Paving the way for an agile customer-centric approach of working

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Paving the way for an agile customer-centric approach of working A collaboration between AkzoNobel and DesignThinkers Academy By Nina Maldonado and Tim Schuurman Intro


“AkzoNobel has always been a very product-driven company: quality and performance of our products have a high standard. However, based on customer’s trends and expectations we see a clear need to make a shift. We have to focus on understanding customers at the core; getting a deep understanding of their motivations and needs. We are making a clear transition in this, not only to maintain business for the long time, but also to develop new value propositions and business models that are highly relevant for our customers.”

AkzoNobel has been active in the paints and coatings market for more than two hundred years. They are regarded as the expert in the craft of making paints and coatings, setting the global standard in color and protection since 1792. AkzoNobel continues to deliver the utmost quality thanks to its expert touch and comprehensive color know-how.


Introducing a network for Creative Leadership To create awareness around Design Thinking, DesignThinkers Academy (DTA) introduced a network for Creative Leadership. Tim Schuurman, owner of DTA: “People in these types of organizations who want to get started with new ways of working often need guidance: what steps should I take and what problems can you encounter along the way if you want to bring the organization along? We discovered years ago that they do have a large network, but not for discussing these kinds of issues. We introduced Design Thinking within AkzoNobel as a movement to make the transition to customer-focused working. This took place in the form of Creative Leadership sessions with people from Nina’s innovation team as well as colleagues outside her team. In addition, we were in constant contact and exchanged knowledge and experiences. We have organized capability building training programs to guide employees on how to implement Design Thinking in projects. Finally, we also coached project teams, in which consultants from DTA participated as Service Designers.”

“I was part of the team that started the innovation transformation. At that time, we started looking at what companies were doing, also outside the financial industry. We saw that many successful companies were focusing strongly on the customer. And Design Thinking resulted as one of the core elements helping to drive innovations. That’s why we reached out to DesignThinkers Academy. We followed some basic courses on Design Thinking and I invited DTA to help us understand how to apply Design Thinking in practice.”When Nina joined AkzoNobel, she found a rather traditional, product-oriented organization with excellent quality standards but immediately noticed that some senior leaders were making a big shift in their way of thinking: “They employed people with a different way of thinking: more digital, a customer-centered attitude, a drive for innovation. So, I started to get together with these people. We asked ourselves: how can we help the organization?”

Design Thinking as the driving force for innovation Nina has been working at AkzoNobel since the end of 2017 where she is currently a Change Manager with a strong eye for innovation. Previously she was working for ING Bank, where she initially came into contact with DTA. “We have to focus on understanding customers at the core; really understanding their motivations and needs.” Nina Maldonado, AkzoNobel.

© 2020 Text and images DesignThinkers Academy


Design Thinking training

Agile capability program

Creative Leadership Network

Promising results She looks back with satisfaction on the results that have already been achieved in a short time: “I have been fortunate to work in the technology oriented part of the organization led by a CIO who was already very interested in the Design Thinking approach. My focus has always been: look for opportunities, find people within the organization who are open to new ways of working and connect to each other. Within the IT department, for instance, we have broken with the waterfall method as the standard process for carrying out projects. According to this method, you deliver something according to specifications after two years only to find out that no one wants to work with it. Many talks, presentations and workshops were needed to pave the way for an agile way of working. While doing so, you must constantly keep in mind for which person you build something and what problem you want to solve. And now people no longer want to work differently, because it simply works better. Meanwhile, more and more projects in other areas, such as marketing, sales, HR and corporate communication, are also tackled in this way. The variety is fantastic.” Another example: “The Brazilian branch of Akzo Nobel launched a platform that connects painters and consumers. Many assumptions were made in advance, but painters and consumers were never involved beforehand, and the platform was not tested either. As a result, there was very little use and traffic to this platform. The platform was promoted for consumers to find a painter who knows his job very well. However, after doing some user research we discovered that consumers are looking for a painter who they entrust their house keys to and who does the job on time and within the budget. We therefore developed a concept based on trust and started experimenting. And now we are starting to see the results.”

“Since last year, we have been flying far less around the world to meet face-to-face”, Nina adds. “Online video conferencing tools have proven to be excellent alternatives. I also experimented with an online workshop for 40 colleagues from very diverse locations. I received feedback like how I managed to make the workshop so interactive. Our online collaboration is really not yet perfect, but we are learning quickly. And I am happy to share knowledge.”

Balanced value exchange

Contact Information

In the current situation, DTA is still regarded as a partner for Nina and they can both challenge each other and share ideas for innovation. Luckily, this also works the other way around, says Tim: “I see our relationship as one in which we help each other through a balanced value exchange. In this time of social distancing, we learn very quickly how we can collaborate better online. Akzo Nobel already has a lot of experience with this. We like to learn from that.”

© 2020 Text and images DesignThinkers Academy

“I see our relationship as one in which we help each other through a balanced value exchange.” Tim Schuurman, DesignThinkers Academy Amsterdam.

And what about the customer? In 2025, the customer will be the starting point in various projects started by Akzo Nobel, whether this is for internal or external customers. “Understanding the customer will be leading for every product or service we develop. Everyone should be aware of this in five years’ time; that is my ambition.”

Take-aways 5 Key Take-aways

1 Understanding customers at the core in order to develop new value propositions that are highly relevant; 2 Make use of DTA Creative Leadership Network to seize new opportunities and ways of working; 3 Boost sustainable innovation using the

Design Thinking tools & methodology; 4 Leverage short-term results to contribute to a wider spread of Design Thinking in the organization; 5 Breaking traditional methods and boost new ways of working, combining Agile & Design Thinking.

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