How to Get Started With Design Thinking in Shared Services and Outsourcing


From An Interview with Charlotte Bui, Global Lead of Design Thinking at SAP

Recently a colleague in common introduced me to Charlotte Bui, Global Lead of Design Thinking at SAP, and I chatted with her about how design thinking is used with SAP clients. I’m sharing snippets of this interview to get you thinking about how to use design thinking in your work, and in your partnerships and outsourcing engagements to drive new levels of innovation and impact from them. Consider it a way to address the challenge Phil laid out in his October 2nd blog: “let’s make outsourcing great again”… because there is a lot of untapped potential …

Charlotte, how do you bring design thinking into your work?

We ask questions to uncover and discover the true needs of our customers as it relates to their business and their customers. What that means is that we often dig deeper to better understand the “why” behind their needs, their motivation. We ask questions about how the work they do impacts stakeholders and customers, such as: Why do they need this? Why do they care? What’s missing? These questions can be applied to any situation to get focused on how to solve problems with a human-centered, customer first approach, versus a business-centric, solution first approach. And by leading with listening, we work with them to help uncover what’s missing or even what could potentially change their entire business model.

Business process services and IT services is a process driven industry; what can you tell us about how to structure an approach to work that uses design thinking?
We share customer stories and we talk through our method; there are many design thinking methods that all share a same common theme. At SAP, we use “look-think-do.” (link) It is about understanding WHO you are doing it for, cultivating ideas, finding the one (or more) that is real and can be implemented, and execute it. That last step is where the value is realized from the design thinking driven work. We use design thinking to understand what clients need, then work to define and apply the right solutions to bring those ideas to reality. 

Will you share a story with us about how design thinking is part of a corporate culture?

Look at Discount Tire, which is a tire company mostly in Arizona, California, and New Mexico. They are well known for their friendly approach to something as common as tires because at the core of what they do is ensuring safety. Yes, they need to sell tires to be in business; but the tires need to support a safe drive. The team at Discount Tire continually thinks about how to create that safe situation for drivers, and that leads to services with loyal customers. In the video they made to capture their experience, Discount Tire employees talk about “slowing down and thinking more,” and “making decisions with empathy.” For them, it was not a “one and done” project. Discount Tire liked the design thinking approach and results so much, they created dedicated spaces for their employees to keep using the approach they learned while working with SAP. 

A guiding principle of Design Thinking is prototyping. If you are talking about doing delivery services in a different way, how do you prototype?

We do low and medium fidelity prototyping: storyboards and vision videos, for example. We take ideas coming out of a workshop engagement and put it together into a story and then play the story back. For example, for a discrete manufacturer exploring the use of 3D printing, we would develop an end to end story, such as, if you used 3D printing on site, here’s how your supply chain might change… what it might look like… in a video or storyboard. The power behind low and medium fidelity prototyping is the ability to see the different ideas in action and imagine a future with those concepts applied. This allows for iterations without long-term investments, promotes learning, and embodies the concept of “fail forward” to ensure the changes can be easily adapted. 

Have you seen other companies besides SAP that are using Design Thinking in their culture? Which ones come to mind as a good example of incorporating Design Thinking into the way they work? Has it helped them change their business?

There are several other companies that use design thinking although most of them are in the business-to-consumer market. Harvard Business Review recently profiled the CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi, who introduced design thinking into the core of the company, driving change that has resulted in revenue and stock price increases for the past few years after stagnating. (link) Other familiar brands like P&G, Marriott, and Fidelity are well known in the design thinking sphere where they also customize the concept in order to ideate and co-create with their customers. These companies are going beyond just dabbling in it, and are working to make design thinking a part of their organization.

What if Design Thinking is not part of the culture or driven by the leadership in your organization? How can someone use it in her or his everyday work?

I rely on a broad ecosystem of people who leverage design thinking every day, including Mark Leung, Director at Rotman DesignWorks, who shared his approach around being a DT ninja at the onset. Even without a “guru” or network, you can practice with design thinking tools and techniques in your everyday work, like using empathy, thinking out loud (write up what you think on a board rather than your little black notebook), and doing small rounds of ideation and prototypes. You’ll find other tools on the Stanford site, as well.

As part of our journey at SAP, we were very fortunate to partner with the creative technology firm Gorbet Design. During our time together, we built a business-focused design approach to working with customers, and learned how to leverage those tools and techniques to uncover and solve both internal and external business challenges. We found that a design thinking approach that includes perspectives from many people, rapid iteration, and a focus on the human in the system will generate far broader and more innovative ideas than a standard business approach.

I have learned that you don’t need to wait for permission to use design thinking, you need to just start doing it… delighted customers and powerful results speak for themselves. You’ll find examples in these customer stories.

Charlotte, thank you for sharing your experience and ideas that hopefully will inspire the designer in more of us!  

In summary, design thinking can help you create “connections” with your customers and client base because it is about knowing, understanding, and creating new and creative ideas leading to solutions that enable those connections. Connections and experience create relationships and loyalty, which is good for business… and the financial bottom line.

Even if you are not a designer, don’t have a budget for engaging a third party for a workshop, or have a leader promoting design thinking, you can incorporate the principles of Design Thinking—asking questions, observing your end users, experimenting—into your own approach to problem solving and start a new movement.


Posted in : Design Thinking, OneOffice


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