After a bit of a summer break, I’m happy to bring you the sixth in my series of interviews with SAP employees in a variety of roles in the area of user experience and design.
Tobias Hildenbrand, Development Project Expert, acts as an internal consultant and global lead for business model innovation within SAP’s Products and Innovation organization. Tobias holds a university degree (in German, “Diplom”) in business information systems and a PhD in software engineering. He was recently named “SAP Trainer of the Year” for the second time.
I sat down with Tobias recently at our headquarters in Walldorf, Germany to ask him a few questions about his job and his passion for innovation.
I know your job title, but it’s a little bit hard to understand what you do based on that alone. Could you please briefly explain what you do at SAP?
Sure! I spend more or less half of my time consulting and coaching projects in SAP teams that involve customers. The other half is spent on establishing a so-called “Business Model Innovation Service Center”. This means building and managing a global team of coaches as well as creating and piloting new workshop formats and methods in current projects and then, if it works out, roll that out to our global development organization and coaching community. I also travel to external conferences and explain what SAP does in our development organization. For example, at the last conference I spoke at, the 2015 European Innovation Forum, I presented SAP’s overall innovation approach called customer-centered innovation including our internal approach to Business Model Innovation topics.
I have also been teaching as an associate lecturer at the University of Mannheim on the topics of lean management, agile engineering, design thinking, and business model innovation for 7 consecutive years now. The exciting thing about this is that the students apply the concepts they learn in a 3-month development project with customers and partners using SAP technology. Each year, I’m amazed how the teams turn a given challenge such as “redesign the shopping experience for local fresh food” into business applications that have a great user experience, run on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform and have a solid business model.
How did you get interested in design thinking?
In 2011, I was involved in an SAP-internal project called “Sail Better,” which deeply integrated scrum and agile together with design thinking. I came in as the “agile guy” and teamed up with a very experienced design thinking coach, and the two of us sat together and taught each other about our areas of expertise and then guided the rest of team to apply agile and design thinking end-to-end along the project timeline as we needed it.
What interested you about design thinking?
Scrum starts with a vision. And you have to turn that vision into a backlog to start scrum. I discovered that design thinking was a great complement to this to start with, that is to say a way to find a vision in the first place. Design thinking can guide the team on what to do, whereas scrum helps you figure out how to do it in an efficient and predictable way.
Every time we sit together, you start drawing. You always have a pen in your hand and ink on your fingers. The first time we met many years ago I thought you were a designer and nearly fell over when I found out you were not. How did you learn to become a visual communicator?
I first experienced the power of visual communication as a participant in an agile train-the-trainer workshop, and I decided that I wanted to learn that as well. So I participated in some external trainings with Martin Haussmann, who is the founder of the Bikablo (from the German “Bilderkartenblock”) drawing technique. I was so impressed that I worked together with him to create an SAP-internal visualization training program. For me personally, one of the biggest challenges so far in my career has been to conduct an SAP-internal training in visual recording with over 30 designers from Palo Alto… considering the fact that I am not a designer, this was pretty strange and scary . But it went really well after all!
What advantages does visual communication have over verbal or textual communication?
I’m not sure how to express this without drawing a picture, but I’ll try. Normally you talk to someone and they have a picture in their mind and you also have one, but putting that picture on paper or on a whiteboard helps to align the communication and make it more effective – as you are on the same page then. The other thing is that visualization helps a lot in a multicultural context. Of course, you still have cultural peculiarities, but creating images helps to mitigate that. You know, I haven’t written any meeting minutes in the last 3 years. I draw something, take a picture of it, and send it around as email. So far, no one has ever complained, not even our top managers or even board members!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The variety of tasks and challenges of business model innovation fit my personality really well. Besides that, at SAP there is room for „intrapreneurship,“ meaning that you can drive your own topics if you are passionate and persistent enough. For instance, on my own initiative, I was able to establish a business model innovation service center within SAP’s development organization, including substantial training budget for travelling to our major locations. I’m very proud of that.
What are the most challenging aspects of your work?
Time management, global scaling and overcoming corporate politics.
Do you have a professional motto that guides you?
I like “build, measure, learn” because it is common thread in lean management, agile engineering, design thinking, and business model innovation. This process of iteration, concrete learning goals and incorporating feedback fast is the engine of any innovation process, and I really believe in that.
Thanks for the interview, Tobias!
Do you have a background in development as well as a passion for design and innovation? Why not join the conversation and tell us about yourself and your job?