American Airlines is the largest airline in the world. It has a complex history of mergers and acquisitions that have significantly influenced the airline's culture and priorities and methodologies for getting work done. One of those methodological changes at American occurred in 2018 — an initiative to become a more design-thinking-centric organization, which obviously isn't something that happens overnight.
Fast forward a year and the digital team at American Airlines had fully adopted agile and design thinking practices into their workflow, but they were hungry for more — and for help with becoming more efficient in their new process. Drawn hosted eight members of the AA digital design team for a workshop that demonstrated four different design thinking methodologies — and applied them to American's real-world problems to be solved. We used these four methods to walk them through a demonstrative process that offered some immediate insights about their company (brand and culture), but also established the groundwork for adopting these new approaches into their everyday processes.
While we are mindful to keep the thoughts that American shared with us strictly confidential, we can say that the situation in which the airline finds itself today is shared by most sizable organizations with whom we work — namely, they struggle with organizational alignment. The digital team is siloed from their project teams, who are handed down initiatives. Those initiatives were drafted with a close eye on product & loss statements (P&Ls), but not too much first-hand engagement with customers, or the pilots, crew, or mechanics. Throw in an advertising agency with its own ideas for the company’s image and you've got a whole lot of parts that don't all fit together very well. We find this to be a very common reality.
While we find design thinking to be a valuable approach to solving problems and building a meaningful brand, we also place a premium on alignment, because a company without alignment becomes a big box of parts rather than a well-oiled machine. To utilize design thinking efficiently, it needs to find context within an organizational system that is working toward a consistent goal.
Of all the insights that American Airlines said that they gained from our workshop, their newly improved ability to recognize how their team is a portion of this much larger whole (which needs to be functioning as a cohesive unit) was at the top of the list. They discovered that they need to spend more time with customers to make sure that they are designing solutions with the right jobs to be done, to gain perspective on how their team fits into the whole flying experience, how their role affects the company’s overall reality, and how they can help establish better connecting tissue between the various parts with which they work.