This Project Manager Changed His Company Culture Through Prototyping
Chee Ming shifted his company’s culture to embrace a prototyping and action-led mindset.
IDEO U CERTIFICATES COMPLETED:
Tell us what you do and what your work typically entails.
I’m a project manager at Toyota Tsusho Corporation in Japan. I focus on building community and leading workshops to teach design thinking to our employees.
Why did you initially seek out an IDEO U course? How were you feeling before enrolling?
The organizational culture at Toyota Tsusho has historically been “plan, do, check, action.” We spent most of our time planning activities and less time executing, checking, and taking action to improve and iterate on ideas. Our intention behind planning is to find the right answer to a challenge and simulate how a solution would fit into our business, before investing resources into making something. Although this process worked well in the past, we found it less helpful in this new experience-led, digital economy. It was frustrating to see projects fail and talk about failures at work; I was feeling stuck.
“My goal was to shift company culture so we could be more nimble and embrace ambiguity and failure with prototyping. I wanted people to see how prototyping would allow us to fail small, fail fast, fail cheap, and fail forward.”
Chee Ming Loh
What were you hoping to change or achieve by completing this IDEO U course?
When I was introduced to design thinking, I began taking courses with IDEO U. As I learned about the value of prototyping, it became my personal mission to reverse the “plan, do, check, action” cycle my organization used.
I wanted to apply what I learned at IDEO U to convince management to focus more time and energy on making things that would allow us to gather feedback and iterate. My goal was to shift company culture so we could be more nimble and embrace ambiguity and failure with prototyping. I wanted people to see how prototyping would allow us to fail small, fail fast, fail cheap, and fail forward.
How did you begin to work toward your goal of changing the mindset at your company?
In order to shift the mindset of my team and organization, I knew that some powerful and consistent messages were needed from respected leaders. So I started practicing “Looking In” interviews, talking to everybody within our organization and asking them about how we see ourselves, our purpose, and our vision.
My conversations were so inspiring that I wanted to share them with more people. I decided to make a video, but I knew nothing about video production or editing. I quickly taught myself some basics and purchased minimal equipment. One of our vice presidents, who was a fan of design thinking methods, saw the value in what I was doing and agreed to be filmed.
I shot and edited the video, tested the messages with a select group of people. It resonated with them, so they started asking if they could share the video and contribute to it as well. More than 50 people ended up participating.
What was the outcome of your video project?
My video caught the attention of our Chairman and CEO, who suggested we set up a think tank to explore how to nurture the mindsets and skills necessary to be more innovative. As part of this initiative, I’ve been able to lead workshops to share my knowledge of design thinking.
Recently, I led a workshop in our office in the Middle East. I structured the conversation as a way to help everyone open their minds, foster a sense of belonging, understand our collective challenges, and share our individual aspirations. I also shared about our company’s purpose, mission, and recent challenges to help people connect with the company on a deeper level.
After the workshop, the participants had the opportunity to share back directly with our Chairman. I helped craft a storytelling session where each person did a three-minute presentation about their personal goals and purpose. Using lessons from Storytelling for Influence and Power of Purpose, we helped our colleagues discover their higher purpose, formulate an authentic story that would resonate with the purpose of the company, and show our Chairman their passion for their work.
The experience was incredibly empowering. One of my female colleagues shared how she was living her dream of working in the oil and gas industry, but felt disconnected from her work since women weren’t allowed to be on oil rigs in the Middle East. She had been working to support an oil rig for several years, but had never actually seen it. Because of this session, the company coordinated the trip for her, and now she’s more engaged and excited about her career than ever before.
“IDEO U opened my mind to what collaboration beyond borders really means and showed me there’s no limit to how far I can go if I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo and fail.”
Chee Ming Loh
How would you describe the impact of your efforts to bring design thinking to your company?
By listening to feedback from employees, our leadership has been able to see opportunities to help people feel more purposeful and engaged at work. Partially thanks to the Middle East office workshop, our company has increased efforts to provide career development and training to all employees. We’re also designing more sessions there to continue to gather feedback and build our workshop offerings to focus on business strategy and design. We’re framing the workshops around lessons from IDEO U’s Insights for Innovation, From Ideas to Action, and Designing a Business courses.
I’ve also received support to begin more workshops on prototyping, which was one of my original goals. I even used my assignment from the From Ideas to Action course to show participants what kind of outcome they could expect from the workshop.
How has IDEO U helped you make progress toward your personal goals?
What I learned at IDEO U helped me not only make an impact at work, but also enabled me to make connections across my profession in ways I hadn’t imagined. Because of my experience, I’ve been invited to give talks at universities, run community workshops, and even join SAP’s training academy for early talents.
IDEO U opened my mind to what collaboration beyond borders really means and showed me there’s no limit to how far I can go if I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo and fail. It has been, and will continue to be, an extraordinary journey for me personally. Hopefully, I can share the same feeling with my colleagues around the world.
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