One Project Changes the Organization:
The Case of Derdack

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Derdack was looking for ways to address their users’ needs in a more structured and systemic way. They had no idea that starting their first design thinking project would not only change their customer's “wake up experience” but also their corporate culture as a whole.

Matthes Derdack had a clear goal in mind when he introduced design thinking into his company. He wanted to redesign a specific feature (the planning of on-call duty) of his company’s overall software product. The project started well. The management was convinced of the method, which also seemed a good match with the mindset and the already existing manner of operation at Derdack. In addition, management received support from an external coach and had a clear vision of the project’s objectives.

It was wise to not start with an oversized problem. This way Derdack were successful and design thinking had a way bigger effect. And of course the success made it easier to pursue implementing design thinking deeper into everyday life.

Madel, Derdack’s first Design Thinking Coach


Obstacles and Challenges: The First Design Thinking Project

The team picked up design thinking enthusiastically when they saw how quickly it led to rich and helpful user insights. Despite these successes, the project turned out to be far more demanding than previously imagined. Design thinking was often perceived as something on top of the normal daily work. Being forced to work in a new way in non-hierarchical and heterogeneous teams sometimes caused additional discomfort.

Derdack also experienced a wide gap between the idea as a raw invention and the product as an implemented innovation. The gap was even harder to overcome because it coincided with the end of the phase when the external coach was present at the company: after three month the team had to work on the project without the facilitation of a coach. Additionally, the project did not take the estimated 3 months to implement, but rather nearly 9 months were required until the product was on the market.


Learning and Expanding: Implementing Design Thinking 

Overcoming the obstacles created by this gap made it clear how serious Derdack was about design thinking. Market feedback justified the company’s faith in the method – as Matthes Derdack, CEO of Derdack describes:
Last year was a great year for us. I don´t know if that was because of design thinking, but I’m sure the method had a definite effect on the results. If this year is as good again, I give a large amount of the credit to design thinking.”

As long as the impact of design thinking could not be measured with their usual KPIs (turnover, net operating margin, customer acquisition, …), management used feedback from their customers as a yardstick of performance. The overall positive feedback from the beginning, helped management to stick to design thinking: Customers love to participate. Their feedback to design thinking is extremely positive,” says Matthes Derdack.
For Derdack, the key to scale design thinking from an idea generator to a driving force of organizational change was to customize design thinking to the specific requirements of the company and adapt goals and resources appropriate to the given scope of application. Mixing more experienced design thinkers with newbies in design thinking projects helped to spread the method throughout the organization after the first project.


Walk the Talk: How to Change an Organization with Design Thinking

With design thinking everything in the company got much more colorful and less structured. I have no chance to say: ‘We will have that done until…’ – because everything is highly dynamic and changing. I’m getting used to the fact that there is no project control like before. It is no more about projects, budgets, time, costs […] It’s about working as long as it takes to get a great solution which the customer loves. That was not easy to adapt to.

Matthes Derdack, CEO of Derdack


The first project at Derdack reflected a spirit of freedom and experimentation, but also generated a lot of friction due to the unclear structure and organization of the project. From that experience the company changed how design thinking is managed today. Reflecting this process are the four most important pieces of advice on how to implement organizational change based on design thinking:


1. Hire specialists.
When the coach left after three months the team had problems to organize itself. Derdack therefore hired a design thinking specialist to facilitate design thinking in the company. The areas of focus were: planning and organizing work-sessions, setting up customer interviews and co-working sessions and, most importantly, keeping track of parallel projects and pushing the teams to work on them.


2. Create a space.
Derdack redesigned the office space collaboratively. Having a special design thinking room proved to be very beneficial. The room was established at the beginning of the first project and exists until today. The specific space and environment there helps to work with the method by putting it into a physical and mental setting.


3. Adapt design thinking to your needs.
One important change in using design thinking on a regular basis was to break down the design thinking sessions from whole days once a week into one or two sessions from 2 to 4 hours per week. These sessions could be integrated more easily into everyday work and felt more ‘natural’ to the participants. In this way the design thinking sessions became part of bigger projects and today can be planned just one or two weeks in advance. Changing the timeslots for design thinking every week is useful to fill gaps in the calendars – as long as enough time is available for the entire session.


4. Keep the team united.
When starting new projects, Derdack carefully pays attention to make sure that every team member can contribute to the team during the complete project. Keeping the team united is essential even if this means suspending the project while someone is on vacation or only working in the mornings to fit another member’s schedule who works part-time for family reasons.


Discovering Insights with Design Thinking

CEO Matthes Derdack told us some examples of how design thinking helped the team to discover latent and hidden needs. For example: The general topic of the project – managing and reaching people on on-call duty at work and at home – was there for decades. But when working on it with design thinking and taking into account the user’s perception, the team discovered completely new facets of how their software affected the user: it makes a huge difference how you wake someone on on-call-duty in the middle of the night who has a family in difference to someone living alone. Experiences like that helped employees to see the benefits of using the method.

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Timon Schinke

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