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Chapter I, Part 1, the book ‘The Inmates are running the Asylum’ by ‘Alan Cooper’: A very gripping and emotional beginning of the book which takes us through the unfortunate accident of an American Airlines flight in 1995 due to a pilot error. The Pilot had to choose ‘ROZO’ as his destination, however chose ‘ROMEO’. The sophisticated aircraft computer told the pilot that he was tracking precisely to the beacon he had selected. Unfortunately it neglected to tell him that the beacon itself that was selected was a wrong choice. Not only did it prove to be a wrong choice, but a fatal one.

Over the last few years, there has been a lot of buzz on the 2 magical words ‘Design Thinking’. The 2 words are being used so profoundly in all leadership discourses. While it is no rocket science to get an idea on what it is all about, getting to know what ‘Design Thinking’ (DT) is one thing and actually understanding, experiencing and going through the whole process is another thing. This is the reason why I personally believe that though DT has gained a lot momentum, it is not as widely used and practiced in reality.

So again what is DT and what it is all about? The answer I can almost hear is that it is all about bringing in Innovative ideas and solutions to a given problem. Well, if that is what you have  thought, you are absolutely correct. However you are only correct that it is the final expected outcome of a DT exercise. What you need to understand is the means, process, methodology and science that is behind this process. You need to understand the what, how and why of Design Thinking. There are several steps in ‘Design Thinking’ and it is worth knowing that there are different flavors of ‘Design Thinking’. For e.g. the steps that are followed in ‘Institute of Design at Stanford’ aka d.school are different from those followed at our own HPI (Hasso Plattner Institute) school of Design
thinking. However the broad categories into which each of these steps belong can be ‘Understanding’, ‘Synthesis & Ideating’, ‘Prototype & Testing’, ‘Delivery’.

From where I see it, DT is a lot of fun and contrasts. It is for surely fun as the ground rules call for wide & creative working spaces, relaxed atmosphere, no hierarchies. Nobody is discouraged,  no arguments, free thinking and great team work. ‘Contrasts’, yes at least I see quite a lot of them. To pen down a few of them, free thinking is encouraged but these are time boxed, there are no hierarchies but there is surely a moderator, there is a relaxed atmosphere but there is time limit within which a solution needs to be arrived upon. To add more, the DT steps can be executed in a sequence but at the same time, past steps can be revisited in a cyclic manner, fail often but fail early. DT is all about empathizing, understanding and having an emotional connect with the end users of a product. The steps & processes are a means to achieving an innovative & insightful solution which can be a game changer.

An important point to be noted from my view is that the strong SAP sales force must have these basic skills viz. “listening, empathizing, understanding and having an emotional connect with the end users of a product”. It can surely help them position the right product or at least give the delivery management team ‘insights’ so that we as a company can position the right product or solution to the customer.

So does DT really work? Well, from my experience it surely shows you the path. The question is, how well we walk that path. HANA, one of SAP’s biggest innovations and game changer of this century, has been an output of a DT approach done at the shop floor of world leading retailers. To add a few more recent cases:

US: Customer: T-Mobile

SAP was asked to provide a roadmap, suggestions and guidance on how to transition T-mobile’s IT infrastructure into the cloud in the most cost efficient way. T-Mobile emphasized the ability to be flexible, meaning no vendor lock in. In addition, they wanted 90% of their IT infrastructure to be in the cloud by 2017.  SAP used Design Thinking to create a roadmap and cloud strategy guidelines. The workshop was split into two sessions -Cloud technology 101 and a DT Session. Three (3) prototype cloud roadmaps (4 month, 1 year, and 3 year plans) were created as a result of the workshop and delivered to the T-Mobile team for review.  Outcome: T-Mobile chose SAP to implement their cloud strategy and it has been mentioned as the largest enterprise cloud project to date.

US: Customer: Hewlett Packard
Account Team

HP is one of SAP’s SCP customers while also being an SI Partner. In January, during the early stages of an end-to-end proof of concept engagement, we conducted a 1.5 day Design Thinking for Strategic Account Planning workshop. Participants included the GAD, CP, CP Director, Delivery Executives, Project Managers, Mobility, Ariba, Value Prototyping and Design Thinking representatives. A number of value propositions were created both for HP and for SAP to engage. In addition to these, a strategic roadmap including next steps was another deliverable created.

You may also look at some examples outside SAP. The Baby WarmerEmbrace, BMW convertibleWind Experience and ‘HPIs Airport Security, Safety and Efficiency” challenges, that all had the focus on User Research – understanding, observation, immersion, interviewing  – followed by derivation of relevant insights for understanding and solving wicked problems.

So again, does DT really work? Only time will tell. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. At least within SAP, the number DT engagements have crossed several hundreds, revenue has touched millions and the pipe line is quite strong. The American Airlines sophisticated navigation system was for sure developed by super intelligent techies, but these techies for sure did not quite emotionally understand that the pilot was a lesser mortal and could make a mistake by choosing the wrong options.

Srinivas Bhat

Day Job 🙂 : ‘Development Architect’ at SAP Labs – Custom Development.

Also 😉 : Senior Design Thinking Coach

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