Apply design transformation to a company of 70,000 people distributed globally. Now that’s a lot of people. Like any movement, it starts with a lone nut, joined by its first follower. When the masses arrive, you’ll know you were onto something.
First off, why do this? A well-known CEO once declared:

“Good design is good business.”

– Thomas Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Jeneanne Rae proved this to be true. The Design Value Index (DVI) found that design thinking-integrated companies outpace industry peers by as much as 228%. Additionally, the companies that embrace design understand their customers better than those that don’t; as a result, they grow quicker and have higher margins.

When embarking on a journey, it’s important to start somewhere familiar. The work of IBM Design is a great modern case study at implementing design expertise at scale.

At its core, the program is composed of:

People: your most important assets
that nurture creativity
to sustain and deliver

Let’s start with people. People are stubborn. They have dirty old habits. Some even carry vendettas. But they also have dreams and aspirations. At the end of the day, people just want to be heard and part of the process. Because Cisco lacked a user-centric culture, we naturally started with interviews.
Common pain points we heard:

Designers are not empowered.
•   Designers feel like second class citizens.
•   Design involved too late in the process.
•   Difficult to hire new talent or retain existing talent.

Scarce design resources.•   Design is understaffed (at worst a 2000:1 ratio).
•   Designers are kept busy with tactical work.
•   No time to innovate.

Lack of research and exploration.•   No culture of experimentation.
•   Zero user involvement.
•   Focus on incremental and marginal feature improvements.

No common vision or design culture.•   No shared purpose or sense of community.
•   No way to share learnings and practices between business units.
•   Unclear vision for Cisco portfolio.

While design thinking won’t fix the problem overnight, it takes steps in bridging the gap to get there.

Adoption only works when information is kept simple and familiar. So we incorporated the way teams were already working at Cisco and broke them into 3 core phases (Discover, Define, and Explore), all of which encourage the making of things and validation of users throughout the process.

Cisco Design Thinking Framework (2017)

This method of working requires everyone including PM’s, engineers, and designers to have a seat at the table and to speak up to ensure the right opportunities are answered with appropriate solutions. In many ways, this approach breaks down the silos, adds a layer of accountability, and encourages cross-collaboration between teams.

And you know, work can be fun too – if you do it right.

By iterating quickly, we were able to learn and recalibrate our efforts throughout the project. With momentum, comes inevitable change.

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

– George S. Patton

In order to empower the people, we needed to conduct workshops and training for product and executive teams. Hey, you need a place to do this.

Cisco Design Lab at CXC in San Jose, CA (v 1.0)

Furthermore, you’ll likely need a field guide filled with practices that people can hang their hat on. You want something tangible so folks walking by say, “Hey, that’s a really nice book. Wait, it’s our book? I didn’t realize we were doing this kind of thing.” Build awareness. Then desire.

Design explorations of the Cisco Design Thinking Playbook (v 0.7 - 0.9)

Now I know what you’re thinking. This seems like a lot of work.
Because it is. Endless hours at the printer. 20+ copy revisions. We weren’t fucking around.

And you shouldn’t either.

“Discovered this morning that a good friend of mine knows the two founders of IDEO quite well ... I gave my friend a copy of the book … which he loved and then asked for three more copies so he could send them to David Kelly, Tim Brown, and Keith. 😲”

– Matt Cutler, Evangelist of Cisco Design Thinking

Because it’s a small world and you never know where your work will end up.

A year in, design thinking is now a practice shared by thousands of Cisco employees across the org, including product, sales and services teams. 3,000 copies of the book distributed. 20+ projects incorporating the design methods taught.

All in all: A molotov cocktail formula for success, if you choose to use it: 

success = people + timing + talent + emotion

(a happy client and fulfilled team) = (getting the right folks excited) + (speedy execution) + (impeccably crafted details) + (that builds up excitement and trust)

When dealing with change and specifically, leading that change, it’s important to acknowledge that leadership isn’t a heroic thing nor is it something that only comes from the top. To lead a movement is to change the individual. To sustain, is to turn that movement into an all-out party.

†Cisco Newsroom
✤Design Management Institute Design Value Index
☯ADKAR Change Management Model