Duct Tape Trumps PowerPoint

Bertram Schulte

Digital technology offers companies unlimited ways to transform business, generate value, find new commercial models, and unveil innovative products. But for many companies, their digital transformation story lives, and dies, on a glossy set of PowerPoint slides.

There is no presentation, business case, or blueprint that’s guaranteed to succeed or give companies a competitive advantage in the digital world. Ideas fuel presentations, but it’s a common mistake to try to make each idea “perfect” in PowerPoint with complex charts and data models.

The only way for true digital transformation to occur is with something I call experimentation culture —an always-curious mindset to learn and apply and a desire to test preconceived ideas. Every good plan goes out the window when it meets realty. A company’s success is made with duct tape, dry-erase boards, and an inquisitive philosophy. What works in agile software development methodology also applies in introducing new business practices.

Presentations aren’t bad per se, and they are sometimes needed to secure buy-in across departments or business units. But companies place too much value and too much time in them. Most presentations and blueprints require numerous changes, updates, and additions and are rarely completely right from the get-go.

But I’m not litigating the existence of PowerPoint presentations; I’m praising experimentation culture.

Testing, testing

How can your company foster the type of experimentation required to bring about necessary digital transformation?

First, create small, nimble proof of concepts (PoCs), and ensure that they are hands-on—even if they are dependent on manual work. According to this Entrepreneur article, a PoC’s main purpose is to demonstrate the functionality of a design idea and verify if a concept or theory is achievable. In short, a PoC shows if a product or idea can be developed.

Second, test, test, test … and then test again. After you’ve exhausted your tests, iterate and test again, all while ensuring that your product or idea is scalable.

Third, train your employees and encourage experimentation. This is especially true after a go-live, when employees should be nourishing, evolving, and adapting their ideas.

This is a two-way street, however. Leadership teams must believe in experimentation, and employees must buy in from the ground up. When employees see co-workers experiment, fail, and not get punished for trying, it encourages a cycle of experimentation and rewards employees for continuous learning and trying something new.

Experimenting big and small

Experimentation comes in all shapes and sizes, and some forms of experimentation are big bets. For example, take SAP’s consumption-based model. This is not a one-off test, but rather a thoughtful, well-planned strategic move designed to change how SAP’s customers interact with our products. What was once an inflexible, rigid payment system is now adaptable, customizable, and beneficial for customers. The consumption-based model allows customers to provision their services (e.g., user experience, data storage), as necessary.

This new way of doing business wasn’t born out of a few slides, but with a team asking: “Why not?” That’s true experimentation.

But experimentation can also be a series of small changes. Our team at SAP looked at some A/B tests to improve the customer experience, and the results surprised us. In one experiment, we tinkered with the wording on some of our product pages. To read more about a product, we tested the following wording: “Discover,” “Learn More,” “See it Work,” and far and away the most popular: “Check it Out.” What did we learn? The least “professional” text is sometimes the most effective way to communicate. But we never would have known that without experimenting.

Our team also questioned whether consumer selling (like peer pressure) works in B2B. When we added language like “600+ recent purchases” to an existing product, we received more orders. A/B tests have been so enlightening that we’ve now progressed to multi-variant testing. Each successful experiment, no matter how small, improves the offering and fosters a results-driven culture.

Of course, any successful experimentation culture—on both big and small scales—must exist under the umbrella of customer experience. No good plan survives contact with the customer, especially when designed to solve internal process issues. That’s why agile, expedited rollouts are so desirable. I prefer to try something, and if it works, repeat and scale. If it doesn’t work, we pivot, stop, or move on. Use the customer as your litmus test, and your experimentation culture is more likely to succeed.

So, throw out that stale PowerPoint deck, outdated business case, and dusty blueprint, and embrace the only true way of reaching your company’s digital potential: an experimentation culture.

For more on this topic, please read “Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast, Innovation For Lunch, And Transformation For Dinner.”

For more about consumption-based models, please read “Consumption-based Models Are Easy, But Managing Consumption Economics Is Not.”

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn and is republished by permission.

Bertram Schulte

About Bertram Schulte

Bertram Schulte serves as SAP’s chief digital officer (CDO), running the digital business, overseeing digital customer strategy, and helping provide customers one seamless, digital experience.