Design Thinking And The Intelligent Enterprise (Part 2)

Frederik Verhoef and Jason Muehleck

Part 2 in theDesign Thinking” series that chronicles research on different approaches to conducting design-thinking workshops. Read Part 1.

Design thinking is a much-talked-about systematic, human-centered, complex problem-solving approach. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the context and method of design thinking by the Business Transformation Services group at SAP.

What does the practice of design thinking in the field look like? To answer this question, we conducted interviews with leading design-thinking coaches and practitioners from the Business Transformation Services group to solicit their practical experience. We selected the 10 interview partners based on the extent of their experience with delivering design thinking engagements in a variety of settings, outcome expectations, and time allocation. In total, they have delivered some 1,000 design thinking engagements.

What emerged from the interviews as key topics include the type of engagement, the use of methods and energizers, dealing with workshop constraints, and proactive flexibility. Since the Business Transformation Services group is a revenue-generating advisory and consulting group, its use of design thinking is shaped by its unique role and therefore not universally representative of how design thinking is and can be used. Our findings nevertheless provide insights into how design thinking is used in innovative, client-facing engagements at the intersection of the client’s business strategy and the use of IT to achieve business goals.

Three types of design thinking engagements

Although there is no specific reference to different types of design thinking engagements in the standard training material, we identified from the interviews that there are at least three varieties.

  • Inspiration workshops tend to be selected to infuse technology into the solution of a business problem. These workshops tend to be short (between two and eight hours) and typically do not expand beyond the scoping, research, and synthesis phases. They usually include technology experts who explain potential technology solutions or provide examples of how they are used elsewhere. The design thinking coach is required to establish a creative and inquisitive atmosphere while leading the participants in exploring the use of technology in solving problems. In the context of SAP, this type of workshop is often initiated by SAP account executives to support their customers.
  • Stakeholder alignment offers the opportunity for stakeholders to share their views on a particular topic and “design” a common view. This type of engagement also tends to be short (between four and eight hours) and typically does not expand beyond the scoping, research, and synthesis phases.
  • Problem-solving engagements are usually aimed at discovering a novel solution for problems that are not well-defined. The aim is to build a prototype to test ideas at reasonable cost and subsequently develop a production-ready solution. These engagements usually start with a one- to three-day workshop that might develop into several follow-up workshops. Depending on the complexity of the solution, the engagement can extend over several weeks or even months. All the phases of design thinking are typically used.

Using design-thinking methods and energizers

Design thinking methods and energizers help to achieve the goal of a particular phase of the engagement. Methods and energizers, as well as how and when they are applied, are well-covered in literature; a large selection of over 200 methods and an even bigger number of energizers exist. Selecting the appropriate methods and energizers is seen as a factor to enhance the creativeness of the engagement outcome. Our interviews revealed that experienced coaches tend to stick to around 10 methods in their repertoire, and typically use the same method for a particular phase. When the engagement time is limited (less than eight hours), the use of energizers is reduced or eliminated.

Working with constraints

The standard design-thinking training prepares coaches for laying out the ideal workshop conditions. However, reality often looks different. Our interview partners consistently reported that the most frequent challenges come from too little time, the wrong participants, and inappropriate workshop venues. The opportunity to address any of these constraints significantly improves the outcome.

Preparing proactively and remaining flexible

Being prepared is also the motto of each experienced design-thinking coach. That includes managing expectations, arranging every detail of the workshop, and being fully engaged during all aspects of the engagement. In the face of constraints and unexpected events, the design thinking coach needs to remain flexible. Design thinking coaches need to carefully monitor the physical condition, mood, motivation, energy, and flow of ideas. Top practitioners use verbal and nonverbal cues from participants to introduce alternative methods, adapt the agenda, or extend the workshop when required. Parochially sticking to a fixed agenda is not seen as a best practice to achieve top engagement results.

Design thinking is one of the most powerful tools to solve business problems today and tomorrow, considering the advance of the intelligent enterprise and the rapid technological progress affecting our industry. By constantly improving design-thinking execution, you can tackle many of these technological shifts in the future and offer a guiding hand to your organization along the way.

Stay tuned for Part 3 in the “Design Thinking” series.


Frederik Verhoef

About Frederik Verhoef

Frederik Verhoef leads the CXO Advisory Practice for the Business Transformation Services group at SAP. CXO Advisory supports SAP customers on their journey towards the intelligent enterprise in the experience economy through delivering business innovation, business architecture, and transformation programs based on SAP's digital portfolio. He has more than 20 years of international business consulting experience backed by a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and a Master’s degree in Business Leadership. His expertise includes architecture roadmaps, design thinking, and business transformation management.

Jason Muehleck

About Jason Muehleck

Jason Mühleck is professionally active in the startup and venture capital space and has first-hand experience in technology startups, enterprise software, and venture capital. He holds a Bachelors degree in Economic Sciences and a Masters in Management with a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. His current topics of interest and research include blockchain applications in the enterprise, AI, and machine learning, as well as the future of manufacturing.