5by5: Establishing Trust and Meaningful Connections with Shilpi Kumar

A conversation about establishing trust and meaningful connections inside a client organization with Shilpi Kumar, Founder & Innovation Catalyst, Khoj Lab LLC. She is also presenting at the upcoming SDN Midwest conference

Interview by Thomas Brandenburg and Twisha Shah-Brandenburg, a collaboration with 5by5.blog

“Key to establishing trust is transparency and clear communication across these various roles within the organization.” —Shilpi Kumar

Question 1

What are ways in which you establish trust with your client organizations so that you can create meaningful outcomes that go beyond your engagement?

Build Empathy. Respect others perspective. Ask the right questions and in the right way. Listen. Learn with them. Carefully engage them appropriately throughout the creation process.


Question 2

What are the barriers or biases that stakeholders have that you have seen show up across different organizations?

Few barriers that come to mind are:

  1.     Lack of transparency due to organizational silos. This often results in not knowing what and how others are doing causing redundancies and wastage.
  2.     The misconception of what customer-centric means – doing exactly what the customer tells you to vs trying to understand their unarticulated needs and trying to show them their needs that they didn’t know about.
  3.     The perception that Innovation is all about ideation and often focused around innovating products or brand experiences.  
  4.     Starting the discussion with a focus on the solution rather than the problem.
  5.     Thinking of research as a onetime activity rather than an ongoing activity in an agile manner to help reduce uncertainty.
  6.     Narrow perspective on the role of design. I like the distinction that John Maeda makes with the 3 types of Design: Classical Design, Design Thinking and Computational Design. All three are equally important and need to be understood.

Question 3

Can you share with us your perspective on the dynamics of trust and decision making, (power) in the design process when working with stakeholders?

Relationships come first.

Engaging the stakeholders early on in the process by having one on one conversations or multiple work sessions with them to understand their perspective.

Setting expectations in the very beginning.

Aligning on what different terms mean – Innovation, Design, Prototype, Concept, MVP, Pilot, Playbook, Cocreation, Research, Experimentation etc.  Making clear different milestones and roles in the design process.

I value what you bring to the table and you value what I bring to the table.

Trust comes from mutual respect. Often time the roles like – product management, designer, UX researcher, design strategist, product owner and are not clearly understood – what are their accountabilities and measure of success etc.? Lack of clarity about roles can cause a lot of mistrust and untimely decisions. Key to establishing trust is transparency and clear communication across these various roles within the organization.


Question 4

In order to be effective what are signals that you pay attention to before accepting a new client/project?

If the client is not convinced about the ROI on their investment in research /innovation initiatives or if the client is not engaged in the project in spite of trying hard that’s a signal. On the other hand, if they value human-centered design approach and believe that it can help us think of new ideas holistically it is a sign of a healthy client relationship and success for the projects.


Question 5

As you think about the future of service design as a profession, what are norms that need to be established so that we can gain trust and momentum within the business community?

Great storytelling from the customer’s perspective is key to transforming future experiences and services. More than norms it’s about helping propagate the role of design in business growth through new services, products, platforms, and experiences. And systems thinking mindset is critical for that.


Bonus Question

What advice do you have for a young professional entering the field?

Few things I learned from my mentors on the job that I would like to share.

  1.       Building empathy with your stakeholders is as important as building empathy with your users.
  2.       Being process oriented about your design research is good but do not forget the role of intuition in the process.
  3.       Think of research as a way to build your creative confidence by clarifying things that are uncertain and unknown along the design process.
  4.       Be fearless about challenging the status quo.
  5.       Follow your passion


Interested in this topic? Register now to be part of a larger community at the SDN Midwest conference in Minneapolis, MN, June 15, 2018. For more info on conference programming visit here.

Learn more about Shilpi Kumar and her presentation at the conference.