User Experience & Lean

Over the past few years I’ve written a few times about SAP’s internal transformation efforts.  We just pre-announced record Q2 results yesterday (35%+ growth in all regions – go SAP!), and so I thought it fitting to return to the topics of growth and change and talk a little bit about the good things that are happening internally both with my User Experience team and with Lean.

I have been on a multi-year journey to bring the discipline of User Experience to the operational practices of SAP.  I finished my PhD in Anthropology in 2004, and I wanted to bring that social sciences perspective together with my work in Business Operations.  I’ve written at some length about that elsewhere, but the short version of the story is that I hired my first User Experience resource (an Information Architect) in 2005.   At the time my team was based in Sales Operations, so we were focused on sales processes and tools, and in general on topics which drive the top line (especially software license revenue).  Over the years, I continued to grow the UX team, and the organization I worked in was restructured into a new central Business Operations function with a focus on driving margin improvements for the company.  So, with that re-org, our focus shifted from sales-related processes and tools to those that impact a large number of employees.

During the same period, SAP has continued to focus on bringing a Lean approach to our internal process improvements.  The User Experience team has been asked to support the collection of insights and recommendations to drive the optimization of those processes.  In the past few years I have written about those developments (here and here), so I won’t revisit that material again here.  In retrospect, those posts were very detailed and focused on what was happening with my team at the time.  In re-reading those posts, I realized that I could afford to be more simple and clear about the synergies between User Experience and Lean.

It’s pretty straightforward, actually.  Similar to Total Quality Management (TQM), Business Process Re-engineering (BPR), and Six Sigma, Lean is focused on streamlining of processes.  The outcome is reduction of waste in many forms – like waiting time, for example.  However, by focusing on the customer and their experience as a starting point, Lean in particular offers some very interesting synergies with User Experience, as evidenced by the 5 Principles of Lean Thinking, which are often depicted in a circle representing a continuous improvement cycle:

  • Specify what creates value from the customers perspective
  • Identify all steps across the whole value stream and eliminate waste
  • Make those actions that create value flow
  • Only make what is pulled by the customer just-in-time
  • Strive for perfection by continually removing successive layers of waste

So Lean focuses first on process improvements that touch the customer – consistent with a user-centered design approach!  One of the main pieces of advice for managers striving to implement Lean is to ‘walk the shop floor’.  However, in an organization the size of SAP (and with knowledge workers instead of employees in manufacturing), it is often difficult for managers to effectively shadow people in their organization.  We have been asked to help SAP by providing transparency for senior management into some key job functions through our User Experience ‘shadowing’ service.

So, we’re hiring!  When we’ve had growth spurts in the past, we’ve typically experienced that the demand for user research hits first, followed by the need for information architecture and design support.  This time is no exception.  We’re looking for user researchers with a strong history of working in a demanding and fast-paced business context.  Strong candidates will demonstrate experience in conducting qualitative and quantitative studies, and the ability to communicate to business stakeholders, technical resources, and other team members.  If you’re interested, you can learn more about the open positions through the anthrodesign or PhillyCHI communities, or by contacting me directly at my work email address – natalie dot hanson at sap dot com.  I hope to hear from you!

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