Encouraging Rolls-Royce Power Systems To Create An Innovation Culture

Tobias Essig

Rolls-Royce Power Systems is all about movement. As a specialist for propulsion systems and distributed energy systems based on diesel and gas engines, it makes sure that whatever has to function, does. Under the MTU brand, the multinational manufacturing company offers solutions to large ships, heavy agricultural and rail vehicles, and industrial applications – a sector that, while diverse and impactful, is currently undergoing many changes. Societal developments and digitization require key players to constantly evolve and stay innovative.

Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ IT department decided to enter a new digital path to master the challenges of the digital age while increasing the user experience of Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ IT solutions.

“I truly realized that we are on the right track and that it was worth investing in design thinking, when we were approached by other companies asking us about our approach. Suddenly, we are among the early adopters when it comes to digital transformation.”

– Daniel Eberle, Head of Digital Design & Technology, Rolls-Royce Power Systems

Figure 1: Better start now: the way of digital transformation is spreading out

A team of five members was established with full-time focus on the initiative. The idea was to first teach the group in the design thinking (DT) methodology and mindset. Second, they practiced and strengthened their skills on various projects and exemplarily programs, which helped the company explore new directions and experience the value of the new approach.

The fuel for innovation: Living the design thinking mindset and methods

Through different sessions and workshops in Singapore, Heidelberg, and Friedrichshafen, Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ innovation team learned about the three pillars of design-led innovation: people, process, and place.

In addition to assigning a dedicated team, it is important to involve the right people, making use of diverse skills and backgrounds, in projects. Furthermore, the project team members and coaches to-be were introduced to the design-thinking process and agile methodologies, which changed their fundamental work habits. The iterative and validating work style meant that Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ customers were closely integrated into the lighthouse projects. The team also worked on defining the kind of corporate culture needed to best support this new approach, as well as a physical place to foster creativity and make it visible. Rolls-Royce Power Systems decided to set its first creative space in Singapore.

The first lighthouse projects, led in collaboration with the new Rolls-Royce Power Systems coaches shadowing them, was the development of a webshop for the company’s aftermarket sales. It was kicked off with a scoping workshop in Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ Singapore creative space, followed by research phases in Germany, the United States, Turkey, and Hong Kong to understand different customers’ needs, regional and cultural differences, requirements influencing the ordering process, as well as an understanding of the basic technical environment.

The responsible business department was overwhelmed by the outcome. Considering the complexity of the project, they hadn’t expected creative methods to lead to prototypes that fast and at such high quality. It also became apparent that a much bigger effort would be needed than originally planned to launch the webshop successfully. Therefore, the project partners decided to take a step back and put the project on hold until further resources could be mobilized – a decision that is sometimes necessary to achieve the best long-term results.

Picking up speed with a new digital solutions team

As experience with the methodology and positive customer reactions grew, so did the influence of DT at Rolls-Royce Power Systems. As a result, a digital solutions team was founded in the business unit’s headquarters in Friedrichshafen with the goal to accelerate the digital transformation. It was decided that Eberle’s team would join the new sector, led by chief digital officer Jürgen Winterholler, and integrate the DT mindset and methodology into work processes across the company.

After a year, the learnings and experiences were expanded to additional lighthouse projects, igniting an interest in the topic that reached far beyond the original members. A true passion for design thinking and innovation has captured Power Systems’ Digital Solutions team, connecting the team behind a shared vision and mindset.

Design thinking and agile development have become part of the DNA of the Digital Solutions team, shaping the department’s culture and approach towards daily tasks. Rolls-Royce Power Systems knows now that design thinking will only reach its full potential if it’s supported with “design doing” to ensure their ideas don’t atrophy.

Figure 2: First-year achievements at Rolls-Royce Power Systems

The journey has just started: As the pipeline massively increases, the team is looking to develop an integrated design system; further, they will also invest in the company’s growth according to demand. A sure thing is: the team will continue working on the innovation topic together, growing from collaboration and continuous learning.

“The results of the design-led development approach of our lighthouse project show that we are on the right track as the digital solutions department implements the right methodological skills to ensure that the solutions we drive forward hit the need of the real users.”

– Felix Köhler, head of Digital Products, Rolls-Royce Power Systems

Learn more about how your organization can benefit from design thinking.

This article originally appeared on SAP Design Services.


Tobias Essig

About Tobias Essig

Tobias hold the role of SAP Design team member, working in communications and marketing, and is based in Walldorf, Germany. Tobias has 10+ years of SAP experience in topics around innovation, research, design, and leadership.