Enterprise project

Cisco: Creating a design thinking movement

As enterprise computing continues to evolve at breakneck speeds, tech powerhouses like Cisco are looking for new ways to stay lean, fast, and hungry. Enter, Idean.

Cisco was ready to create a transformation from within. The company has long had a passion for creating great products and has seen success with incorporating design methods. But current silos and systems were slowing them down, so it was time for a shake-up.
Together we developed and launched the Cisco Design Thinking program: a series of digital and tangible experiences that gave Cisco employees, partners, and clients a new set of tools and methods to work better together.

The start of a movement

Idean was involved from the start, creating the strategy for bootstrapping the initiative, engaging stakeholders, and tailoring design thinking practices for Cisco.

We engaged Cisco’s design leaders and key stakeholders in one-on-one sessions and workshops to develop the vision and program for Cisco Design Thinking. This initial phase helped create a Design Thinking program focused on the specific needs, challenges, and opportunities for over 70,000 Cisco employees. These carefully orchestrated workshops yielded alignment, ownership, and buy-in that energized the larger organization.

Creating a native and unified design thinking practice

The first phase centered on tailoring design thinking approaches into a unified Cisco Design Thinking practice, including framework and tools, and crafting a playbook.

Creating a Design Thinking framework and approach that felt truly native to Cisco was a critical step in rallying core constituencies and ensuring cultural fit for the long haul. Tailoring the framework was also an opportunity to communicate and highlight to beginners, newcomers, and experienced practitioners key facets of design thinking critical to their success at Cisco.

The Cisco Design leadership decided to create an actual playbook to make Design Thinking approachable, engaging, practical, and tangible. The result of a collective effort, the Design Thinking Playbook has become a cornerstone of Cisco’s Design Thinking program and a key adoption vector.

The Cisco Design Playbook teaches what Design Thinking is, and how to use it at Cisco. It offers practical tools for running workshops, understanding users, and ideating in a human centric way. To date, 3000 copies have been printed and shared with Cisco employees – and a second printing has already been started.


Sharing the value of design

In addition to materials, Idean designed a creative space to use with clients and fellow employees. Each wall reflects the Cisco Design framework and its phases, as illustrated by the story of the Golden Gate bridge. The bridge is iconic for San Francisco and is a big part of the spirit of Cisco.

As the approach took off, Idean helped accelerate the initiative, achieve initial outcomes with product, services, sales, and co-innovation teams, and ramp up training across the organization.

“The Cisco Design Thinking Workshop taught us that it’s no longer about building the capabilities, but to empathize with our customers’ emotions how they think about engaging with Cisco. Learning about Cisco Design Thinking is a nice side benefit, but the ability to generate the valuable breakthrough ideas is priceless. I highly recommend other product managers and program leaders who want to win over customers for life to fully take advantage of this approach.” – Christina Wong, Head of CDX at Cisco describes the initiative.

It’s when we put ourselves to think and feel like our customers, many out of the box and creative ideas emerge through the process.Christina WongHead of CDX, Cisco


A year in, design thinking has now become a practice shared by thousands of Cisco employees across the organization, including product, sales and services teams.