Innovationsmanagerin Hero

A day in the life of an innovation manager

"We must somehow predict the future"

To be successful, companies have always had to be innovative, but rarely have new ideas and product innovations been regarded as the mark of a successful company to the extent they are today. In the age of digitalization, solutions can and must be brought to market within the shortest possible time. For this, people who manage and advance these processes are needed. Vorwerk interviewed Sarah Dittmann about work as an innovation manager at Vorwerk.

Ms. Dittmann, what does your job as an innovation manager at Vorwerk entail?

As an innovation manager, I am a member of the Thermomix ® product management team. With my different areas of responsibility, I act as an interface between the company’s different departments –between Advance Development at Elektrowerke and Marketing or Vorwerk Digital, for example – and am responsible for ensuring that our teams develop solutions for the future.

What are your duties?

I am chiefly concerned with two things: On the one hand, I ask myself which of our customers’ problems we as a company would actually want to solve and then seek appropriate ideas and solution proposals. On the other hand, these ideas also need to be correctly prioritized, assigned within the company and properly and purposefully steered in cooperation with the project teams.

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In practise, how does that look at Vorwerk? Exactly how do you advance innovations?

By putting into perspective the ideas and proposed solutions I receive from the various departments. We have a so-called “Innovation Board,” where we discuss with the teams and parties involved which ideas are currently on the table and also the current status of each individual project. We look into whether we need to bring new people and their know-how onto the team. And of course, the question occasionally arises as to whether we should perhaps abandon a project.

We also go the way of design thinking workshops, in which we endeavor to take the customer’s perspective and from there, develop a minimum viable product that can be tested with customers. This method is very important to us and it is currently establishing itself throughout the company. We have millions of enthusiastic customers willing to give us their feedback. It is precious to us and we want to make the most of it.

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We have millions of enthusiastic customers willing to give us their feedback. It is precious to us and we want to make the most of it.
What are the biggest challenges innovations pose?

It’s important for us to have teams capable of giving thought to potential innovations, who have an open mind for new ideas without being encumbered by other projects in progress. Here at Vorwerk, this works quite well. In addition, I receive the back-up I need to be able to devote myself exclusively to the innovation process, for example.

Identifying the real relevance of new ideas is certainly the greatest challenge. And for this, it’s important these days not “just” to think in terms of hardware, new appliances in other words, but also holistically. Ultimately, it’s our job to recognize the right trends and technologies where innovations are concerned and to try to predict the future. After all, the ideas have to be relevant to the future for us as a company.

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Identifying the real relevance of new ideas is certainly the greatest challenge.
Big companies like Vorwerk often also require a certain order, without which few would function properly. How do you strike the balance between freedom and structures?

We achieve this chiefly by getting the right mix of people in our teams, so that we have a balanced set-up with structured and creative people and bring together a wide range of expertise in digital, hardware and software development.

Basically, the following applies: Without a certain kind of order, creative ideas cannot be transformed into concrete solutions. Certain structures provide the stability needed for people to give free rein to their creativity. Now we are even working on creating structures for innovations that did not exist before.

Could you please give us an example?

We have overlaid some innovation processes so that not only our advance developers have the time to work on new ideas, but also specialists from other areas of expertise. In addition, we are trying to promote regular interdepartmental transfers of information with a new meeting structure – and the meetings are held immediately after an idea has been put forward instead waiting for it to reach a certain development maturity. But the simplest example of this is my position, which was newly created: It did not exist until a year ago.

So what’s the route to becoming an innovation manager?

I studied management and economics and gained plenty of experience in many different areas, including product management or while working for a marketing agency, and especially in the digital sector during my time as a student. After earning my master’s degree in international marketing management, I made the direct transition from university to Vorwerk. Given my all-round education, during which I learned to take a holistic approach, my boss said: “You’re a perfect fit!”

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

I find it incredibly interesting because it gives me the chance to change many things. What’s more, the job is very varied, and I don’t really have a set daily routine. Sometimes I will catch up with the team in a telephone conference, the next day, I might be at Advance Development in Wuppertal leading a workshop. On top of that, I work alongside colleagues from different countries, such as France and Spain. When an idea or an initiative comes from there, I like to talk to the people concerned in person and go down to visit them.

And plus, I regularly attend events and trade fairs to see how other companies go about innovating, on the one hand, and on the other, to spot new trends. That way, we often get to see an idea of our own from a different angle.

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Talking of trends: Are there any that you are particularly concerned with right now?

We keep a very close eye on smart home developments, of course, and draw conclusions from them for the kitchen and especially the smart kitchen. Optimizing connectivity between devices continues to be a key focus here.

It’s important that we think holistically and further develop the “ecosystem” around the Thermomix® and food preparation. The most important development is that we no longer define ourselves through hardware, but understand that new things can be created on different levels by integrating what already exists, be it at recipe level or purchasing of ingredients.

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Without a certain kind of order, creative ideas cannot be transformed into concrete solutions.