21. 02. 2018

Coaching Innovation Teams in the Chemical Industry

Flexibility and good user research can turn a problem into sustainable innovation. Innovation means using existing tools and methods and recombining them, because we do not have to reinvent everything to produce added value. Years of experience in dealing with innovation teams, tools, and methods makes D-LABS the perfect partner for the task.

Large corporations with international sites and complex product range have to continuously reorganize and scrutinize their structures and workflow, calling for a permanent need to innovate.

A new method to generate innovative concepts is the formation of swarm teams. These are characterized by high levels of an interdisciplinary and international nature. The objective is to develop innovative solutions by using Design Thinking.

For such an innovation initiative in Berlin, we have been hired as an external consultant and coach.

Within a two-month period we had to comply with a predefined sequence of activities given to us by the group. Based on one another, the modules were composed as follows: team building, user research, needs analysis, brainstorming, concept development, technical proof of concept and validation.

In theory, these successive phases are consistent – but in practice the overall picture usually appears quite different. This is where our coach’s experience pays off, as they can continuously readjust the project execution and appropriately react to unforeseen events.

Even the most advanced planning can fail if the innovation concept doesn’t take the user’s needs into account. Here, experienced user researchers can eliminate errors and faulty judgment at an early stage.

We provide on-site support for the innovation team in user research, requirements analysis, prototyping, concept validation and presentation format. Our coaches open up new horizons for the innovation team and provide assistance in new ways of thinking and methods.

The team’s task concerned the knowledge management within the group. The following questions were to be answered in particular: How can learnings from previous projects be integrated into new projects, and especially be made available to newly chosen project managers? How can failures – that are only reluctantly communicated and committed to paper – be shared without negative repercussions?

The particular challenge was to identify the problems in detail and develop quickly integrable new solutions that generate real added value. In many groups knowledge management is a chronic issue previously already dealt with and that the group repeatedly addressed as well. That’s why the innovation team had to stand out.

The principle was to find a truly valid solution for a small group of users. Soon, a group-wide universal solution became obvious, but would have been difficult to justify and realize. This clear objective the team focused on specifically.

By means of in-house interviews the target group was clearly defined. The team identified the user needs and developed appropriate solutions for them. These were quickly validated with the future user group. The team was not used to dismissing inappropriate solutions and further iterating. This process in particular has been intensively looked after by our coaches. Each iteration round increasingly gave the team the opportunity to precisely pinpoint the target group’s real needs.


In order to optimize the final solution and for its C-level presentation, the “SAP Scenes” prototyping method was used – just like it was proposed by our wireframe experts. Using the kit made it possible to present this complex issue in a fast and easy way. The kit contains drawn figures, which can be used as personas, local scenarios (e.g., an office or a cafeteria) and many useful components like balloons and objects to create a vivid story.

Thus, scene after scene could be developed – printed, cut out and labeled – until finally a complete movie with narrative sound track evolved. By precisely running through the scenario from the beginning to the end, the team could quickly identify and repair existing gaps in the concept. In support, our designers implemented a wireframe for a landing page that was integrated into the story.

The core issue of the developed approach was the communication between colleagues and experts. The final result should not only be a wiki site or a database, but a model that emphasizes direct communication. A suitable expert with specialized knowledge or required skills and experience should be found for each problem via digital profiles and an algorithmic tagging system.

After completion of the innovation phase the solution concept was presented at the group’s C-level and received very positive feedback.

In general, the project has highlighted the importance of properly structuring and leading innovation. Especially investment in good user research as well as the flexibility to continuously adjust the succession of activities finally paid off.

Alexander Renneberg (Software Engineer) / Marvin Groh (Psychologist) / Sebastian Müller (User Experience Designer)

by Johanna Wenta


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