Does Design Thinking Improve SAP’s Implementation Speed?

Executive Summary

  • Design thinking has been proposed, but there is no evidence that it does so.
  • Design thinking appears to be another in a long list of ideas to reduce the predicted implementation duration.

Introduction to Design Thinking

SAP introduced a new approach to software implementation that can speed the implementation of SAP systems. SAP calls this design thinking, and in this article, we will review this concept.

Lack of Financial Bias Notice: We have no financial ties to SAP or any other entity mentioned in this article.

  • This is published by a research entity.
  • Second, no one paid for this article to be written, and it is not pretending to inform you while being rigged to sell you software or consulting services. Unlike nearly every other article you will find from Google on this topic, it has had no input from any company's marketing or sales department. 

Design Thinking Explained

In SAP’s publication Digitalist, they explain Design Thinking and system implementation in the following way.

“Not long ago when customers bought an SAP software product they had to wait months, even years before they could use it at their company. That’s changed with the advent of design thinking at SAP. This approach speeds up the development of technology solutions designed to delight users. At its core is the “developer 2.0” who bears little resemblance to familiar stereotypes. Design thinking developers want to know as much as they can about user needs and desires. These developers iterate quickly, in a matter of hours if necessary, and always as part of a new kind of team where the end user rules.”

So there is a problem with this quotation. First, Design Thinking was adopted by SAP, but it was not invented by SAP, which is what this quotation makes it appear to be. SAP is using the term “advent,” which means “the arrival of.” So the sentence is technically accurate, but many readers will take away that SAP invented Design Thinking without looking up the word. There are many more direct ways of explaining that SAP has adopted design thinking.

Where Did Design Thinking Originate?

As anyone can read on the Wikipedia page for Design Thinking, the concept officially goes back to the 1980s. However, the idea is fungible enough so that it probably goes back much further than that.

Secondly, while the article makes it appear that SAP software implementation is sped explicitly through design thinking, it turns out that the article moves to other specific things that speed the implementation of the software.

“The Deployment Cockpit is one example of design thinking in action. Currently in pilot phase, this collaborative tool gives customers who have purchased an SAP Rapid Deployment Solution (RDS) instant access to everything they need for timely implementation. It’s an online portal that contains not only documents like a step-by-step implementation guide, but equally important, real-time access to every SAP consulting team member. There’s no searching or guesswork. Customers know who to contact at every stage of the process because they can see who’s working on which task and the status. With teams often scattered across multiple countries in various locations, instant access is crucial to on-time deployment.”

So now we have two items, the Deployment Cockpit and the Rapid Deployment Solution (RDS). Are these subcomponents to design thinking? As for the RDSs, we have analyzed RDSs and even evaluated many specific RDSs. And have concluded that RDSs not only do not speed SAP implementations, but most SAP consultants also will not have any use for them, as we cover in the article How to Best Understand the Faux RDS.

Design Thinking or Agile?

As the article continues, it now migrates over to a new topic and calls that topic design thinking.

“Given the new approach, Nabi Zamani, a developer on the team, wasn’t certain they would meet the project deadline. However, prototyping based on continuous user feedback actually sped up the process. Traditional development typically separates the product definition and development phases. But with design thinking, the entire team works together from defining the product through implementation.”

People may find this to be eerily similar to another well-known implementation methodology, which is called Agile.

So is design thinking part of Agile?

Design Thinking or Requirements Gathering?

“The design evolved as they collected feedback from over a dozen people globally who would be using the tool. These conversations revealed findings sometimes at odds with initial design directives from the internal management team at SAP.”

Once again, if that sounds eerily familiar, it is because it defines requirements gathering.

It appears that SAP is new to getting feedback before development or implementation, which is strange.

Overall, it is becoming increasingly challenging to determine where design thinking comes into play, as every example provided by SAP related to design thinking turns out to be something else.

This History of SAP’s Approaches to Speeding SAP’s Implementation

The following are previous tools or techniques that SAP said would speed SAP implementations.

So the question might be, if all of these methods have already been successful in speeding SAP implementation, why is there the necessity for the introduction of another SAP implementation accelerator?


SAP’s design thinking as it relates to SAP implementation is not anything. It is merely another in a long line of items that SAP has introduced intended to make it appear as if SAP applications can be implemented faster than they can be. When an item is introduced as doing something, and then as soon as a specific example is required, that item points to something else, which means that the original item is not anything.

Secondly, SAP implementations do not encourage creativity. SAP implementations are performed by SAP or consulting partners, and they seek rigid adherence to SAP messaging. That is, the implementers are to be passive recipients of SAP’s messaging.

The following quotation explains how SAP is inconsistent with design thinking from Wikipedia on design thinking.

“While feedback in the scientific method is mostly obtained by collecting observational evidence with respect to observable/measurable facts, design thinking feedback also considers the consumer’s emotional state regarding the problem, as well as their stated and latent needs, in discovering and developing solutions.”

This is a method for coming to new and creative solutions based on multidimensional inputs. This is not useful for implementing a rigid packaged application like SAP because you are not building anything new (except for customizations). You are implementing a predesigned application and fitting it to requirements as much as possible.

Design thinking comes into play when there is a great deal of originality required, and this means it is the opposite of an SAP implementation, which is more like assembly line affairs. The largest SAP consulting companies are rigid hierarchies, where creative people do not last long. What is amusing about this is that SAP has adopted this philosophy without understanding that design thinking is the exact opposite of SAP’s controlled and mechanistic culture.

Design thinking for speeding SAP projects receives a score of 1 out of 10 for accuracy.