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Roche experiments with start-up approach

Jan Schreiber has been with Roche since 2005 and is currently the Head of Communications, Digital & Marketing Services at Roche Diagnostics Deutschland in Mannheim.

Digitization offers many opportunities for us - says Jan Schreiber.

The prerequisite is that employees are taken along and familiarized with new working methods and technologies. This is why the Digital Acceleration Program was launched in 2017.

What is behind the Digital Acceleration Program (DAP)?

Digital change is much more than the use of IT tools or the removal of fax machines. Rather, it describes the ability of a company to adapt to the ever faster development of technologies and the resulting expectations of its customers. We experience this in everyday life: We read newspapers on our tablets, order online and control our homes with our mobile phones. Against this background, the German Diagnostics Sales and Marketing Organization launched the Digital Acceleration Program (DAP) in February 2017. The aim was to enable employees to try out agile working methods in a protected area and to develop digital solutions for our customers.

Within six months, great prototypes were developed. The basis was provided by all employees of the German Marketing and Sales Organization, who noted on more than 3,000 post-its where the shoe pinches at Roche and from the customer's viewpoint. From these, the nine ideas were filtered out, which promised a particularly strong improvement for the customer. In several workshops, concrete prototypes, so-called minimum viable products (MVP), were developed, whereby great importance was attached to the early involvement of the future user. While these prototypes were often not yet beautiful to look at and far from mature, the early feedback enabled us to quickly learn what the customer really needs and what is simply a nice-to-have feature.

Who was allowed to participate in the Digital Acceleration Program?

All employees were able to volunteer and contribute to the ideas. Almost 100 colleagues from a wide variety of fields registered for the workshops. Everyone had something to come up with and could contribute a different view to the challenges. Agile working methods such as design thinking, as often used by start-ups, are not yet widespread in sales. At the beginning it was a big challenge to think about first trying something and not to go out to the customer with a perfect solution, but to get feedback at an early stage. After we got into it, we drove it very successfully.

We have also actively sought the exchange with digital health start-ups to learn from each other. All in all, there was an unbelievable dynamic, and I found it particularly remarkable that the already great openness in our organization has once again reached a new level: It was the best idea that was decisive - not the title on the business card.

Digitization in healthcare - that's far more than googling symptoms

What can Roche take away from the start-up approach for its corporate culture?

One challenge with the design sprints was to eliminate the often prevailing problem-oriented "No, but..." thinking, instead to say "Yes, and..." and to develop courageous ideas. This also means that not every idea can be pursued and you have to let go of certain heartfelt projects according to the motto "Kill your Darling". The main difference, however, is that many start-ups do not see ideas that have not been successfully tested as an opportunity to learn, instead of as a risk to be avoided out of concern that they could fail. These principles can be applied not only in design sprints, but could also find their way into day-to-day work at Roche.

What strengths does Roche have to accompany its customers on their way to digitization?

At Roche we have been driving personalized healthcare forward for years and benefit from our long tradition of combining pharmaceuticals and diagnostics under one roof as well as direct contact with customers. We are now adding new skills such as the analysis of large amounts of data or the development of data-based support tools for physicians ("decision support"). I think that we will, therefore, be a strong partner in digital change.

In a fast-moving digital world, we need to become more agile, forge partnerships and continually bring talent to our organization. I am convinced that the DAP was a good start on the way there. We are currently working on further developing the three best ideas from the project.

How do you stay in shape for the digital change?

I seek exchange with as many people as possible, whether at Roche or in other companies and as a mentor for start-ups. I also enjoy listening to podcasts, e.g. on the way to work, and regularly try out new working methods myself. Some things work well and become an integral part of my work, some do not.

I can only recommend to everyone to experiment, to take certain risks - especially in the corporate environment - because often the limits in our heads are much greater than in reality.

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Tags: Career Blog, Germany