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And while you’re at it you can do the same with so-called ‘use cases’!

Okay now, let’s take a quick breath. This isn’t meant to say that best practices and use cases are worthless – in my world they just play a very different role in a specific place.

So what do I mean ‘in my world’?

I am a Design Thinking coach and part of the SAP Services Innovation team. I work with our customers not only on topics across the entire spectrum of typical SAP engagements but also any other that might need to be addressed – business processes/models, culture, internal politics to name just a few examples. It really moves the focus to people, what they want and need, to drive successful business outcomes supported by appropriate technology.

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You might notice I put ‘technology’ only at the very end of that last statement. Meanwhile it seems that currently more often than not the discussions start with technology. The driving force behind what I do as a Design Thinker is to push away from starting with those more typical feature/function discussions with presentations about best practices and use cases. Because what do you think those lead to??? That’s right, more details about features and functions than you can shake your fist at! I see it played out again and again. As I see it, the problem is two fold:

  • Software and technology customers largely ask first for use cases and best practices from their vendors. After all, isn’t that what their value proposition is?
  • We too often can’t even get out of our own way. We have a fleet of experts at the ready to deep dive into the features and functions of everything we offer.

How do we break this cycle?

First we have to change both the perception and mindset of people around best practices and use cases. No longer should we expect that demos and presentations will garner the greatest success as a starting point. Let’s think of them absolutely as enablers for implementing and delivering value; but bearing that in mind, what is still often lacking is the touch point to both the people- and business-side of the holistic equation. Design Thinking is one way to change the game and bridge the gap between desirability (people), viability (business) and feasibility (technology). It accomplishes this by focusing from the start on possibilities and outcomes rather than feature sets.

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Next let’s consider where we are with technology – there are possibilities today that we cannot even comprehend or understand yet as they relate to topics such as big data, the Internet of things, social, mobile. As endless as the possibilities are in these realms to be creative and even innovative, the ‘tried and true’ approach of presenting best practices just will not work to uncover them. In fact, that traditional approach is pretty much by definition not creative nor is it innovative! Design Thinking has tremendous momentum in the business world today because of this realization and it’s time for you to think about coming along for the ride if you aren’t already.

What’s one to do?

In a few words, try to adjust your expectations. Don’t ask for best practices and use cases. Instead, have a genuine discussion about your business together with representatives across your entire organization – even with your partners. Be multi-disciplinary! Focus on your stakeholders, users, customers – really your entire ecosystem. And hey maybe, just maybe, Design Thinking is a great methodology that can help you embark on a new journey to boldly go where no one has gone before…

I look forward to discussing via your comments, questions, even challenges – engage!

Follow me on twitter @jeremycthomas

About the author:

Jeremy works in the Services Innovation and Design Thinking Center of Excellence in SAP Services. Jeremy is a design thinking and innovation coach, practitioner and evangelist. He facilitates design thinking workshops and projects with SAP customers to address a variety of different business problems. He supports the DT enablement and training activities as a mentor for the Services organization in North America and collaborates across other lines of business within SAP. He also teaches design thinking both in customer and university settings.

Jeremy holds a JD degree in Law from Rutgers School of Law in NJ and completed his Bachelors and Graduate work in Applied Economics from the University of Georgia, Athens, GA.

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17 Comments

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  1. Michel Serie

    could not agree more, what is increasingly important to having a prodcutive workshop is actually to have industry knowledge, either thru the coach himself or thru the team supporting the coach

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  2. Tim Guest

    In my view it is still important to set Best Practice standards as examples for employees as a guide as long as they are allowed to build on this and adjust to their own style. We all got taught to drive to “Best Practice” but I doubt many of us still drive exactly to these practices.

    If a business encourages innovation and suggestions from it’s employees then “Best Practice” can be an evolving set of principles that grow with the business.

    I’m a big fan of DT.

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    1. Nathan Adams

      Tim – a good point, Best Practice has it’s place, especially in creating an accepted baseline. I think the point is to keep these in there place. If your design thinking is ‘Best Practice’ then solutions won’t pass beyond this.

      The debate I’ve had a lot recently, is how do you get best practice’s the handle the uncertainty that good design thinking creates, I think people assume Best Practice should be and is prescriptive, whereas if we think about it, a design best practice should really represent the approach we want to take (in effect Design thinking could be called a best practice). Best practices should become more prescriptive once we get closer to build and implementation.

      One example I’d use – and it’s not quite a best practice – is in designing a new HR application recently, which needed to be intuitive we challenged the best(?) practice that is very prevalent in SAP traditionally, of input then validate. We decided early on we never wanted to see a form with multiple errors on after pressing a next or submit button. We therefore moved validate to the front, and only allowed users to choose what was a valid option. Of course what we have done here is to set a new best practice – but – I think were I too do this again, I’d want to make sure I’d still questioned if this best practice was valid, and not a lazy assumption that this was still the best way to improve the end user experience.

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      1. Jeremy Thomas Post author

        Thanks for sharing Nathan – I really like especially that last part about questioning whether our decisions are made based on an assumption that we can’t be sure is still (or ever was) the best way. This is something I make sure is a part of every design thinking project of which I am involved – always question the question!

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    2. Heike van Geel

      i like that Tim Guest. – best practice is a set of principles that guide “the how” of a design thinking mindset like empathatic, collaboratively, accepting failire etc. the “what” exactly we do depends on the topic at-hand and cannot be a guided procedure or paint by numbers approach.

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      1. Nathan Adams

        Heike, that’s spot on, I can’t help but conclude, that Best Practices are something to be grasped and shaped to the task – not the other way round…

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    3. Jeremy Thomas Post author

      Tim – great thought! It is often important to provide that guidance. I think the important thing to remember is managing the balance between providing that best practice context for them to work from and developing the mindset to be creative and innovative. The danger of giving too much context is it creates a box that can be much harder to get ‘outside’…and it can limit creating a wholly new box completely!

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    4. Twan van den Broek

      +1 for Tim. Best practices is only a bad thing if you use them at the wrong time/place. Focus on the end user and on his process, you can use DT to do so (and yes I’m a big fan of using DT to reach that goal). And maybe there are some best practice processes that help you understanding the background of your end users.

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      1. Heike van Geel

        Hi Twan,

        yes there are best practices relevant to anyody in Enterprise IT on what activities to pursue and on how to engage with the end-users and thrive on it for an enhanced User Experience and if we are ever so lucky to innovate some’ design driven.

        We will soon publish a short vidoe about ‘what to consider and how to create an end-user engagement stratgy’ in the UX Explorer SAP UX Explorer

        And also plan for hands-on sessions at the SAP D-Code this fall.

        Cheers,

        Heike

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  3. Tobias Hildenbrand

    I like the interpretation of the visuals I created two years ago for the d.camps. The circular layout actually better reflects the iterative character of the approach – thanks for sharing!

    Tobias.

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  4. Martin English

    Jeremy,

    I come from a System Administrator / BASIS background. I know that if I get rid of the developers, I have a chance to create a stable reliable piece of technology. Of course, the only way to guarantee this to also get of the users.

    You might notice I put ‘technology’ only at the very end of that last statement.

    Which is the entire point.

    It's not what the software does, it's what the user does

    I’ll probably get kicked out of the BASIS union (if not the mentor alumni) for saying this, but if the customer’s ‘Standard Automation Process’ software can’t do it, but there is a simple way of doing it outside this platform then that is what I would recommend (of course, I would also be pointing out the leverage to be had from using your SAP Platform).

    ...businesses are run by people who hire and IT Departments

    hth

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    1. Jeremy Thomas Post author

      Hi Martin,

      This is spectacular stuff! Thanks so much for sharing.

      No surprise that I really like and agree with both what you’ve said and what’s in the illustrations you’ve included. That said, my favorite part is the ‘evil bunny’!

      Cheers,

      Jeremy

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  5. Oliver Betz

    Hi Jeremy,

    great blog – fully agree with the statement “Design Thinking is one way to change the game and bridge the gap between desirability (people), viability (business) and feasibility (technology)”.

    I would like to add  “Design Thinking is one way to change the game and bridge the gap between business & end-users AND IT & technology people.”

    When we are engaging with our customer on how to embrace and leverage new technology in the company – let’s take mobility as an example – we talk typiclly to the IT departments. One natural question we aks is if they already have clarity on the use cases they want to mobilise and what the needs of their end-uers are. If we get a “no” then a design thinking workshop with business and end-users is an indeal starting point

    Cheers

    Oliver

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  6. Sylvia Santelli

    What a great blog (and even better comments) focused on best practices. Not saying that lessons learned should be disregarded, but it really should not just be taken blindly and photocopied onto every scenario going forward. The circumstances will always vary, but it’s a good starting place. 

    I also love the evil bunny from above. =)

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  7. Lakshman Pachineela Seshadri

    Interesting Jeremy.  This practice of ‘best practices’ will go on as there is desperation for quick results.  If we can’t give anything unique and of value what good is a ‘best practice’? Copy cats Vs Innovation?  Great challenge!

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