29. March 2019

Digital first! Is now the right time?


Making a success of digitalisation initiatives by involving the individual in the process. Energy supplier ewz transfers responsibility for finding solutions to customers’ changing needs to its teams.

Many digitalisation projects fail because they overlook the most important element: the individual. It is not just a matter of designing digital processes so that they provide excellent usability for the user. This is certainly an important aspect, but one that is only achievable if the right conditions are embedded into an overall framework. The key elements are frequently overlooked: What happens before and after the process is implemented, and what is the customer’s current context?

An optimal solution can only be achieved when consideration is given to the needs of the individual as a whole and, with it, to the entire customer journey.


Three conditions that must be met

When people are developing new digital processes, they need a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve. Developing a rigid set of in-house specifications is no longer enough. Instead, the purpose must be at the very forefront of developers’ minds: Why do we need this process? If this question is not answered at the very start, any subsequent outcome will be second-rate.

After the vision comes trust. Putting individuals in a position to develop independent solutions – this must become the norm now. Outstanding results can be achieved when interdisciplinary teams are given the power to determine the “how” of a solution themselves. Self-organisation is the key, but it is also the biggest challenge. The framework that teams operate within needs to be developed clearly and, ideally, collaboratively.

Finally, courage is crucial. Change can only occur if individuals are allowed to take risks and make mistakes. However, many organisations only pay lip service to this idea and do not apply it in practice. It is vital that people learn from mistakes quickly and effectively. A culture of discussion must allow potential solutions to be discussed rather than focusing purely on the mistakes. Once this is in place, individuals are able to design their own environment.


The practical implementation at ewz

This framework was developed and implemented at ewz at the start of 2017 and has been adapted on an ongoing basis since then. We have reached the following four key findings over recent months.


  1. Planning is not a management issue and has to be carried out by everyone involved in the business. Within our Lean/ Agile approach, we work in three-month cycles and plan everything jointly with all teams at a one-day session. This ensures that the next steps are transparent to everyone and creates understanding and trust among all those involved.
    The “what” is predefined, but the “how” is determined by the teams themselves.
    The plan was to have spaghetti bolognese for lunch. The team decides how to cook the sauce and prepare the dish. In an instant, team members become chefs, when previously they weren’t even trusted to chop the onions.
  2. We practise the “meet to work” approach with a passion. The entire team works together in one place for one-and-ahalf days per week. We don’t meet to have meetings without results; instead, we have an unwavering focus on generating value for our customers. Having a dedicated time frame for this is vital, because everyone knows that it will be the only topic during that time. We therefore meet to work – not to have a meeting.
    The dish is cooked in a kitchen in one place during a defined time frame. A Michelin chef doesn’t constantly change his kitchen; instead, he has a place for everything.
  3. Previously, we would spend time writing long concept documents and would come out with suboptimal solutions that had no real connection to customer needs. We don’t do this anymore. Our motto is now “try, fail, and learn”. Customers are involved at every step in developing the solution. This means we know early on if we are on the wrong track and allows us to change direction if necessary.
    We don’t tell our customers how the bolognese is going to taste; instead, they regularly sample it themselves and create the perfect sauce together with us.
  4. To foster the courage to change within the team, we hold four-weekly retrospectives. What do we need to stop, what do we need to start? What do we need more of, what do we need less of? And what needs to remain exactly as it is? The teams come up with three proposals including responsibilities and deadlines.
    After we’ve eaten the spaghetti, we discuss what we ought to change next time we’re preparing it to make the end result even better.


The customer is the focus

When designing our vision “You’re in the right place and I’m here to help”, we made a conscious decision to make the individual (customers and ewz employees) our central focus. This is a key factor in successfully meeting our challenge.


Why are digital processes designed?

“When you digitise a shitty process, you have a shitty digital process.” This quote by Thorsten Dirks sums up the very essence of what not to do. The customer is at the heart of what we do, and the people developing the solutions can be sure that the processes they design aren’t destined for the bin.

Processes have been digitalised and geared to meet customer needs (“You’re in the right place …”), and a single-point-of-contact service organisation established (“… and I’m here to help”), and the lead time on internal projects cut to three months. With this framework, our Agile mindset, and the people involved, we are ready to meet all future customer needs.

André Rohrbach
André Rohrbach

André Rohrbach puts the individual firmly at the heart of what he does. For his master’s thesis, he is researching effective ways of closing the loop between customer feedback and tangible improvements.