The Need to Innovate
Topics of disruptive innovation have already become central under former DB CEO Rüdiger Grube. Bürgler sees the necessity to change DB Operations: “We have to digitalise, like everyone else”, Bürgler says and continues: “We don’t work user-centred enough.” As an infrastructure provider for train stations, Deutsche Bahn has a monopoly position in Germany. This can make it difficult to underline the importance of focusing on users. “I see a lot of potential to improve – both in quality and cost efficiency.”
Humans will always play a big role in Deutsche Bahn’s travel chain, though: “We are the first smile of Deutsche Bahn. With 70 percent of tickets being bought online, the service employee at the train station is most probably the first human contact for the customer.” Here, they can make a good first impression and help customers. “That is irreplaceable.”
The Design Thinking Sprint
After his introductory course, it was a clear-cut case for Bürgler: He was buzzing about design thinking. ”The key question was: How can I manage to transfer this fire to my employees? I had to reach the hearts and minds of my staff.“ He tried to explain design thinking to colleagues, on a Saturday, in four hours, showing some charts – “and that did not work out. You’ll get an overview of the method, but you won’t ‘inhale’ it.” Nonetheless, his management was ready and open to explore new ways of working. To acquaint them with the method and the mindset, Bürgler invited the team to a two-day design thinking workshop at the HPI Academy. The next step: introducing 200 employees of DB Operations to design thinking at a general meeting. Every year, the general meeting sported a similar agenda: “The board talks – Bürgler talks – panel discussion – standard workshops”, Bürgler says jokingly. “We wanted to change that.” The motto of the sprint: “Lasst uns etwas Neues probieren – let’s try something new.” HPI Academy Project Manager Flavia Bleuel took on the mission. This meant two experiments at once, according to Bleuel. Experiment number one: “We brought 200 people into contact with design thinking – with the help of seven HPI Academy Lead Coaches and enlisted DB assistant coaches, who we trained one day before the event. Experiment number two: to dive into six different challenges with 33 teams and 30 coaches.”
To prepare the event, the project manager had to consider teams, coaches, space and challenges.
The difficult part of going through a design thinking project starts with phrasing the challenge, or problem. “We held a phone conference with the divisional directors to find the challenges which could best be addressed by design thinking. For the executives, it was interesting to figure out how to phrase these challenges in an open and un-biased way. For example: The question ‘How can we create new KPIs for the area XYZ?’ is not appropriate for a DT sprint. It limits the solution space, is not user-focused, and leaves no space for questioning whether the resulting KPI is the right solution. There is no problem in there”, Bleuel explains.
The organisers phrased six challenges in total, three of which focused on troublesome experiences of travellers. In order to show the participants that design thinking can likewise be helpful to finding solutions for their internal challenges, we also focused on ”internal users“, DB operations co-workers in all areas. All 200 participants were divided into the six topical areas in teams of five or six.