14.4.2022

DSB Digital Lab and the journey towards ambitious innovation

First, welcome to our little spot of the Internet, and thanks for your interest in us. Whether you are just accidentally dropping by, researching on innovation, or scouting us for a possible collaboration I would like to take 5 minutes of your time to tell a bit about how we work. I promise you that you will at least leave inspired – OK? Let’s go then.
DSB Digital Lab and the journey towards ambitious innovation
Jacob Saugman
Skrevet af Jacob Saugman

Building innovation on close to 140 years of knowledge

Back in 2016, the board of directors got together with forward-looking individuals from DSB to experiment on how to leverage innovation in DSB. Not necessarily an easy task in an old institution like the Danish National railways, but with a mindset of testing hypotheses, they sat out to test three different directions of how a unit focusing on innovation could look like.

A future version, a tech version, and a collaborative version. And as it sometimes happens, when great minds go together, we started with a comprised version – a bit of everything, but most importantly we took action and chose to work with innovation.

Starting small, but with big ambitions

From the start, we engaged with business owners and helped them formulate a problem statement, and then we owned the solution space. We even had the right of pointing to adjacent problem spaces if we could see that it would create a greater impact. From there we formulated our way of working by cherry-picking the best learnings from areas such as design thinking, lean startup, and agile. Two of the most important things we formulated back then were: Start small and always engage real customers.

We started by working in two directions. Internal optimization and customer innovation. During the next couple of years, we created machine learning algorithms helping to sell Orange tickets, smart advice systems, tested bonus programs, explored the future of traffic information, and much more. We also learned a lot and one important learning was, that innovation that does not find its proper place in the world, will never make a real impact.

From incremental towards product and service innovation

So, we sat out to find out how we could leverage the height and impact of innovation and found out that in order to do that we needed to take on greater responsibility, develop an ability and vision to take the right possibilities further, and start to create a higher focus for ourselves.

The innovation playing field

In order to leverage the innovation, we decided that focus was one of the most crucial things we could do. Therefore, we formulated our vision to be:

We unleash DSB’s innovative potential through digital products and services leading us towards a sustainable future.

Together with this we also started being more structured and more concise in what we wanted to achieve and selected Objectives Key Results to help us do that, while we continuously set learning goals as individuals and on an ongoing basis measure the well-being of the Lab.

With these structures in place, we created amazing innovations. It would be nice if it was that simple, right. But of course, it is a constant learning path that we take together as a team and adjust along the way. Most importantly we set outcomes together and test how we can achieve them in different ways as we are continuously building on how we can reach radical innovation.

Some tangible evidence that we are actually getting things out in the world can be found from Kørmit and Plads På Rejsen

Apply learnings to your own organization today

This is all good, but what could you take away from all the time we have spent down the rabbit hole of innovation?

Five key takeaways you could consider:

Focus
The broader the scope, the wider the focus. We have been running innovation education, hackathons, while delivering on innovation products, and while they taught us a lot, a sharper focus has helped us take our outcomes to new heights. An added bonus is that it is so much easier to tell everyone what we actually do.

Transparency
Talking about telling everyone about what we do… Use every occasion to get out and about to tell what and how you are doing it. Your learnings are gold in the hands of other people trying to solve complex problems and if you keep your story straight it will be an easy way of getting support.

Responsibility
Take it. As short as that. Balance your scope and take the responsibility that comes with it. No matter what, you should always pursue getting your innovation activated – even if it surpasses your scope 😊

Curiousness
Keep asking, keep testing and keep insisting on getting answers to your hypotheses from real human beings. Can’t stress it enough, but that is the way.

Courage
Be daring. You might fail, but that is OK as long as it takes you to the next level or help you scrap a path that you thought was valuable but turned out not to be. The bravest thing we do is kill our great ideas to find the ones that are amazing.

If you are still here, then thanks for sticking around, and hope the words sparked some inspiration. We are always keen to share our learnings, so feel free to reach out.