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Author's profile photo Deepa Iyer

Theory vs Reality: SAP Design Thinking—Does it work? #ASUG2014

From my experience of having facilitated and coached SAP Design Thinking workshops with our customers for over 4 years, I can honestly say I have seen it yield successful outcomes. I have seen this process create long term collaborative relationships within the organization. Imagine that, organizations where teams are not communicating ??!  It happens more often than you would think, therefore bringing all stakeholders into the same conversation can be considered a really big win.

I’ve observed many times where this is the case, miscommunication or no communication between key teams. Since Design Thinking workshops brings out these kinds of issues, sessions can become very uncomfortable very quickly in the beginning—but I promise, there are great results waiting at the end!/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/quote_430127.png

About a year ago, I led a 2.5-day Design Thinking workshop with a customer who was trying to redesign two specific financial applications to meet their business’ needs.  The IT team had recently designed two beautiful applications with very cool user interfaces but the problem was that the business users did not adopt it and refused to use it. So this was the goal of the SAP Design Thinking workshop:  create a new start by acquiring the correct requirements for the two applications.

One of the critical factors for a successful workshop is to have the right users and stakeholders participate in the session- either as interviewees who can share their input during the 360 Research phase or as participants. The IT director reluctantly agreed to invite three key business users as interviewees. His reason for the reluctance? He felt that they already had the “right” participants from IT who can share the needs of the business users.

As the day progressed and interviews were conducted with the business users, I could clearly see the shift in mindset of the IT participants. The IT participants learned the real reasons the application they developed was not being used. It wasn’t because the application didn’t look good or wasn’t easy to use- it was because there was data integrity and data quality issues in the underlying data source. The data entry was sometimes delayed and in many cases information was outdated by the time it was entered into their system! No one had ever said anything about this to them!

This was their big a-ha moment– where they learned the true nature of the problem and the needs of their users.  From that point on the energy and engagement in the room changed –they progressed to create low fidelity prototypes taking into account everything they learned in the interviews and received a first round of validations from the business users. The IT director had a complete change of heart and realized he “wished we had more interviews”. The leadership and the team finally saw the value of spending the time to truly understand their users’ needs in order to build the right solution!



Have you ever participated in  SAP Design Thinking sessions? Would love to hear your experience in the comments.

About the author:

Deepa works in the Services Innovation and Design Thinking Center of Excellence in SAP Services. Deepa is a Design Thinking and innovation coach, practitioner and evangelist. She facilitates Design Thinking workshops and projects with SAP customers to address a variety of different business problems. She leads the DT enablement and training activities for the Services organization in North America and works on other innovation projects in the Services Innovation team.

Deepa holds a Masters degree in Information Systems from Santa Clara University, California and a Masters degree in Computer Applications from Madurai Kamaraj University, India.

Follow me @IyerD

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      Author's profile photo Heike van Geel
      Heike van Geel

      Hi Deepa,

      thanks for sharing this wonderful story.

      Since we talk a lot about design thinking and user experience these days, i'd be curious to know how the customer proceeded to reach the desired user experience for those applications?

      After overcoming the initial hurdles of not talking about the same thing i.e. misunderstanding the true user needs - which you mastered with the workshop. How did the IT department continue building new apps and how long did it take them? Was there anything else discovered during that journey?

      Wish i'd see you in Orlanda - but i am afraid i won't - pehaps d-code 🙂



      Author's profile photo Deepa Iyer
      Deepa Iyer
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Heike! 🙂

      The "new" application that was designed as part of this Proof of Concept was more focused on fixing the underlying data quality and integrity issues rather than the UI part of it. Nevertheless, I believe it took another 4-6 weeks to build the application for the PoC with the requirements gathered at the workshop.

      I think the key things discovered in this workshop for the development/IT team was that they should not assume they have all the facts right and need to communicate and collaborate with their users.

      At the end of the session, many of the participants shared that they will continue to "practice" validating with their users- Design Thinking mission accomplished 🙂 !

      Hope to see you soon!

      Author's profile photo Sylvia Santelli
      Sylvia Santelli

      It's ironic how we believe we are communicating, but the problem is we don't know how to communicate effectively. The biggest strength and weakness of humans is that we are all different in our skills, tastes and how we communicate (among many many things!).  Sometimes having an interpreter isn't a bad thing. It's not looking down on anyone, it's helping to transfer the information more effectively.  Thanks for sharing your story and I'm looking forward to hearing more about the workshop!

      Author's profile photo Faisal Iqbal
      Faisal Iqbal

      Hi Deepa,

      You're right; the problem, more than often, in failing to deliver right solution is miss-communication. And as Design Thinking approach encourages solution providers to work together in both cases - understanding the problem and then developing solutions, they have to communicate. This way when they go back to their customer, since all have common understanding, the result is better.

      Thanks for sharing your experience and hope to hear from you more on the subject. I recently attended Design Thinking workshop and summarized my experience at following link, you may like to see.

      Design Thinking Course at SAP Mawared Program

      Author's profile photo Deepa Iyer
      Deepa Iyer
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Faisal,

      Thank you for your comment and for sharing the link to your blog. Hope you will continue to use DT and share your DT experiences in this space!