Delta Dental of Washington

Re-inventing an Organization

Helping a Dental Benefits Pioneer Discover What’s Next in Oral Health

Deploying design thinking as a cultural force to re-invent an organization 


The Challenge

Accelerate Delta Dental of Washington’s shift to a culture of innovation and embed design thinking as the organization’s problem-solving framework.

The Outcome

Aligned Delta Dental’s leadership and employees behind the design thinking mindset and vocabulary;

Trained a cohort of design thinking facilitators to help Delta Dental develop and deploy new human-centered processes, services and solutions; and

Increased Delta Dental’s innovation capacity, enabling the application of design thinking to near and longer term strategic initiatives.

The Story

Delta Dental was instrumental in making dental benefits and preventive care mainstream, creating the country’s first dental benefits program in 1954 and serving as a founding member in 1965 of the Delta Dental Plans Association (DDPA), our country’s largest dental benefit provider.

With the pace of change in health care accelerating, Delta Dental saw the need and opportunity to pioneer again.  Coming off a highly successful year in 2015, CEO Jim Dwyer issued a bold challenge — operate as if we had 18 to 24 months to reinvent our business and the services we offer in oral health.

Cindy Synder, VP of Innovative Services, asked Catalyz to build on the organization’s existing innovation initiatives and help accelerate the use of and enhance results from design thinking activities across all departments, offices and its nearly 400 employees.  Importantly, Delta Dental was looking for a program that it could sustain and grow internally.

The main work involved training a cohort of 12 employees as advanced design thinking facilitators and evangelists.  Catalyz developed a customized curriculum for an intensive 10-week course after immersing itself in Delta Dental’s practices and culture.

Catalyz’s program was transformative for me.  At work, I’m more action orientated.  I’m experimenting, getting out of the office to learn, and challenging my colleagues to do the same.  Change is difficult, and Catalyz created a safe learning environment with authentic feedback that helped me evolve my mindset and the way that I work. 

— Cari Warren, Program Manager of Human Centered Design Integration

Design thinking facilitators now conduct a collective monthly average of two design sprints involving approximately 25 participants resulting in dozens of solution concepts and at least one idea to incubate post sprint. Each strategic initiative or “problem worth solving” submitted monthly through Delta Dental’s “Idea to Impact” program applies design thinking methodology.

For leadership, Catalyz designed and facilitated four separate workshops for over 60 Delta Dental managers. These workshops focused on core design thinking principles and identified the shift in their leadership mindset and practices needed for the desired innovation culture to take root and begin producing the new services and strategies that re-invention requires.

“The results of the Design Thinking training program has been remarkable.  With greater understanding of design concepts and mindsets there has been an increasing demand for sprints.  We now have a small army of facilitators that allow us to meet demand.  We’ve also seen significant buy-in from all levels of leadership with an emerging common language as we continue our path towards greater innovation.” 

— Cindy Snyder, Vice President Innovative Services, PMO and Provider Relations

At the request of CEO Jim Dwyer and VP Cindy Synder, Catalyz prepared and facilitated a design thinking workshop for the Delta Dental Board of Directors as a part of the annual board retreat. This workshop helped build understanding, enthusiasm, and support for the broader design thinking initiative.

Delta Dental found an immediate opportunity to apply the design thinking spirit of thinking big and starting small with its headquarters move.  It launched a highly successful program that leveraged the skills of the newly trained design sprint facilitators and engaged employees throughout the organization in selecting and designing the new office location and workspace.  Delta Dental will continue its work on what’s next in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, home to some of America’s most innovative companies.