iSell: A Diversity Project


It’s crucial that businesses actively support diversity, not just for the sake of employees but for the sake of the company and its customers. With 60,000 employees from over 120 nationalities around the world, SAP has embraced the economic power of diversity.

“For SAP, a diverse workforce is not only a reality, but the key to our sustainable growth, innovation and success,” says Phyllis Stewart Pires, SAP’s Global Head of Diversity. “Our objective is to take advantage of differences and create an inclusive environment that enables employees to deliver greater creativity and productivity for our customers.”

Design thinking is one of the important programs that reflect SAP’s diversity commitment in action. Leaping ahead of traditional development approaches, design thinking brings together teams of professionals from various cultures and backgrounds that generate better ideas faster to bring innovative, more valuable products to customers. This is the first of a two-part article that spotlights how diverse teams across the company are using design thinking for everyone’s greatest advantage.

Fresh insights from the same information

For the Walldorf-based customer relationship management (CRM) design thinking project team led by SAP Product Owner Hila Schlank, customer satisfaction is more than a shared responsibility. It is a shared passion. Focused on developing a mobile CRM application for sales reps on the go, Schlank says her team’s diverse backgrounds have produced breakthrough innovations that weren’t possible before.

“Each of us has a unique perspective that allows us to analyze the same information and come up with new insights we wouldn’t have arrived at using traditional development methods,” says Schlank who comes from Israel and the United States.

She explains that the team’s new solution, code-named iSell, is a note-taking app that works the way sales reps do. They can enter info on their iPads throughout the day, and then distribute follow-up items across system at any time.

“We began with the same data from the customer on a day in the life of a sales rep but with design thinking, we were able to draw different conclusions about what would really benefit reps,” says Schlank. “We questioned the predefined use case and arrived at a new solution that delivers more options for greater productivity.” As a result, the new mobile CRM app allows sales reps to keep data private, take photos and attach it to the customer’s account, scribble drawings and save them in the system, or record notes with the voice to talk feature.

Better collaboration leads to faster idea generation

Schlank emphasizes that the combination of everyone’s unique input based on their individual experiences, is what generated the ideas behind iSell. Team members from Europe, India, the Middle East, and the United States hail from a wide range of backgrounds including long-time CRM experts, as well as research, mobile app development, and global trade.

For example, as the team coach, Claudia Diesner, rallies the team with daily check-ins, dinner events, and a written diary that charts their progress. She draws from her communications and marketing skills to create agendas and other documentation that guide the team. “My tools help guide everyone in defining the problem and finding the best solution.”

Perhaps the biggest advantage for diverse teams that use design thinking is ideation speed. “It’s a highly creative environment that’s at once relaxed yet more productive. I can walk around and get instant feedback from an ongoing exchange,’ says Guido Lammers, the team’s Product Area Owner who is from Germany. “We build ideas on each other; some fail, others succeed, and in the end the customer gets a better product.”

Harsha Sagar, the team’s Architect, who hails from India, adds that design thinking “is serious work but it’s also a lot of fun. We collectively look at the raw data minus any assumptions, and move faster through the validation cycle with a constant feedback loop.”

Diversity is also crucial on the customer’s end. Everyone on the iSell design thinking team stresses the importance of getting input from not only IT, but also the actual consumers of products. Schlank says studying information that came directly from sales reps was the only way the team could understand customer needs. iSell’s likeliest first customer will be the SAP field sales team. Schlank says initial feedback from potential users has been overwhelmingly positive. The next step will be to share the prototype for a trial run.