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Difference Between Agile and Design Thinking

Businesses thinking about employing customer-centric strategies often stumble upon two main concepts. These two concepts are Agile methodology and Design Thinking. To simply understand, Agile methodology is a management process for projects/products. In this methodology, businesses break down the product into many phases. In turn, completion of each phase becomes possible. 

On the other hand, Design Thinking is a set of philosophies and tools used for helping with resolving issues creatively. Now, you are here to understand the difference between Agile and Design Thinking. Before getting into the differences between these two concepts, let us gain basic knowledge on these two concepts:

What is Agile?

Agile is an iterative approach. It helps businesses stay responsive to change. Even though it is a software development technique, it is used as a project management methodology not only by IT companies but even businesses operating in other fields benefit from Agile methodology.

Agile depends on a collection of feedback quickly. In turn, it becomes possible for businesses to rapidly adapt the design plan. As a result, they can best meet the requirements of users. The main purpose of Agile methodology is to reduce the chances of project failures. 

The good thing about Agile Methodology is that it provides Developers with a new project management environment. In this atmosphere, they get the freedom to evaluate new ideas and test user responses. Based on the feedback, they can pivot the project plan. Here, it does not mean that businesses will have to spend a fortune. As the project is divided into different phases, they can do the corrections with ease and affordably as well.

What is Design Thinking?

Are Agile and Design Thinking the same? You can consider Agile as an approach to solving issues. But, when it comes to Design Thinking, it is an approach to problem finding. 

Design Thinking is an approach that calls for a high degree of understanding and empathy of end-users. Also, it needs an iterative process of redefining issues and challenging assumptions. Even, it encompasses developing new ideas. 

The objective of the Design Thinking approach is to look for and find alternative solutions. These solutions might not be visibly seen at first. But, the team following this approach will have to look for them.

In short, Design Thinking is a separation of design from any particular toolset. The toolset can be anything like graphic design, architecture and industrial design. The purpose of this separation is to identify the process to apply to any problematic space.

How are Design Thinking and Agile Similar?

When talking about Design Thinking Vs Agile, it is better to first understand how they are similar to each other. Here are some points that make these two approaches similar:

  • Both these processes look for inputs from beyond the teams working on them. For designers, the inputs are technological possibilities, business requirements, and user research. When the topic comes to software development, the inputs are success metrics, User Stories, and Backlogs.
  • Both these methodologies grab continuous refinement and iteration. Designing involves moving forward and backward. Software development involves an ongoing chain of development. But, both of them continue to refine when the process moves from one step to another.
  • Also, empathy and empowerment are part of both these processes. Above all, both aim at healthy culture.

In short, both of them aim at identifying and resolving issues of end-users. Both are concerned about customer-centricity. So, any business thinking about customer-centricity will find both these approaches beneficial. 

Why Design Thinking and Agile Methodology Are Better Together?

Let us consider that you employ both Design Thinking and Agile methodology in your organization. By doing this, you can make your teams focus on a user-centric atmosphere. Also, when employed together, your teams will be able to reach optimal outcomes. The reason is that when both these approaches travel side-by-side, they will help with frequent and rapid iterations. For instance, you can motivate your teams to use Design Thinking for finding the issues. Then, they can apply the Agile methodology to build solutions iteratively to resolve those issues. 

Design Thinking can bring a powerful user focus. At the same time, Agile will work as the right tool to deliver solutions incrementally. All through the development and even design process, user needs can be kept as the focal point. 

Some Recommendations:

If your teams plan to embrace both these practices for the first time, here are some recommendations:

Smaller Beginning Will Be Good:

Any task when done initially will make the user face some issues. But, once the experience is gained, it will become easier. This rule applies even when implementing Design Thinking and Agile simultaneously. 

So, it is better to start with a focus on low-risk and high-value opportunities. Through this approach, it will be possible to gain some experience. After one or three tries, you can motivate your team to take on more challenging moves. If they succeed in these challenging tasks, it will further boost their confidence level. Even if they fail, they can learn from their mistakes for sure. 

Cross-Functional Teams Can Help Each Other:

When more than a team plans to implement both Agile and Design Thinking together, it is better to ensure that the teams work with each other. This move will motivate creativity in developing and designing solutions. To promote frequent collaboration, you can motivate the teams to physically gather with end-users. By doing this, they can gain better inputs to make improvements in their processes.

Achieve Design and Development Equilibrium:

When you take Agile teams in any organization, you will notice one thing. It is that they will always be in a “get-set-go” state. When these two concepts are mixed for the first time, it may create a sense of tension around the organization. Particularly, the Agile teams will start thinking about the time to be spent on designing thinking. The reason is that they wish to quickly start the development process. When this happens, it is important to do one thing. The team should be made to understand the importance of ideation, definition, and empathy phases of Design Thinking. Ensure that the team is ready to gain new user insights, which will help them reframe the issue. Then, they can continue their development process with a better understanding.

So, other than the initial hiccups, there will not be many issues when these two travel together. Now, you know the answer to the question is Agile and Design Thinking are the same. They are different but they have many similarities. With this knowledge, let us do a comparison of Design Thinking vs Agile:

Differences Between Agile and Design Thinking:
Fundamental Difference:

When you take the case of Agile, as a methodology, it can be used for solving issues. These are predefined issues. But, when it comes to Design Thinking, its focus is on selecting the right issues that can use a developed solution. 

To help you get a clear idea, with the help of Design Thinking, users can choose the paths they wish to pursue. It does not focus on how to get a predefined path. This job is done by Agile.

Agile Methodology will help with improving software built by a user. Design Thinking will help any person looking to find the path for a solution to a given hard-to-resolve issue.

As a process, Agile can become dysfunctional in a situation. It happens when there is no or less user engagement. But, Design Thinking will not get dysfunctional. The reason is that teams start the process only after understanding the wants of users. They gather information about the wants of users by reading their mannerisms. Otherwise, they just listen to the users to understand their issues. In turn, they are able to develop solutions that work.

The Legacy:

The legacy of Design Thinking is that it always thinks projects are wholesome. It means that projects are thought to have a starting point, middle, and endpoint. Of course, Agile Methodology also has these stage gates of deployment. The difference is that the former requires these points for forcing an output. When it comes to the latter, it is better to deploy a remedy at any given point in time.


It is not wrong to understand the difference between Agile and Design Thinking to decide which one to use. But, fortunately, it is not that you can choose only one of these. They can be used side-by-side in any organization. When you do this, you can expect the most amazing output. Both these processes should be started after proper planning. When done together, they can do wonders to the customer-centric approach that your organization wishes to follow.

  1. https://blog.experiencepoint.com/the-difference-between-agile-and-design-thinking
  2. https://www.mendix.com/blog/design-thinking-vs-agile-combine-problem-finding-problem-solving-better-outcomes/
  3. https://medium.com/front-line-interaction-design/the-blurring-between-design-thinking-and-agile-ae59d14f28e3



Is a passionate learner and blogger on Agile, Scrum and Scaling areas. She has been following and practicing these areas for several years and now converting those experiences into useful articles for your continuous learning.