Design Thinking for the Laboratory

Although not a new approach to problem solving, "design thinking" strikes me as particularly useful for the laboratory. And like many useful things, design thinking is a process. It has the following four steps:

  1. Discover—work to understand and appreciate as much as possible about the issue.
  2. Define—propose as many potential solutions as possible.
  3. Develop—prototype favored solutions and seek feedback.
  4. Delivery—implement the solution that works best.

Focusing on the end-user throughout the process is a key component of design thinking and congruent with the laboratory’s customer orientation. Involving the end-user, or at least working from his/her perspective throughout the solution-finding process, keeps potential solutions aligned with customer needs.

The question for us in the laboratory is—How best can we engage end-users in the design-thinking process?

This past year has given me a deep appreciation for the power of questions. For a good read, I recommend: "A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life," by Brian Grazer. In this book, Grazer eloquently discusses how curiosity is driving his questions. Design thinking is also driven by questions.

To get meta-cognitive for a second, the question for us in the laboratory is—How should we craft our questions to elicit an informative response?

For me, the idea of prototyping was new. I have mostly seen folks talk-out a solution, then implement. Prototyping seemed to be a luxury for the indecisive. In contrast, I have come to realize that the process of prototyping promotes iterative and practical solutions. Too often in medicine, we make decisions without the full complement of information. A prototype is something to try and . . . wait for it—learn from!

These aspects of design thinking resonate with my pathology/laboratory medicine mindset. Our problems are difficult. And as we serve many customers, one perfect solution is (at best) elusive. The opportunities created with a design-thinking approach also come with familiar challenges—time and engagement. What has been your experience? How might we implement design thinking in pathology and laboratory medicine? Shall we implement this process as described or piecemeal?

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts and experiences below.

Justin Kreuter

Justin Kreuter, M.D., is a clinical pathologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. His practice consists of both general and subspecialty aspects of clinical pathology. At Federal Medical Center-Rochester, Dr. Kreuter runs the general laboratory that supports a local in-patient population and does a large amount of reference work. At Mayo Clinic, Dr. Kreuter's time is split between the transfusion medicine service and transplant laboratory. In addition to clinical activities, his academic interests include several aspects of medical education, including teaching clinical judgment, frameworks for feedback, and reflection in medical practice.