SAP Palo Alto, software design and Fred’s steak.

Some of you may have noticed my interest in things “design” over the last couple of months. I have been reading folks like Kathy Sierra , Diego Rodriguez, John Maeda and Bruce Nussbaum. This has led me to all sorts of interesting places on the web, including the Design Museum. 

Well, I’m on the fringes of a design project here at SAP, and I have spent the last week in Palo Alto at SAP labs. I’ve been immersed in discovering design led innovation, ideation, personae(s?), artifacts, use cases, and so on.

Design at SAP…

Over the past decade or so, we have received considerable and often valid criticism for an overly complex GUI experience. 

This isn’t good. To quote Dan:

I would argue that for the next generation of people who will soon ( < 10 years ) start to get into decision making positions at Fortune 1000s UI ease and flexibility will be nearly as important as all the process stuff already boiled into SAP software.

Fixing it.

A couple of years ago Hasso Plattner set up the Design Services Team (DST). The goal is to bring a stronger design ethos into our software development process. The team works with developers around the world to instill a user-centric design discipline. They also work to identify new design trends and provide expert services to other organisations looking to focus on the user.  Shock horror they actually work with real end users to see how they use our software. The team is multi-disciplinary, and many of the team members have a design background and come from places like eBay and Apple. Internal design missionaries, if you like.

It is alot more than just GUI…

This is what they mean by design thinking

The core values of Design Led Innovation:

  • Have an Outside-in Mindset
  • Use Empathy for Users & Stakeholders .Embrace diversity
  • Think holistically
  • Collaborate in multi-disciplinary teams
  • Generate many new ideas
  • Find & iterate alternatives
  • Fail early and often

Hasso has donated lots of money and time to design. He donated 35 million to the Stanford Design School and has also invested significantly in the Hasso Plattner institute in Potsdam.  I’ve blogged this here. The DST also facilitated the developer challenge- you can find more here.

This project – what I learnt.

We are working at dramatically improving a complex, messy, global, internal process at SAP, both from a process and  eventually from a product standpoint.  The workshop included internal end users, managers, solution management, design folks and me.

My job was to provide a look at the competitive landscape and to explore how social computing might impact the process. (I’m being a bit cryptic about what the process is, as the process owner would rather I’d not blog it)

As part of the project the DST is doing similar sessions with users from various industries and sizes in the US, Europe and Asia, some of them SAP customers, some of them not.

My key takeaways from the process.

It isn’t easy.


“Post-its” rock.


The rules. Not bad rules for any brainstorming process.

An aside:Jeremiah documented the process and outcomes live in an internal wiki, which in itself was an interesting  2.0esque validation for me. I spend lots of words pontificating on the power of the wiki, but actually seeing it used as a real time documentation tool, rather than just as a repository of record for documents created elsewhere, hit home

Thanks to Loren, several Mikes, Jeong, Erin, Jing, Matt, Peter, Pam, Vivien, Ben, Diana, Christoph, Harry, Ben and Jeremiah (sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone)  for an eye opening learning experience. And to Mike and Doree thank you for a wonderful evening and the introduction to Fred’s steak and Arrested Development. 

 In other news Jeremiah and I have a chat with James and Cote on Redmonk radio. I ramble on about the DST and ERP amongst other things.  It is weird listening to your own voice. I have neither the voice nor the face for radio.

For those that write SAP off as an innovation-free zone, I say watch this space.


19 thoughts on “SAP Palo Alto, software design and Fred’s steak.

  1. I will be delighted to see that. I am tired of Apple this and Google that, but don’t just throw out widgets and pretty UIs. Thomas, it is all relative. If you were a start up I would already be impressed with what you say above. Customers pay you $ 5 + billion a year in maintenance. There has to be substantive new functionality and business changing innovation for that. And I think you are playing catch up for the last 3-4 years.

  2. Thomas, thanks for your participation in the workshop. The knowledge and experience that you shared about the competitive landscape gave us a better understanding of the existing solution space and will definitely help us to improve the processes.

  3. Thomas,
    It was a pleasure enjoying Fred Steak with you, demonstrating the latest in spy gear and discovering the tremendous overlap in sensibilities between the Otter’s and the Tschudy’s.

  4. For over a year now we have been teaching and coaching many software solution and product management teams what we call Design Led Innovation. We do emphasize that it’s not only about the UI but the holistic user experience which should reflect needs from stakeholders across the board. Our workshop participants are for the most part inspired to think differently how they approach solution design, which is great. And yes additional work is required to become a “Design Thinker” which does not equal “Designer” – by the way.

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