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Former Member

>> Written by Jayme Smithers, Global Ecosystem & Channel VP for Analytics, Database & Platform

Tired of hearing about how great the latest technology is? Skeptical that the latest BI tool will solve every big data problem? Ever wonder how it all relates to your business? What if your technology vendor were to ask, “Let’s park the technology discussion and focus on your business. What problem are you trying to solve? What challenges do you face daily? What transformations will be needed in one, three, or five years? What direction are your customers moving – and what implications does that have for your business?” In short, how can you drive business value? Then, only after you’ve worked together to answer these complex questions – and identify the most pressing problems facing your business – the discussion would turn toward finding the best technology or process improvement solution. Now that would probably be a very different discussion. The process that got you there: design thinking.

“We had the opportunity to work with SAP through a Design Thinking (customer journey) roadmap to see if it could help us solve a problem and get a plan to move forward. The participants all left the session seeing the value of using this approach. Since that time, we have used Design Thinking on many occasions to help us focus and drive out requirements. Surveys completed after each workshop have told us that this is a preferred method for thinking at ATB and it is fast becoming the standard for planning initiatives.”

- Don Good, Vice President of Innovation at ATB Financials

Design Thinking

We’ve been using design thinking at SAP for the past few years. It’s a proven, revolutionary, and repeatable approach designed to uncover creative solutions to complex problems. It can help get stakeholders on the same page, drive solutions that deepen your customer relevance, and increase the efficiency of your innovation investments by upping the ante that your final process, product, or service will be adopted. How does it work? Bring together the aspirations of your executive team and experts in the technology and requirements of your industry for a creative workshop environment.

Design thinking uses personas – composite fictional characters – to help businesses identify and understand the needs of customers or employees, which can cast a light on the fundamental challenge or opportunity the business should address. Take, for example, a Canadian bank looking to transform its business by actively recruiting new clients. Bank stakeholders got together with SAP industry, process, and technology experts. The joint team defined the problem, identified the questions they needed to answer, and used an ideation process to create a series of personas. What demographic did the bank want to attract? Male or female? Average age? Average income? Once the personas were named and profiled, they were used as a lens through which team members could evaluate ways to attract new business.

At SAP, design thinking consists of four stages:

Research and Exploration. In this stage, we focus on defining the problem, using several techniques to get a full picture. In observation, SAP consultants experience a business firsthand. We buy, use, and try your products and services, taking detailed notes along the way. We then perform in-depth interviews of key stakeholders and customers. Next, we meet with the team, encouraging team members to share perceptions of a problem and laying out what they see as its constraints. Consultants and team members then work together to consciously remove or reimagine the nature of those constraints, expanding possibilities in a process we affectionately call “assumption dumption.” We’ve found that demonstrating empathy help untap users requirements and sentiments and establish true project alignment.

Ideation. This is the idea generation phase. Here we create a “customer journey map” that defines the customer, creates a persona, establishes a point of view, uncovers opportunities for business process innovation, and generates ideas. This is not your traditional business meeting. Instead, we need to create an environment that promotes active participation, engagement, trust, and willingness to play with and expand on whatever comes up – essential conditions for a free flow of ideas.  We start with three simple ground rules: There is no bad idea, Always reserve judgment, and Let go of pride of ownership. As the 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman put it, "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."

Idea Synthesis. Once you’ve used the ideation phase to generate raw ideas, you’re ready to see how those ideas interact. Cluster similar ideas, then begin to filter and prioritize each cluster based on viability, feasibility, and desirability. The most promising should be moved forward for further study and development. One useful tool here is a “Max Axis,” an x-y grid that makes it easy to plot ideas based on two parameters, such as capacity and interest. Throughout this step, keep an eye out for solutions that can be reused across departments, generating maximum value for the business.

Prototype. Implement. Learn. This is actually three closely related steps, each part of one larger evolutionary process. In prototyping, the design team shares drawings, proof of concepts, or digital prototypes. Then you implement the solution. Finally, you learn from the results, testing them against key performance indicators and using the results to refine and improve your outcome. Revisit or iterate these three steps as often as needed to realize maximum value from the process – and your solution.

Powerful Benefits

Design thinking is creative problem solving in action – an innovative, accelerated approach to generating new solutions for business challenges. By combining tools for creative generation and rational analysis, it helps identify solutions that fit the context. Design thinking gives businesses the tools to consciously connect with and invigorate the ideation process, maximizing innovation for competitive advantage. For example, you can transform an organization’s approach to business intelligence from simply reporting to a source of competitive advantage.

At SAP, we use design thinking to work through a methodology that helps you envision your transformation. SAP brings together our vast experience and intellectual property in your industry, our solutions, and the largest business process benchmarking database in the world to assess your business versus your peers across multiple KPIs to determine your greatest opportunity. When combined, these powerful advantages can help create breakthrough strategies to give your customers a compelling experience that you can monetize. And with design thinking, this process is much faster and more effective than traditional methods, helping speed time to value.

And once you’ve used design thinking to solve a business process problem, SAP is perfectly situated to apply any one of our innovative technologies – analytics, HANA, cloud, or mobile – to solve it.