Thinking and Developing Digital Products with Digital Product School

IT innovation today is bloated with many buzzwords; every team mentions about processes like ‘agile’, ‘scrum’,kanban’ — while they maybe talked very frequently about, they are rarely followed in spirit. Every manager talks about fanfare technologies like ‘artificial intelligence’, ’blockchain’ etc. all nice and fancy, good to have, but they are rarely done right, at times a misfit and even unrealistic. Then product owners and user experience ‘experts’ talk about ‘design thinking’, ‘putting users first’; but these concepts are rarely followed through and done right.

Following all these practices requires a team that is willing, a team that is nimble and most of all, an environment that is conducive to their adoption and implementation. These traits are difficult to come by in a conventional old, large enterprise environment, where engineers and managers are working in typical fashion day in day out, for many years, churning out products that meet their clients’ todays’ needs.

I am currently working as an AI engineer, in a program called ‘Digital Product School’ (DPS) by UnternehmerTUM– it’s a program that overcomes many such problems in a traditional corporate environment. Hosted at IBM Watson IoT at Highlights towers in Munich, the program offers a unique opportunity to students and recent graduates from all over the world work with project managers from leading German corporations.

IBM Watson IoT @ Munich

The first batch comprises of 7 team, 5 corporates and 2 wild teams. Each team comprises of roles involving a software engineer, an artificial intelligence engineer, an interaction designer and a manager. Product managers are employees of at least one of the sponsors in corporate teams. Wild teams have relatively experienced graduates as product managers. All teams are working to solve real world problems.

Digital Product School and sponsors -Batch 1

DPS aims to educate the next generation of digital product makers, and thinkers; with focus on users. DPS provides an environment that is propitious to innovation, while focusing on user journey and experience. Corporates only give a theme to teams, the teams are free to decide problem space definition and then solution definition in the said theme.

The program started with many trainings, workshops and talks, followed by practice, where participants ideated on their own themes. Problem space discovery involved interviewing people who face problems in the defined space. Ideation phase used many methods like ‘crazy 8’, ‘what would person X do?’. With millennial participants in the program, all teams had innumerous interesting ideas, that can actually solve real world problems. This showed the potential of such a program to the corporates where employees are working in restrained environment for many years.

Hypothetical idea generation is one thing, having validated ideas is another, thus generated ideas were ranked and most voted ones are validated with potential users, and then building and validating UI/UX not only with with experienced UX designers from experienced consultants and enterprises but also with potential users — who matter the most.

DPS is a school where all participants learn with theory and then practically by implementing their projects. The core team at DPS comprises of product manager, software engineer, interaction designer and artificial intelligence experts that help all participants accomplish their personal and team OKRs (Objective and Key Results) while also arranging workshops and talks. Be it an expensive Deep Learning workshop with Nvidia or bringing Donna Lichaw to our office. If you need an alternative to java, trainings on scala from experienced professionals from Gutefrage are available. Need a workshop on Docker? Docker captains from bee42 are available for a two-day workshop. Need training on machine learning? IBM head of data science is available for a training. Can’t distinguish a lambda architecture from a kappa one? Another workshop is arranged. If you ever feel overloaded with technical jargons and hokums from the industry? Talks from actual professors and researchers from the Technical University of Munich and other leading international universities are arranged. Want to learn more about design and user experience? DieProduktMacher and DesignIt have workshops planned. All in all, DPS provides a great learning experiences and opportunities.

DPS is also about working together, here an engineer from BMW can be seen working with a product manager from Audi. At DPS, Daimler and BMW are working on a project to combat the fine dust problem. Also, one will find SAP working in IBM offices, on mobility based solutions.

DPS is also an opportunity for students, market entrants and recent graduates to build professional networks. Employees from leading corporations participate in the program; providing opportunities to students to learn from them. Participants have access to middle and senior-tier management from these corporations and even visit their office and teams. For example, me and my colleagues are developing a solution for automotive insurance with SAP. As a member of this team we have met executives, experienced managers, product owners and experts from SAP on various occasions. Our team even got a chance to showcase our prototype to high-ups at SAP headquarters in Walldorf and to many SAP employees at SAP-Hybris in Munich.

SAP Walldorf campus

Digital Product School is not a collection of trainings around buzzwords in the tech area, it is not a corporate consulting company, but a school where participants learn through formal and informal methods and then practice in international, interdisciplinary teams that push artifacts by following agile methods. There’s even a startup formed from a wild team for example, which is using artificial intelligence based solution to reduce truck fleets’ unexpected downtime, attracting the interest of many OEMs and potential accelerators and investors. Experienced agile coaches are available to assist all teams. All phases are time boxed and require teams to focus on users. The mantra at DPS is ‘Focus on users all else will follow’. Currently all seven teams at DPS are pushing their artifacts for demonstration on the 21st of July, the first batch at DPS comes to an end on July, 28th.

-Thanks, Bianca Zanardi for proof reading and edit suggestions