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The story behind the Problem Solver's Toolkit

Adam Corcoran
18th October 2018

In today’s world, words like “disruption”, “transformation” and “value” have started to emerge alongside “humanity”, “neutrality” and “impartiality” in the Australian Red Cross lexicon. The leadership team is keenly aware of the need to embrace new ways of working. These ways of working must prioritise delivering value to the end user with more agility and less waste. In order to successfully move towards these new ways of working, there needs to be a culture shift. Red Cross people need to feel empowered about experimenting and learning from failure. 

There was an appetite across the organization for more resources to help better understand and frame problems, understand and involve end users in the design process, uncover and validate assumptions, make better and more creative and deliver value iteratively.

Australian Red Cross needed a toolkit.

As designers and agile coaches in the Strategy & Culture team, we took on the task. Our design challenge? How might we provide useful, tangible activities and tools to Red Cross people, so that they feel confident and inspired to embrace new ways of working?

Keen to ensure we adopted many of the principles and mindsets needed for this new approach in our work, our team laid the foundations to develop a toolkit. The toolkit would bring together a suite of best practice tools and methods that can be adopted by any Red Cross team, at any time, in the design of better products, services and experiences.

Download the toolkit

The toolkit is available in PDF format, containing 58 unique tools and activities.

Download PDF

Time to explore the opportunity

The initial research began with a form of service exploration. This involved deep-diving into the other “innovation toolkit” offerings that existed, reviewing their contents and determining which of these contained useful tools and activities would be relevant in a Red Cross context. We reviewed offerings from IDEO, Atlassian, Google, Strategyzer, Stickdorn & Schneider, the Stanford d School, Gamestorming, Board of Innovation, Leanstack, Trello, Mozilla and many others. Additionally, we collated a list of tools and activities already in use across the organisation, and documented our own unique activities that we’d created as designers and coaches.

From this large body of thinking, we began a card sorting exercise to sort the most useful tools and activities into groupings that might form the early contenders for our toolkit contents. The card sorting was done on a wall with sticky notes, and went through at least a dozen iterations before it formed the first draft contents page of the toolkit.

Our card sorting at work, a few iterations in.

Getting creative

When it came to the format and design of the toolkit, we knew it needed to be easy to understand. It needed a clear visual system to make navigating the cards and selecting the right one at a glance as easy as possible. The first thing to do was put pen to paper and sketch some layout options.

From the sketching process, we were able to define the most important visual elements to be conveyed on the cards:

  • The name of the tool, the section and any relevant sub-sections
  • A visual indication of which section of the toolkit the card was contained within
  • A visual indication of the assumed time commitment and difficulty of using that particular card
  • An explanation of the intended audience for the tool and when it might be used
  • A highlight device to include ‘pro tips’ or links to more information
  • A space for listing related tools

Alongside this process, the team were developing a broader strategy and framework to assist with communicating their work to the broader organisation, and an “innovation process” visual was drafted.

Early sketches of the problem solving process visual.

Defining this ’innovation process‘ was like life imitating art. As we worked through the conceptualisation, ideation and execution of a final visual depiction of this process, the process itself became clearer. It started with exploration techniques like  peer observation before pausing to understanding our learnings, and moved into the development of insights and principles before brainstorming, sketching and prototyping evolved. Then, it was a process of validation through gathering group feedback, integrating that feedback, and iterating. Finally, we were able to deliver a finished visualisation of what we now call “the problem solving process”. This visual laid the groundwork for the categorisation and structure of the toolkit cards.

Once you’ve understood your context, the design of good products, services and experience moves from exploration, to validation, then onto delivery; with moments to pivot, iterate, and continuously improve along the way.

Following the sketching of toolkit card layouts and the initial work on the ’innovation process‘ definitions, it was time to prototype some early layouts of the toolkit for feedback. In the end, the design went through four major iterations, with countless minor iterations in between.

Colours, fonts, layouts; the toolkit went through a number of iterations.

Listening to others

To get to these major and minor iterations, we started with group feedback as a team to refine layouts, colours and fonts. We then went to a broader group to test the readability of four different font options. Once a chosen typography approach was agreed, we continued to perform test prints as we developed more of the tools.

As we integrated feedback and iterated the design, we realised the need to support the toolkit with something to assist with navigation. Taking a leaf out of the Human-centred design playbook, we went out to collaborators and interested parties to discover more about the problems they would be solving using the toolkit. We asked nearly 30 people across various levels of the organisation to rank their needs using three votes each.

Through this, we discovered that people were looking to the toolkit to assist them with:

  1. Solving the right problems
  2. Getting creative in problem solving
  3. Improving their decision making
  4. Creating solutions in innovative ways
  5. Involving users in the process
  6. Uncovering and validating assumptions
  7. Gathering the right people and skills
  8. Understanding users better
  9. Getting out in the field for research
  10. Delivering on time and on budget

These results informed how we would produce a series of “recipes”, placing relevant cards and tools into the recipe categories from the findings. This series of recipes is available as a downloadable PDF, and has underpinned the layout of the digital version of the toolkit on the Australian Red Cross intranet.

The toolkit cards, sorted into 11 recipes, to help users navigate the activities and tools.

Download the recipes poster

The toolkit is also accompanied by a “recipes” poster. This is designed to help people navigate to a particular tool or technique they need or would like to try.

Download PDF

As we continued to further iterate the toolkit contents based on the feedback, we began to involve specific teams across the organisation as content collaborators. These teams had already gained invaluable experience using many of the tools and techniques. Cards were added, removed, rewritten and tweaked with each iteration. An important late iteration came from Caitlin in our Community Programs directorate who pointed out that available white space on the front of many of the cards should be used for a tangible, realistic example of the tool in use. Collaboration, flexibility and adaptability proved crucial to the successful completion of the toolkit. The final toolkit is the result of close collaboration between more than a dozen influencers across the organisation, each having a hand in creating and reviewing the content.

The final product

The whole process, from the research phase right through to managing the printing and launch comms was managed on a Kanban board. This allowed the team to have full visibility and transparency over the process. The final list of toolkit activities was prioritised using the Moscow method. This enabled us to trim down approximately 150 tools and activities to the final 58 that were included. In keeping with the spirit of the included tools and techniques, we have released the toolkit under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This means that parties can copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, as long as they give appropriate credit to us as the creators, don’t make money from it, and don’t distribute derivatives of it. Basically, it’s free for people to share in its entirety for the good of others. How very humanitarian of us.

The physical version of the toolkit has been printed in an initial, limited run for dissemination to specific areas of the organisation. It has been produced on 60% post-consumer waste recycled, FSC certified, carbon neutral paper in partnership with a 100% carbon neutral printer. For ease of use, printed copies are bound by a hinged ring at the top-left corner.

An interactive, digital version of the toolkit is available via the Australian Red Cross intranet. The information architecture closely follows the learnings that led to the ‘recipes’ PDF, aligning with the needs conveyed by the test audience.

We are also making a downloadable PDF version available to our readers. Feel free to download it, use it, share it, and get back to us with any feedback. We’re adopting a continuous improvement approach to the toolkit, after all.

The finished toolkit in use.

Download the toolkit

The toolkit is available in PDF format, containing 58 unique tools and activities.

Download PDF

The tools we used for creating the toolkit

Each of the tools mentioned above in bold are included in the toolkit:

  • Human-centred design (card #01)
  • Frame your design challenge (card #09)
  • Service explorer (card #16)
  • Card sorting (card #22)
  • Peer observation (card #23)
  • Understand your learnings (card #26)
  • Insights and design principles (card #29)
  • Brainstorm (card #31)
  • Sketch (card #36)
  • Prototype (card #37)
  • Group feedback (card #38)
  • Integrate feedback and iterate (card #49)
  • Moscow method (card #51)
  • Kanban board (card #53)

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