideas in advance in order to create more understanding during the research process, watching people work, and asking questions about why they do what they are doing, to get to the heart of the difficulties and opportunities.

The value in asking questions has no end, as does the ability to see things from different points of view. This can include physically walking around objects to see how they can be perceived from other angles. Seeing things for the first time can highlight areas that people who look at them every day push into the background of their experience. Validating these observations is then at the heart of where we can make improvements.

Sketch cycles
and design thinking

These new experience ‘prototypes’ then become cycles of sketching – add to, pass the pencil, erase, pass it back, until a sketch and description exists, which amounts to the sum of the experiences of each party. Each of those sketch cycles increases in fidelity so more people can use it, more can comment, more can provide input.

The process of asking questions and cycles of sketching is at the center of what designers should be doing – not just going away to a room for solitary sketching without any input or iteration. One of our goals should be to first understand the people we are designing for – working with them to improve a problem they are having – and sketching the solution together.

Workshop sketching
for your business

One of the classic activities in a collaborative business workshop is an activity often called Round Robin. The workshop assembles a diverse set of people from groups inside a company and mixes them up in teams to help solve complex problems. Some of the best workshops include customers and customer service agents to cover as many points of view as possible.

In the Round Robin activity, one person or team writes up a concept, an idea which they think would help solve a problem or provide a new service to customers or employees. The team then passes this concept on to another team that’s tasked with listing all of the things that may not work about that idea, including politics, implementation issues, logistics and a list of other things.

The concept is then passed to yet another team to address all of the issues and improve on the concept. In this way the idea has been sketched together, added to, subtracted from and evolved until there is something which is more likely to make it into the market. This activity has the added benefit of building alignment across multiple groups in an organization.

the pencil

In most fields we often go right past the simple process of describing things so we can hold on to knowledge just a little bit longer. Collaborative sketching is pivotal to what we now call ‘design thinking’ – go to the problem, talk to the people, observe the problem, sketch a solution, show it, change it, show it again, change it again, until you have a new collaborative sketch and find that it’s finished.

It can be as simple as that: pass the pencil and see what happens next.


Digital Pulse: John Jones


John Jones

John is a managing director in PwC’s New York Experience Center.

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