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Agile vs Design Thinking: The Difference explained

Updated: Oct 31, 2021

Agile vs Design Think, similarities and differences
Agile vs Design Thinking

Survival of the fittest is a mode of thinking that is of high value in today's market. To respond better to the changes and help the innovation flow more smoothly, today's companies rely heavily on the philosophies such as agile and design thinking. For an excellent reason, we might add!

The sad reality is that today about 70% of projects fail to deliver the promise to the customers. However, with proper utilisation of Agile or design thinking principles, you have the upper hand in these "make it or break it" types of projects.

Before you step in the right direction and find which one works better for you, it is time to determine which one is the better choice for your team. Read our take on the difference between Agile and Design Thinking.

Agile and Design Thinking: Are they the same?

These two approaches indeed do share a lot of similarities, but they are not interchangeable. Instead, they are more running parallel with each other. While design thinking is about generating ideas and finding the solution, Agile is perfecting the solution.

Design thinking and Agile do have some similar steps in the core. For example, both utilise customer feedback, take an iterative approach to problems, and generate innovative ideas and solutions. The similarities, in the end, leads to faster processes, fewer mistakes within teams and the end product are nothing short of amazing.

Agile: Explained

The linear and slow waterfall model compared to the quicker and flexible iterative model
Waterfall model vs Agile

The simplest definition of Agile is that it's a project management method. It relies on getting fast feedback, responding quickly, and adapting the design to meet customers' needs better.

Agile was conceptualised for project managers to combat software development failures using the waterfall model, which was linear and slow. Instead, agile provided flexibility and speed. It worked. It still works.

So, is it reserved exclusively for software development projects? It used to be at the start, but Agile can be used in various large scale products and make them more adaptive to changes.

Some interesting food for the thought about implementing Agile:

  • The Agile failure rate is meagre - about 8%.

  • As a result of failed IT projects, the US Government has lost about $32 billion.

  • After Agile adoption, about 60% of companies reported growth in profits.

How widely used is Agile? Agile is becoming a new normal since it was proven more successful than the traditional project approach. Approximately 71% of companies are already using Agile, and some honourable mentions include Fortune 500s and even the FBI.

Design Thinking (DT): Explained

DT Explained, MIT

image source: DT Explained, Rebecca Linke, MIT Sloan

Design thinking revolves around locating the real problems that customers face and subsequently identifying ideas to resolve them.

The design thinking process consists of six stages:

  • Empathise: Uncover emotions and stories

  • Define: Re-frame into customer-centric problems

  • Ideate: Brainstorm for solutions

  • Prototype: Create the experience for the customer

  • Test: Test with customers and refine

In DT, users are seen as collaborators, leading the step of the innovation. Feedback of the customers drives the next iteration until the solution is nothing but perfect.

Some exciting design thinking stats to help you get a better idea of why creativity and business are intertwined:

  • 71% of companies that had adopted the design thinking method claim that it also improved their working culture.

  • 50% of companies that use the design thinking method reported that customer loyalty is more increased.


P&G utilised Design Thinking to learn more about their users and the cleaning process; the team visited their users at home to observe as they completed this chore. "They noticed that people usually swept before they mopped, that they spent an excessive amount of time rinsing and that it was overall a dirty job."


Design Thinking vs Agile: Differences

We already mentioned similarities between these two. Agile is more about the software architecture, while design thinking is more about user experience and finding creative solutions to complex problems:

Let's break down the differences:

  • Agile begins with a hypothesis, while design thinking starts with exploring human behaviour.

  • Agile focuses on the known problems, while design thinking ushers into more uncharted territories.

  • Design thinking is here to discover some needs even the user had no idea; Agile focuses on perfecting the iteration and values learning.

  • Agile requires the engagement of the users, while design thinking teaches you how to engage better.

Agile is about constant learning and adapting, making processes more flexible while design thinking adds creativity to the mix.


Between design thinking and Agile, the lines are a blur. However, the truth is that they both work well. They are not interchangeable, but they can be complementary in a beautiful & inspiring way. DT can identify problems, while Agile can perfect the solution with every following iteration.

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