ROUNDMAP™ versus Design Thinking

ROUNDMAP™ versus Design Thinking

How does ROUNDMAP relate to Design Thinking?

“We must design for the way people behave, not for how we would wish them to behave.”
― Donald A. Norman, Living with Complexity


Design thinking is a problem-solving process rooted in a set of skills. The approach has been around for decades, but it gained traction after the 2008 Harvard Business Review article titled “Design Thinking” by Tim Brown, CEO, and president of design company IDEO.

At a high level, the steps involved in the design thinking process are pretty straightforward (Source: MIT Sloan):

  1. Fully understand the problem (Empathize & Define);
  2. Explore a wide range of possible solutions (Ideate);
  3. Iterate extensively through prototyping and testing (Prototype & Test).

As a scheme, it looks like this:

1 zm F9oKglOhapcdak3DEUw1

However, the figure above lacks one important aspect: Implementation (deployment). It is often regarded as ‘outside the realm’ of the design thinking process, but it is an integral part of the entire process. After all, without successful implementation, what’s the use of the whole exercise?

A better representation, we believe, is the following figure; including the missing implementation phase:

nn design think1Customer Development Methodology

Now let’s look at a similar creative-thinking process, defined by Steve Blank, often regarded as the father of the LEAN startup movement.

Blank used the ‘customer’ as the starting point for developing solutions to fit a particular customer problem. His steps involve:

  1. Define the problem (= Empathize & Define);
  2. Design a solution for the problem (= Ideate);
  3. Test an MVP (minimum viable product) and iterate (= Prototype and Test);
  4. Sell & Scale (= Implement).

customer development process1

As you can see, the two, Design Thinking and the Customer Development Methodology, are very much the same.

And as mentioned before, this iterative approach toward development has been around for decades. If you have read the book In Search of Excellence by McKinsey consultants Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr., you may have learned that both the Design Thinking process as well as the LEAN methodology, later applied by many startups in Silicon Valley, was a typical mode of operation, be it sometimes in stealth-mode, of most deemed ‘Excellent’ organizations in the eighties.

The traditional way of designing

Before the Customer Development Methodology, before the LEAN startup movement, before Design Thinking, firms used to design products in a slightly different way:

  1. Conduct a market survey (Investigate)
  2. Design a product for a defined target group (Identify & Initiate)
  3. Launch a full-blown marketing campaign to sell the product (Interrupt)

There were a couple of issues with this approach: first, the time between a market survey and the campaign could easily be one or two years (in today’s terms, that would mean a lifetime); second, as a consequence, the product might not fit the actual demand at launch date (brands did use focus groups to test a product to some extend); third, the investment involved in a full-blown marketing campaign was huge, with a 50/50 chance of failure; and fourth, people started to oppose interruption marketing techniques.

However, the advantage of a full-blown marketing campaign to beat the competition before they could strike back often outweighed the risks of failure.

Startups, in general, lacked the funds and resources to launch massive marketing campaigns, so they had to be prudent and frugal. Since many Silicon Valley startup founders came from incumbents, applying the deemed ‘Excellent’ organization’s stealth mode was an inevitable but smart move to make.

It is good to realize that this all happened during the internet age, allowing the network effect to take these startups to a higher level than would be possible in the pre-internet era.

How does this compare to the ROUNDMAP?

We addressed the comparison between ROUNDMAP’s Customer Development and Agile Product Development in another article, Right on the Money, resulting in the following figure:


The figure implies that the ROUNDMAP™ cycles (bottom row) of attracting, nudging, persuading, satisfying, expanding, and extending customers is complementary to the backlog, analysis, definition, design, test, and deploy sprints (top row) of LEAN/Agile product development ─ and as we have discussed above, to the Design Thinking process.

Therefore, with ROUNDMAP™ on the one hand and Design Thinking and LEAN/Agile Customer Development Methodology on the other, the two are actually complementary: customer feedback is captured from the ROUNDMAP™ process and applied to the LEAN/Agile/Design Thinking process, leading to a new iteration of the product, to better suit customer demand; until both processes have led to an optimum product/market fit, and a campaign can be launched safely.

This continuous loop from customer development to product development, driven by customer feedback, is why we believe the Customer Roundtable Blueprint is so critical to the future of the business that we prefer to name it the Ultimate Level of Truth™.

The Venture Wheel

While the Venture Wheel offers a clear sequence of steps toward sustaining growth, the entire process implies that to extend the business venture to the next cycle, the business needs to forge strong relationships with its customers (and other stakeholders), by engaging them, collecting feedback, adapt (to) change, and continuously improve customer/stakeholder value.


  • Edwin Korver

    Edwin Korver is a polymath celebrated for his mastery of systems thinking and integral philosophy, particularly in intricate business transformations. His company, CROSS-SILO, embodies his unwavering belief in the interdependence of stakeholders and the pivotal role of value creation in fostering growth, complemented by the power of storytelling to convey that value. Edwin pioneered the RoundMap®, an all-encompassing business framework. He envisions a future where business harmonizes profit with compassion, common sense, and EQuitability, a vision he explores further in his forthcoming book, "Leading from the Whole."

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