Photo of a whiteboard with sticky notes © Lorenz Hutterer
07 October 2020
Family Businesses & SMEs

In part 1, we've shed a light on why new approaches to innovation are important for SMEs and which operating principles of "Lean Start-ups" have proven to be beneficial in the Digital Business Lab by UnternehmerTUM. Part 2 dives into the work environment: Under which circumstances can products that are loved by users come to life? How do we bring about the necessary mindset change? Lorenz Hutterer, Product Lead at the DBL, has the answers.

The Team

"Only a well-functioning team can deliver an excellent product", says Lorenz Hutterer. The Digital Business Lab, therefore, optimizes team development. Communicating well, having fruitful discussions, trusting one another, and developing further in retrospective sessions - all this is part of the process.

We put to practice the Lean Start-up culture with the following guidelines:

  1. Ideally, people from different disciplines work together in a small group, e.g. a product manager, a programmer, a designer, and an artificial intelligence engineer. With all skills on board, the team can quickly try out new things.
  2. Intercultural and diverse teams are a plus! When different perspectives come together, the exchange is usually more creative and it's more likely that they discover new solutions.
  3. The team makes decisions autonomously and drives product or service development on its own behalf. Freedom to experiment creates responsibility and motivation. In just a short time, it's possible to determine whether it makes sense to invest additional resources in the solution or to take a different approach.

In the Digital Business Lab, we see: not only start-ups benefit from this constellation. Established organizations are able to turn their innovation work around in a more agile direction.

Agile work and efficient product development would still only be buzzwords without the Digital Business Lab [...]. If we are committed to competing in digital business at BMW, all employees and executives should make this experience.

Andreas Grünig, BMW Group - Development of Complete Vehicle

The Methods

To accomplish this, we apply suitable methods at the Digital Business Lab from day one on. These have been tried and tested in software development and proven to be effective in especially American technology companies. Among other methods, we work with:

  • Design Thinking - putting product users in our focus
  • problem discovery and problem interviews - understand barriers and needs
  • the "Double Diamond" approach - defining the dimensions of problems and ideas, scouting solutions
  • paper prototype and click dummy: validating solutions with simple means

The lab coaches start off the workshops with these methods and provide guidance in innovative development. In the areas of software engineering, artificial intelligence, interaction design, and more, there's topical input from experts.

Reading the examples, you can already tell that in the Lab, we work hands-on, starting with our first encounters. The Digital Business Lab is no consultancy. Instead of a bird's eye perspective on the market and concepts that will be executed in a corporate hierarchy, it immediately creates a learning curve through agile approaches and delivers a validated prototype ready for the market.

The Framework

Diverse team: check. Agile methods: check. What about the location? In the open office floors of the Lab, you'll find everything you need to work in a concentrated and, at the same time, collaborative way. The right setting also means to create a secure environment for experiments.

Just by changing their location, most of the participants are very open right away. There is some uncertainty in the beginning, of course. But quickly, they realize that the coaches know what they're doing - which helps to step out of internalized patterns and try out new things.

Lorenz Hutterer

Experimenting in the Lab, Executing in the Office

Part of the usual feedback of participants is the "wow" effect: "After leaping into the unknown, most are surprised about how refined the product idea is after this short amount of time and how tangible it already feels as a prototype", says Lorenz Hutterer.

Of course, the challenge of embarking on something new has to be taken on. However, one to two employees of an SME should ideally participate in a team at the DBL, e.g. a product manager and a software engineer.

When working with external experts [...] it's important to ensure that employees of an SME are directly involved in the digitalization process so that new knowledge can be used in the company long-term.

Institute for SME Research Bonn

After three months, the participants take their learnings back to their company and multiply the effect there. Sharing practices at eye level, getting their own colleagues on board, and continuing to use agile approaches is an ideal result after the DBL. Ultimately, the entire company should benefit from the experience - on both a business and a human level.

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