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This success story for Agile & Design Thinking in practice showcases a Design Thinking Team in Dubai for Globalization Services in SAP Human Capital Management (GS HCM), who took the opportunity to engage customers for a localization project.


The team had a simple goal:

“Provide a simplified, yet legally compliant localization of the HCM solution for technologically unsophisticated United Arab Emirates public sector end-users.”

The development team in Dubai had the chance to work closely together with the Government of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), one of the emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. The RAK public sector itself is further comprised of 14 separate entities who have been using the Electronic Government Authority (eGov) since 2004 to provide centralized IT services.

The project was a great platform for Design Thinking concepts for various reasons:

  1. The RAK public sector had been using a legacy system from a regional competitor for some time. So the team wanted to learn “why and how”.
  2. The organization was using business processes that were atypical. More than 15 visits have been arranged within a two-month period to understand and learn.
  3. The range of participants in these interactions was diverse, business users, end users, and HR Department leads from customer side, and developers, knowledge management colleagues, and localization product managers from SAP side.

During the course of the project several Design Thinking elements were applied (described very briefly below):

Phase 1: User Research

Customers were visited at their place of work in order to understand needs and habits of end-users.Challenges:

  • Users were wrapped up in their own tasks and were under time pressure.
  • Endless discussions on scope and expectations - not everything they requested was achievable or realistic.
  • The end-users spoke Arabic only, which not all team members did.

Phase 2: Scoping and Validation of business processes designs with customers –discussion and agreement on industry best practices, e.g. in the area of Job Classification.

The result of these engagements was a great knowledge-sharing and scoping experience for both teams.


Phase 3: Prototyping

Strong efforts were made from the development team to give the RAK team a better visualization of proposed designs and final outputs by using white-boards, post-its, paper and even SAP GUI. Since the solution was built on top of the existing localization for
the UAE Public sector, existing GUI screens could be leveraged for prototyping.
This was greatly appreciated by the end users,
since this was the first SAP project for the RAK HR department. This gave them the chance to request modifications, with a view
to making the final UI more user-friendly.


Phase 4: Validation and Iteration

All accepted scope items went through at least one iteration of prototyping to ensure that the customers could see what the end-product would look like. In one notable instance, the payroll prototypes were recalculated and even revalidated by a veteran payroll officer who used a calculator to verify the system’s accuracy! End-user customer feedback was documented in DT templates and classified into: “What the customer loves”, “Pain points”, and “Ideas and questions”.


Lessons learned

On the whole, the project was an extremely positive experience. Any initial misgivings within the team about Design Thinking as a solid way of delivering a solution had been dispelled by the project’s conclusion.

And the positive feedback by the customers stressed the success:

Yes, sure all the points mentioned […] are accurate reflections of our experience during the project, and we look forward to have the same in the coming phases of the project. We want to express our warmest thankful for all the SAP Localization team in their great efforts.”

-  Project Director, Electronic Government Authority (EGA)

It was crystal-clear that preparation & team ramp-up are evident for the success of Design Thinking:

As this was the first Design Thinking project for the GS HCM team, people had to be educated and also the according mind-set had to be achieved. E.g. the local coffee corner with an always visible DT process diagram became a regular haunt when seeking to get into the Design Thinking zone.

Based on the “real-world” Design Thinking project the team could see that it is a very effective technique to improve the quality and effectiveness of their work, and Design Thinking is no longer a distant, nebulous, theoretical concept.

Importantly, individual development team members grew to feel more and more empowered by Design Thinking as the project progressed. They can now act as Design Thinking advocates and are eager to spread the word to other development teams in Globalization Services and across SAP.