If you work in a large company, you probably have application designers, developers and product managers. And, one of your biggest challenges is to get them to work together, on the same schedule, with the same understanding of what you’re creating.

Jonathan Atkins is director of design for IBM Watson, having joined Big Blue about seven months ago from eBay. He understands that it takes all three of these disciplines working in harmony to create great, compelling products.

(Related: Getting all hands on deck with agile)

He said one of the biggest barriers to creating these great products is that the three areas have “a lack of shared expectations caused by communication problems. People have meetings where only some of the people can show up and participate; or there are hallway conversations where a couple of people will get aligned on something, but the larger group gets left out, so things get out of sync. And when you have three different disciplines all operating in parallel, this is not uncommon at all.”

Atkins said that about six months ago, IBM decided to fix the problem and align all three disciplines: design, development and what IBM calls “offering management.” Each discipline had its own processes, he said. Developers were using agile methodologies, designers were using design thinking, and the product (or offering) managers were using what they call the “operating model.”

“Out in the industry, you hear a lot of people, especially designers, claim that design thinking and agile aren’t compatible,” Atkins said. “They’ll say you can’t do proper human-centered design in agile, because everything is structured in two-week sprints, and that doesn’t give us enough time to get all of our user-centered research done and do the various prototyping activities we need to do because everything’s got to be done in two weeks. But I think that’s really a misunderstanding of how agile really works.

“When you really break these things down to their component parts, we found that they are totally harmonious, because design thinking is really a set of behaviors and a mindset of how you approach solving a problem. It’s not a project-management methodology. Agile, on the other hand, is a project-management methodology. And it’s one of the best out there. It’s probably the best way to manage a software project there is. If design thinking is all about the approach to solving the problem, and agile is the process of moving through time to solve that problem, then we can merge these two things together. And that’s what we’ve done.

“And really, agile is completely compatible with this, even at its fundamental core, because it has the structure of epics and user stories, and it’s all about what the user needs out of your piece of software, and that’s totally aligned with design thinking’s human-centered approach too. Both design and agile are both about the user at the end of the day.”