Innovation Culture at Rolls-Royce Power Systems

Societal developments and the digital era require key players to constantly evolve and stay innovative. In 2017, Rolls-Royce’s business unit Power Systems began collaborating with SAP to introduce design thinking in the company.

The set goal: transforming the innovation culture at Rolls-Royce Power Systems. What began as a user experience (UX) topic in IT turned into an organization-wide mindset change.

Rolls-Royce Power Systems is all about movement. As a specialist for propulsion systems and distributed energy systems based on diesel and gas engines, it makes sure that whatever has to function, does. Under the MTU brand, the multinational manufacturing company offers solutions to large ships, heavy agricultural and rail vehicles and industrial applications – a sector that, while diverse and impactful, is currently undergoing many changes. Societal developments and digitization require key players to constantly evolve and stay innovative.

After making first contact with the SAP Design AppHaus team from Heidelberg at SAP Select, Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ IT department engaged in a project with SAP. They decided to enter a new digital path to master the challenges of the digital age while increasing the user experience of Rolls-Royce Power Systems’s IT solutions.

“I truly realized that we are on the right track and that it was worth investing in design thinking, when we were approached by other companies asking us about our approach. Suddenly, we are among the early adopters when it comes to digital transformation.”

– Daniel Eberle, head of Digital Design & Technology, RRPS

Better start now: the way of digital transformation is spreading out

A team of five members with focus on the initiative in full-time was established. The idea was to teach the group, led by Daniel Eberle, in the design thinking methodology and mindset first. Second, have them practice and strengthen their skills on various projects and exemplarily programs helping the company to explore new directions and experience the value of the new approach.

Fuel for Innovation: Living the Design Thinking Mindset and Methods 

Through different sessions and workshops in Singapore, Heidelberg, and Friedrichshafen, Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ innovation team learned about the three pillars of design-led innovation: people, process, and place.

Next to assigning a dedicated team to the topic, it is important to involve the right people in projects, making use of diverse skills and backgrounds. Furthermore, the project team members and coaches to-be were introduced to the design thinking process and agile methodologies, changing fundamental work habits. The iterative and validating working style meant that Rolls-Royce Power Systems’ own customers were closely integrated into the lighthouse projects. The team also worked on defining the kind of corporate culture they needed to best support this new approach as well as a physical place to foster creativity and making it visible. Rolls-Royce Power Systems then decided to set up a first creative space in Singapore.

“Very eye opening was that this new design thinking and design-led development approach was perceived differently. Especially for people with a traditional IT background, it was challenging to understand that new processes are not fully linear. They had to select and apply methods on a case by case decision to get the best result out of a planned workshop.”

– Tobias Gollwitzer, Customer Design Engagement lead, SAP

Process mapping during the scoping workshop in Singapore.

The first lighthouse project led by SAP coaches and the new Rolls-Royce Power Systems coaches shadowing them has been the development of a webshop for the company’s aftermarket sales that should run on SAP Customer Experience solutions. It was kicked off with a scoping workshop in Rolls-Royce Power Systems first creative space in Singapore, followed by research phases in Germany, the U.S., Turkey, and Hong Kong, in order to understand the needs of the different customers, regional and cultural differences, and requirements influencing the ordering process, as well as an understanding of the basic technical environment.

Scenes, the SAP storytelling tool, was also used during the workshop.

The responsible business department was overwhelmed by the outcome. Considering the complexity of the project, they hadn’t expected creative methods to lead to prototypes that fast and at such high quality. It also became apparent that a much bigger effort would be needed than originally planned to launch the webshop successfully.

Therefore, the company and SAP decided to take a step back and put the project on hold until further resources could be mobilized – a decision that is sometimes necessary to achieve the best long-term results.

“The partnership with SAP felt like a true partnership. Something that was absolutely unique for me was the fact that a company like SAP sets up an enablement program, meaning that it is not only interested in tying us to them with services and sales, but to actually teach us how to ‘walk’ on our own.”

– Daniel Eberle, head of Digital Design & Technology, RRPS

Picking up Speed with the New Digital Solutions Team

As the experience with the methodology and the positive customer reactions grew, so did the influence of the design thinking topic at Rolls-Royce Power Systems. In consequence of this, a Digital Solutions team was founded in business unit’s headquarters in Friedrichshafen with the goal to accelerate the digital transformation. It was decided to have the team around Daniel Eberle join the new sector that is led by Chief Digital Officer Jürgen Winterholler, and integrate the design thinking mindset and methodology into the work processes across company.

After a one-year timespan, the learnings and experiences were continued to be practiced in further lighthouse projects, igniting an interest in the topic that reached far beyond the original members. A true passion for design thinking and innovation topics has captured Power Systems’ Digital Solutions team, connecting the team behind a shared vision and mindset.

The topic of design thinking and agile development has become a constant factor in the DNA of the Digital Solutions Team, shaping the department’s very culture and approach towards daily tasks. Rolls-Royce Power Systems knows now that design thinking will only leverage its full potential if it’s supported with design doing, to ensure their ideas don’t atrophy with the creation of post it notes.

However, the journey has just started: As the pipeline massively increased, the team is looking to develop an integrated design system. They also invest in the company growth according to the current demand. Rolls-Royce’s business unit Power Systems and SAP just recently launched two projects with SAP Leonardo technologies to set a technical basis for their digital transformation and proof the implemented methodology to lead to faster and better products. One thing is sure: The team will continue working on the innovation topic together, both growing from the collaboration and continuous learning.

“The results of the design-led development approach of our lighthouse project shows that we are on the right track as Digital Solutions department implementing the right methodological skills to ensure that the solutions we drive forward, hit the need of the real users.”

– Felix Köhler, head of Digital Products, RRPS