Design thinking vs. Agile: Which is best for your business?

August 26, 2024
14 minute read
tenscope linkedintenscope xtenscope whatsup share buttontenscope facebook

Business is all about processes. You can choose from many, but your choice will affect your business outcomes. Naturally, you want a system that works for your business, leading to efficiency and increased revenue. Choosing the wrong business system will impact your entire organization from planning to deployment. It will prevent your business from being able to take on more challenging projects.

In this blog post, we are covering two common business systems for iterative design processes. At the end of this article, you will deeply understand the difference between agile methodology and design thinking. You will know their differences and how to choose the best approach for your business.

Read on to learn more!

Now, let's get into it so you can understand their benefits and drawbacks for developing new ideas and innovative solutions.

Key takeaways

  • What is agile development?
  • How do both work throughout the design process?
  • Agile vs design thinking

What exactly is the agile design methodology?

Agile methodology is a design process that helps businesses quickly respond to change. Businesses of all sizes, including the FBI, use it.

A simple definition of agile is a developmental approach to deliver solutions incrementally following the principles of agile software development.

We can deduce From the definition that an agile approach to business leads to a flexible and iterative approach to software development. And we can further understand it allows your business to respond to feedback quickly.

There are multiple types of agile frameworks you can choose from.

What are the agile frameworks?

The agile frameworks all follow similar principles. The most common are:

  • Scrum
  • Crystal
  • The Dynamic Systems Development Method
  • Feature-driven development

These principles work by assuming collaboration between those completing the work, your entire organization, and IT.

The fundamental principle revolves around seeking frequent feedback during development from end-users to iterate outcomes they will like. Early in the design and development process, this looks like:

  • Defining business goals
  • Understanding user's needs and creating stories about them
  • Creating backlogs of work that needs to be completed

Throughout an agile process, your team will present working demos to gather feedback and discover new pain points.

Your end users need to be able to submit issues and suggestions and offer new ideas with embedded forms. Ideally, you will create a closed loop incorporating feedback into your development environment for quick access.

For this approach, a low-code development platform is an idea. Developers can gather new insights continuously. Developers can use those to adapt and better align your designs and products with business goals.

Let's outline each type of agile process so you better understand it.

Scrum Methodology

Scrum is an agile project management method primarily used in software development but also relevant in other fields. It promotes team collaboration on complex projects by dividing them into smaller tasks.

It involves three roles: the Product Owner, managing the product backlog; the Master, facilitating the team and owner; and the Development Team, delivering the product.

Key artifacts you'll create include:

The Product Backlog is a prioritized feature list.

  • The Sprint Backlog, tasks for the Sprint.
  • The Increment is the cumulative product outcome.

Scrum features several events: Sprints, time-boxed periods for creating a releasable product Increment; Sprint Planning, to set Sprint goals; Daily meetings, for progress updates; Sprint Reviews, to inspect and adapt the product backlog; and Sprint Retrospectives, for team reflection and improvement planning.


Crystal is a family of agile software development methodologies focusing on people and their interactions rather than processes and tools. Developed by Alistair Cockburn, Crystal is named after a gemstone, with the idea that, like gems, each project is unique and should be handled differently.

The different methodologies in the Crystal family are designated by colors, representing the team's size and the criticality of the system being developed.

The key characteristics of crystal are:

  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Focus on People
  • Lightweight Process
  • Frequent Delivery
  • Osmotic Communication
  • Reflective Improvement
  • Safety and Efficiency
  • Categorization by Team Size and Criticality

Crystal methodologies are particularly suitable for projects where flexibility is important. It works well for teams that value individual competency and a less structured approach to project management.

The Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)

DSDM is an agile project delivery framework primarily used for software development. It is part of a broader range of agile methods and was developed in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s.

DSDM is vendor-independent and covers the entire lifecycle of a project, from the initial feasibility study to the maintenance of the delivered system.

Key features and principles of DSDM include:

  • User Involvement
  • Empowered Teams
  • Frequent Delivery
  • Fitness for Business Purposes
  • Iterative and Incremental Development
  • Integrated Testing
  • Collaboration and Cooperation
  • Fixed Time and Budget

DSDM consists of several phases:

  • Pre-Project
  • Feasibility Study
  • Business Study
  • Functional Model Iteration
  • Design and Build Iteration
  • Implementation
  • Post-Project

DSDM was designed to be comprehensive and to cover more than just the development phase of a project, which sets it apart from many other agile methodologies. It is particularly useful for projects where the scope is not fully understood from the outset, as it allows for flexibility regarding what is delivered but with the constraints of fixed time and budget.

Feature-Driven Development (FDD)

FDD is an iterative and incremental software development methodology that is client-centric and architecture-driven. Developed in the mid-1990s by Jeff De Luca and Peter Coad, FDD blends several industry-recognized best practices into a cohesive whole.

The primary goal of delivering tangible drives these practices, working software repeatedly and promptly.

Key aspects of Feature-Driven Development include:

  • Features as the Core
  • Model-Driven Development
  • Five Basic Activities
  • Class Ownership
  • Feature Teams
  • Regular Builds
  • Visibility of Progress and Results
  • Quality Assurance

FDD is particularly well-suited for larger teams and for projects where the requirements are expected to change over time. It is recognized for its ability to deliver frequent, working software releases and its emphasis on quality and efficiency. The method is designed to be scalable and can be used in various types of software development projects.

Now, you may be wondering what design thinking is. After all, isn't that why you clicked on this blog post?

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is an approach to problem-solving and creating products that resonate with a target audience. The approach is distinct because it concerns humans and how they perceive your products. You can trace the process back centuries, but it only recently gained traction after Tim Brown published an article about it in the Harvard Business Review.

Design thinking is a unique process because it is user-centric and solution-focused. Unlike most ideation processes, which are problem-centric, you focus on the solution to the issue, which usually leads to better outcomes. Suppose your business is suffering from a reduction in employee engagement. Your goal would be to focus on decreased productivity using one of the agile methodologies mentioned above. You have the problem statement already, but that won't lead to the divergent thinking you want.

Using design thinking, you focus on a solution. So, try to answer the question, "How can we increase employee engagement?" Can you see how this could benefit your team and business? Psychologically, we respond better when we focus on positives rather than negatives.

The essence of this business approach is centered around people and is specific to the users needing the solution being developed. So, you can stay responsive to change and focus on high-value features based on your customers' feedback.

To approach design thinking and maximize its potential with low risk, you could ask:

  • Who is being affected by the problem we are seeing?
  • How can we create a solution that will positively impact the population?

You must build empathy with your product users to build a strong foundation for design thinking. When you understand the person affected by the issue, you can create solutions they will love. But it's not the only important aspect of design thinking.

You will need to create a solution, observe how the solution helps your users, gather research about the interactions, and draw conclusions from the gathered data. In all stages of the process, your focal point is the customer.

There are five phases to design thinking.

Below, we outline the steps in design thinking so you can understand how truly game-changing the approach is. But if you need help understanding it now, consider Apple.

Design thinking is Apple's success Mantra.

In 1997, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the business was struggling. They had failed to gain a significant foothold in the computing world and needed a fast change. Steve Jobs changed Apple's vision by applying design thinking principles.

In turn, Steve Jobs practically revived the company, bringing it back from the dead. Today, the business is one of the most successful in the world and is valued at nearly 2 trillion dollars.

Here's how design thinking allowed them to amass such success.

  • They focused on their user's needs instead of theirs.
  • They have minimal product designs anyone can understand
  • Apple transformed its image into a luxury good
  • They emphasized use while creating beautiful designs
  • They focus on simplicity.

Consider the iMac if you don't see how design thinking helped Apple. It has an excellent display, good design,  great speakers, and, most importantly, its simple use. They achieved everyhting they have today by focusing on user research in their core designs.

What are the five phases of design thinking?

Design thinking serves to identify solutions that aren't always apparent. It involves five phases, which we are explaining below. These have a user focus, and you need to understand the problem your users are facing clearly.


You need to clearly understand people and their behaviors before considering design thinking. When you understand a customer's motivations, you can solve their problems, even if they cannot articulate their needs well. You can understand customer behaviors in context by identifying their patterns, asking questions, and challenging assumptions they may have about your product. This phase is the epitome of customer-centric development and demands a high degree of focus on new user insights. You will continue to emphasize throughout designing your product to reach optimal outcomes.


As design thinking focuses on the solution, you must first define the problem you aim to solve. Define your organization's and users' needs, then focus on creating a solution for overlapping issues. By looking for overlap, you can focus on your end user's perspective of your products while supporting your overall business goals.


When you have defined your issue, you need to devise a solution. You should brainstorm solutions using a wide range of visuals.

Consider using:

  • Mind maps
  • Paper Sketches
  • Functional prototypes

When you have multiple ideas, you can pinpoint the best solution for the problem.


You need to show rather than tell. Don't tell your customers you are solving X problem with Y solution being developed. Quickly develop the solution and get it into the hands of your customers so you can gather feedback.


Once your customers use your new product additions, learn from their experiences. You need to put them at the forefront of everything you do. Once you have gained enough feedback, you should repeat the design thinking process. By continuing this process repeatedly, you can quickly reach a Minimum Viable Product for mass release.

Now that you know the differences between these approaches, which is better for your business?

What's the real difference between agile and design thinking?

We can't tell you what will work best in your business. However, we can say that the main differences between these two approaches lie mainly in the following:

  • How you respond to user feedback
  • The length required to complete a development process
  • The root of the problem

Many businesses are opting to use design thinking and agile together. The two methods complement each other well because design thinking lets you focus on your users. Meanwhile, agile methodology provides rigid goals and strict timelines for meeting them.

If you combine both, you will understand your current business reality, define goals for tomorrow, and devise a plan to meet them. We recommend implementing design thinking alongside an agile manifesto to validate your product development.

Are you Wondering how a combination of both methods can transform your organization?

You avoid a product nobody needs or wants with customer-centric data

If you stick with a purely agile approach, you don't consider the end user as heavily. You can offset this with design thinking, as user feedback is central to the process.

You can build a roadmap for success.

Design thinking focuses on ideation and, therefore, relies on continuous feedback. Agile methods created clear paths to a developed product, improving efficiency.

Develop products faster

Agile teams generally take longer to develop and shape a product into a viable business asset. Design thinking will have a shorter development process because you involve feedback during the ideation stage.

Pay attention to the most pressing needs quickly with problem-finding strategies

Agile teams often become hyperfocused on incremental improvements. As a result, the impact of changes on the customer experience is sometimes lost. Design thinking prevents this because you work with human needs in mind at every step of the development process.

We believe the best approach for your business combines both approaches.


Design Thinking and Agile methodologies, while distinct in their approaches and principles, share a common emphasis on user-centric innovation and iterative development. By understanding their similarities and differences and implementing practical strategies for integration, organizations can leverage the strengths of both methodologies to create products that address user needs and preferences.

With a focus on collaboration, empathy, and continuous improvement, businesses can harness the power of Design Thinking and Agile to drive innovation and deliver value in today's competitive market.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Agile and design thinking the same?

Agile is a development strategy to solve predefined problems, while design thinking focuses on finding the right problems to solve and provides product teams with a way to make better choices. Design thinking is an approach to problem-finding, while Agile is an approach to problem-solving. They both depend on response to feedback, but their core differences exist.

What is the difference between design thinking and scrum?

SCRUM is a framework for developing and sustaining complex products, while Design Thinking is a user-centric innovation tool for solving complex problems. Both topics are highly complex, which explains why only a few people understand and use them properly.

What is design thinking vs agile vs lean startup?

Design Thinking is used to generate ideas, Lean Startup is used to test ideas and prototypes, and Agile is used to turn prototypes into products. Lean focuses on determining a market for an idea, and Agile focuses on building a working product that customers can use.

Can Design Thinking and Agile methodologies be combined?

Design Thinking and Agile methodologies can combine their strengths in user-centric innovation and iterative development.

What are some practical strategies for integrating Design Thinking and Agile?

Integrating Design Thinking and Agile can be done by working in short cycles, holding regular retrospectives, fostering collaboration and cross-functional teamwork, and prioritizing product research.

table of contents
tenscope linkedintenscope xtenscope whatsup share buttontenscope facebook
SaaS Onboarding:
The definitive guide

Navigating the complexities of user onboarding is a pivotal challenge for every SaaS founder. Our latest eBook is your roadmap to mastering this essential process.

Get the book

Add designers to your team in hours, not weeks.

Discover the impact of world-class design with our 7-day free trial.

Get Started