Increasingly, federal agencies are moving to agile development to build large-scale IT systems and infrastructure. That’s because technology is ever-evolving. Add the real possibility that the purpose of a given solution will change or will require new components over time:.Tthat’s where design thinking comes into play.

Agile development isn't a new concept. In fact, the private sector has been using this approach for years. Design thinking adds a human element to the process, which would greatly benefit the public sector and citizen services.

This process centers on building solutions with the end user in mind: understanding how the user is going to navigate a system and what the intended outcome is. That allows developers to bake in empathy from the start. Doing so enables teams to get to know the ultimate users, uncover their needs and invite them to observe.

This more flexible development process takes into account environmental factors and use cases to evolve the solution. It allows for shorter phases and multiple iterations including demos, proof of concepts and prototypes. This approach helps to drive outcomes that better align with the user needs.

To make all of this happen, a culture of collaboration is important. Agile development moves fast so the team leading the process should have mutual trust and respect across all the disciplines involved in getting to the outcome. Because of shorter "testing" phases, team members can build ideas off each other – seeing things through each other's eyes.

Federal agencies would benefit from this approach in developing systems, especially in cases where they're developing more creative apps or offering multi-layered citizen services. Imagine how this could apply to websites that consumers use for government services. Agencies managing these services would have the ability to account for new laws that change how these services are delivered, anticipate spikes in website traffic and adapt how information is submitted.

This way of thinking can also apply to not just why users are visiting a website, but also to how they're accessing it. As citizens increasingly use mobile devices for various needs, they expect the same ease of use for government services. Using this approach, agencies could also optimize websites for mobile that are responsive to any device, which would increase the likelihood that consumers interact with the government online rather than congesting lines in-person.

Because design thinking puts the user first, it could result in better outcomes, which would enhance the ultimate mission of various federal agencies. That's why it's an important approach for any agencies tasked with a multi-year and multi-tiered effort or for those reimagining how they deliver services. It could really make a difference.

Gina Loften is vice president and chief innovation officer at IBM Federal.

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