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Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Infosys seeks to make design thinking central to its culture

The IT firm led by CEO Vishal Sikka is working on a model which will help it quantify the benefits brought in by the design thinking approach

Among the many challenges facing Infosys Ltd’s chief executive officer (CEO) Vishal Sikka is one that involves teaching the company’s engineers design thinking, part of an effort to transform each of them from someone who takes orders and writes code to someone who is an innovative thinker.

Now, after 250 classes, each day-long, across development centres in Mysuru, Pune and Hyderabad, the 34-year-old software services firm is working on a model which will help it quantify the benefits brought in by the problem-solving approach of design thinking.

Popularized by IDEO, a California-based consulting firm, design thinking, according to IDEO CEO Tim Brown (in a quote on the firm’s website), is “a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success".

Infosys wants to make design thinking central to the company’s culture, and in the coming months will have metrics based on which it can evaluate its people both in the delivery and sales business on how effectively the elements of design thinking are being used.

“The wave is on," said Binod Hampapur Rangadore, executive vice-president and head (talent fulfilment function) at Infosys, referring to how 31,000 of the firm’s employees have already gone through “day-long design thinking classes" since October last year, even as he expects to widen this to 70,000 employees by the end of March next year.

“We need to see how we can better evaluate…how, say our sales teams are using design thinking…and we think we will soon have a model in place where we can evaluate how teams are using design thinking," Rangadore said in an interview, although he declined to share more details.

One approach Infosys will take to measure the impact of design thinking is asking each employee of a team working on a particular project to recall the “number of genuine ideas" embraced by a client. This number, say if it was two or three ideas, will then be benchmarked across teams working on similar projects for different clients, according to an Infosys executive, who did not want to be named as he is not authorized to speak with the media. The executive said that more such metrics are still being discussed.

Two consultants, David Kelley, founder of the Stanford design school and the legendary design firm IDEO, and his brother Tom Kelley, are expected to help Sikka’s team come up with more metrics to help Infosys evaluate the success of design thinking. The Kelley brothers first spent two weeks in the company’s Mysuru training facility last October, training future design thinking coaches at Infosys and setting up modules, according to the executive cited above.

David Kelley didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Some experts, though delighted at the move, cautioned that quantifying an abstract concept like design thinking won’t be easy, especially for a company the size of Infosys.

“The old adage applies: ‘if you can’t measure it, did you know it happened’," joked Ray Wang, founder of Constellation Research Inc., a technology research and advisory firm.

“It’s a bit harder to judge the final outcomes of the process," said Wang. “In the world of design thinking, it may turn out that one of your ‘out of the box’ solutions may actually turn into a transformational idea that is not only unique to the client, but may also yield some direct savings of time, resources, or create new revenue lines. It may have taken you more time to achieve this solution, but the client embraces that solution. So you need to have similar types of projects to evaluate (design thinking)."

Globally, firms across industries—from SAP, from where Sikka came, to consumer goods firm Procter and Gamble Co.—have adopted design thinking.

Infosys’s aggressive push towards embracing design thinking is largely because disruptive technologies are changing the ways a company does business. Over the last few years, many of the clients of the country’s $146 billion outsourcing industry have cut back their IT spending even as they want their IT vendors, including Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Wipro Ltd, to offer solutions that improve their business operations. This has led IT firms to adopt a more proactive approach in offering solutions that increase a client’s revenues and cut operational costs.

Already, Infosys has started with more exhaustive classes for teams managing what it terms star accounts.

“We have account-specific design thinking classes… It’s getting an account’s cross-functionality (teams together), getting their architect, sales, pre-sales, delivery, marketing teams together, teaching them DT (design thinking) and giving them, say a week’s time to work on possible solutions for their clients," said Rangadore.

Infosys claims it has already started seeing early success as a proactive approach of the sales team helped the company win two clients that bring more than $100 million in annual revenues and four deals with more than $50 million in revenues over the last two months. Another Palo Alto-based design thinker and consultant, Erin Liman, is working with Sanjay Rajagopalan—another of Sikka’s former SAP colleagues who is now with Infosys—in curating design thinking workshops with Infosys clients.

Employees at Infosys are keen to see how design thinking can help.

“We’ve reached a stage in our company where people just want to complete their jobs. This (design thinking) brings in a lot of freshness and it tells you that it is your prerogative to actually think and bring in some creative work," said an Infosys executive based in Hyderabad who asked not to be named. “As for impact, can thinking ever fail?"

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