Design Thinking and Lean Methodology: Learn how to apply these tools to your business

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Facing challenges as a business can be made simple when using the right tools. But do you know how to make that choice? In order to define the necessary changes to overcome any difficulties, you need to know your company’s objectives. In this context, Design Thinking and Lean Methodology are useful approaches which can be applied to different types of businesses. Understand the main similarities and differences between them and make the most suitable choice for your business.

Design Thinking is the approach that seeks to solve problems through empathy with stakeholders, creativity to generate insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and assemble responses to the problem. The tool aims to produce solutions that generate new meanings and stimulate the various aspects (cognitive, emotional and sensorial) involved in the human experience. Through design thinking, you will use strategies that will meet the needs of the people while keeping in mind what is technologically viable.


Although the term “design” is often associated with the quality and aesthetic appearance of products, as a discipline, Design Thinking deals with different meanings and aims to promote well-being in people’s lives comprehensively. Design-driven innovation draws attention not only to technological and marketing factors – to focus on the development or integration of new technologies and the opening up and/or entering new markets – but also to the importance of introducing new meanings to products, services or relationships. After all, “things must have a form in order to be seen, but they must make sense in order to be understood and used” (Krippendorf, 1989).


Therefore, Design Thinking seeks to understand cultures, experiences, emotions, thoughts and behaviors to gather information to inspire a project. In order to reach this stage, we need to work through the three stages of Design Thinking: Immersion, Ideation and Prototyping. By following these guidelines, it is possible to get to know your target audience deeply, investigate problems, discover opportunities, as well as build, test and deploy solutions generated throughout the process.




On the other hand, the Lean Methodology perceives the elimination of any and all forms of waste as problem solving, which adds value during the development stage of a product. Thus, the chances of a business succeeding are greater, without having to resort to amounts of external financing or the creation of the “perfect” product.


Consumer participation is key to this approach. The product needs to be built and developed in alongside the consumer, identifying who he/she is, what he/she wants and shaping the product that will be made for him. This can be done through a user journey map, which gives a detailed imaged of the relationship between the company and its customer, helping identify failures or new opportunities to improve the client’s experience with the company.


The lean methodology approach is about reducing risks, which sometimes requires changing an already formed idea. “Lean Startup is about minimizing waste, so you will have two or three founders working in the development of a product. They will work to prove an idea. With luck, this will lead to investments, which will allow them to try other ideas. Through this validated learning, the team grows through the process as the product and the business progress,” says Eric Ries, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and acknowledged for creating the movement that guides the application of the Lean methodology in startups.


Lean methodology can be applied when there are limitations in terms of budget and time for the development of new business, when it is necessary to generate new business in environments of extreme uncertainty or a project is managed with focus on the result of the business and not on the control of the implementation of its features, among other possibilities. In addition to reducing costs and eliminating waste, Lean methodology also adds value to the customer, provides information management in a simpler and more accurate manner, creates processes that require less space, capital, time and human effort to produce, which reduces the risk of flaws in products or services compared to traditional business systems.


Design Thinking vs Lean

What is it?

Design Thinking

Lean Startup





General innovation

High-tech innovation for startups


Focus on the user

Focus on the customer


Failing early to succeed early

Pivoting is the core of the concept behind “early failure”. The sooner you realize a hypothesis is wrong, the sooner you can pivot to carry out other tests.



Yes (pivoting)


Ideation is part of the process and solutions are generated during the process

Ideation is not part of the process. The vision of the product is initially provided by the company’s founders.

Qualitative methods

Is the focus: elaborate ethnographic methods, user research, observations etc.

Not the focus

Quantitative methods

Not the focus

Is the focus: Analysis based on metrics, analytical matrices and tests

Business model

Not the focus

Is the focus

Main techniques

Shadowing, qualitative interviews, prototyping, brainstorming with specific rules, divergence + convergence etc.

Qualitative interview, simple tests, prototyping, AIB tests, Business Model Canvas, the 5 whys etc.

Hypothesis test

Not the focus

Is the focus

Prototype test



Rapid iterations



Target group

Users (generally end users and, sometimes, someone who is interested in the project)

Clients (divided into: users, influencers, advisers, buyers and decision makers



The similarities between both methods are: the promotion of innovation, focus on the user, cost reduction in prototyping and rapid learning. As for the differences, they are: Design Thinking is intuitive, it observes to discover unmet needs, users are people and their goal is to solve problems. Lean is analytical, it begins with the vision of the founder, the users are customers and their goal is to develop a business model.


Choosing between Lean and Design Thinking depends on what you want to do: build the product, test it, and then pivot it or let the problem precede the existence of the product? Given the information, ask yourself, “What are the goals of your business? What are the main challenges to overcome?” and then, evaluate which methodology is most in line with your goals.

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