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As a coach, I’ve always thought that there are three key components to a successful Design Thinking workshop.  However, as I reflect on the Design Thinking activities from SAPPHIRE NOW, I realized that one of the components of DT might be more “key” than the other two after all.

I was one of the Design Thinking coaches from SAP Services to have the opportunity to coach DT sessions with customers, both in the DT space in the Services Lounge and at the ASUG education session.  This is the first time we held sessions in this format.  We had 3 sessions scheduled each day to address 3 different topics in the Services Lounge and the ASUG DT education session was a ½ day session with the theme being Gamification, Big Data and Cloud. And yes, there were several informal, ad-hoc conversations in the lounge, at lunch, over coffee and at dinner about DT and innovation. :smile:

The environment

The space in the Services Lounge was this glass “cube” with room for quick collaboration, white boards and multicolored Post-it notes. The cube was hard to miss as it was in the center of the Services Lounge, which was a beehive of activity at all times.

alejandro.pifarre (DT coach) in the cube

Of course, we had the quintessential Post-it notes, sharpies and prototyping materials in the DT workshops but we also had a graphic recorder onsite! We started off with the blank space but within a few hours the space came alive with Post-it notes and flip charts with data points shared by customers participating in the sessions.

One interesting addition this year was a graphic recorder or artist that was in the space at all times, listening to the discussions and meant to help us visually capture the conversations, data points, and insights in real time. The graphic recordings added the creative dimension to the space and customers had a visual summary of the session they had just participated in.

Coincidentally, one of the sessions in the lounge had participants from a customer where I had facilitated and coached a DT session last year! It was great to catch up with them on the progress of their project following that session. At this session, we introduced them to some new tools to think about a different business model for their company. Below is the picture of the graphic recording from that session. See this blog by andy.greig for a collection of the graphic recordings from the sessions in the Services Lounge.


We weren’t so fortunate to have the graphic recorder at the ASUG DT education session but that didn’t stop the participants from creating visual recordings of their own. The customers participating created fun, cool, low-fidelity, rough sketches of their prototypes using flip charts and sharpies.  Each team’s sketches conveyed their ideas very well to the other participants.

The approach

You may have seen  variations to the DT approach in different companies In general, the approach is highly iterative and typically starts with Scoping/ Understanding the problem space and only then moving on to the solution space. DT sessions usually last 2-3 days but because we created these mini DT sessions at SAPPHIRE NOW we were able to cover the key principles of DT with a larger audience from the conference.

The people

Each of the above DT sessions had one common denominator- people. Not every DT conversation that I had was in the perfect environment or followed the approach in its entirety. In fact, it was far from it. The education session that I led, was in a standard class room style space. We made it work for DT by using the materials and encouraging the prototyping mindset by introducing a fun challenge.  However, every session did have customers (aka people)!

The customers participating in the DT sessions either brought with them a problem that was unique to them or something common across their industry. But in every case, irrespective of the problem being business-related or technical, the bottom line was that it involved people- end users, stakeholders, and customers. Real problems that arise if you are human being working with other human beings and supported by technology.

You’ve probably heard that the 3 key components of DT are the environment, approach and people. For me, the DT sessions at SAPPHIRE NOW re-emphasized  that the methodology brings together and enables people to get on the same page, understand the real problem they are tackling and work together to build a solution that works for everyone.

As always every DT session I facilitate is a learning opportunity. And SAPPHIRE NOW was no different! You may have excellent space, follow the approach to the t, but if the participants and users are not on board then the road to success can be very long.

Did you get a chance to participate in a mini Design Thinking session or chat with any of the DT coaches?  I welcome you to share your DT experiences from SAPPHIRE NOW in the comments section.

Here are my recent blogs on the Power of Storytelling to build empathy and Theory vs. Reality

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