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Author's profile photo Andreas Hauser

Unleash Your Innovation Power: Combining Design Thinking, Agile and Lean (Part 1)

Have you ever tried kitesurfing?

It combines aspects of surfing, wakeboarding, and paragliding in one extreme sport. That’s why it’s a great example of innovation. Very often, innovation is the combination of existing things to make the experience even better. I’m a passionate kitesurfer. Yet, it took me a long time to enjoy nice jumps. When I started, some jumps were quite painful, indeed.

Why do I talk about kitesurfing in the context of design thinking, agile and lean? The answer is quite simple: Kitesurfing requires a lot of training, experimentation as well as ups and downs to become advanced. Just like Design Thinking.

In this article series, I want to tell you the story of SAP’s Design Thinking journey. Looking at some important points of SAP’s history, I will show you how to unleash the power of Design Thinking. Spoiler alert: It’s not rocket science.

Why the fast fish succeeds

“In the new world, it is not the big fish which eat the small fish. It’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.” – Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

In the past, the big companies were eating the small ones. Today, the fast and agile companies eat the slow companies. Thus, lots of large and successful corporations have to become more innovative and creative in order to survive. What is the secret of those agile firms?

Technology as an enabler

Agile firms use technology as an enabler. They leverage latest technologies, such as Machine Learning or Blockchain, and embrace technological novelties. This is crucial, of course. But technology alone does not guarantee success.

Superior end-to-end customer experience

I experienced this first-hand last winter on a snowboarding trip with a friend. The first night, I went to bed and searched for the light switch in my room. I couldn’t find it – but Alexa was there: “Alexa, please switch off the light.” She required me to be more specific: “We have many rooms.” Well ok. “Alexa, can you switch off the light in this room?” – “I don’t understand you.” I was quite annoyed already. “Well, which rooms do we have?” – “I don’t understand you.” I spare you the rest of the conversation. Long story short: I switched to another room that night. The next morning, I saw my friend sleeping in that room – with the lights off! Apparently, the right open sesame was “Alexa, bedroom, light, off.”

Companies can provide the most advanced technologies. Yet, if customers cannot use them, they will not succeed. They must incorporate superior end-to-end customer experience.

Culture of innovation

The third aspect innovative corporations share is a culture of innovation. They learn, they experiment, they fail sometimes, and they empower their employees.

Design Thinking at SAP: How It All Began

The last 15 years with Design Thinking at SAP have been a fantastic journey. Let’s start in 2004. At Sapphire, Hasso Plattner announced: “SAP will go for Design Thinking!” That’s only partially true: In the early days of SAP, the founders were already at the customer, sat next to the users, and iterated with them. They didn’t call it Design Thinking back then, but that’s what it was – and it reminded Hasso of how SAP became successful. In 2004, SAP had about 50,000 employees, globalizing and specializing in roles. We unlearned how to work with our customers and users. Therefore, SAP started to get Design Thinking into the entire organization 15 years ago. And still today, everyone is talking about Design Thinking.

People First, Technology Second.  

What is Design Thinking about? At its core, it is about people. Every process needs to begin with looking at the needs of the users before making a technology choice. Rocket science? Definitely not! But sometimes, it’s hard to execute in a global organization. With the end user always in mind, this is SAP’s approach to Design Thinking:

Discover – Design – Deliver: SAP’s approach to Design Thinking

We begin with a discovery phase: We step into the end users’ shoes to see how they really work – and to find out what they really need. We bring IT, business, and end users together at the customer site and jointly brainstorm, create designs, iterate – and finally implement and deliver.

Along the way, we involve our customers at every single step. Only by having people and their needs in mind with everything we do, we can truly bring innovation into the hands of our customers.

To become a great kitesurfer or an innovative company driven by Design Thinking, keep in mind: Try it out, experiment, and learn.

Learning #1: Involve customers from the beginning!

Watch out for the next blog ?

Interested to watch the entire story on Design Thinking: Agile and Lean? Check out my video:

Copyediting by Kathrin Rüeck

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