Digitalizing German Crafts Businesses

We set out to create a solution for German crafts businesses that would enable them to work more efficiently by digitalizing many manual back office processes.

The Goal

Since a few years, a trend in the German market can be observed: medium-sized enterprises (German Mittelstand) started to recognize the importance of digitalization and technological progress and employing it to their product portfolio. Products developed by those companies, the so called Hidden Champions, rank among the world leaders in areas such as laser technology, contact materials for the manufacturing industry, heating systems, or in general solutions for the automotive and aviation industry.

Our client, and many other hidden champions, work with a B2B2C-model, meaning that they sell their products to intermediaries that then sell the products to consumers. As their portfolio has gotten larger over the past years, with new digital products entering their catalogues, a new need for enabling intermediaries to understand and sell complex products has developed.

In our specific use case, these intermediaries were smaller crafts businesses. They offer different services around the product such as installations, repairs or maintenance to customers. The idea is simple: The more systems the intermediaries sell to customers, the higher the turnover for both, the crafts business on the one and the producer on the other hand. An imbalance occurs, when the producer develops a greater number of products but isn’t able to get them sold.

The challenge we were facing was: How might we help our client sell their increasingly complex products while at the same time offering a benefit to the intermediary and subsequently the customer?

The process

This project had a heavy user experience (UX) focus, as we closely worked with the target audience of our client to identify their pains and needs as well as work processes in order to make a better and informed decision on how the solution for the challenge could look like.

After doing desk research on the market and the distribution of craftsman businesses in Germany, as well as doing focused interviews with experts from our client, we quickly identified and narrowed down our target personas. We decided to focus on company owners of crafts businesses first, as they have the best understanding of all processes involved in their daily work and the struggles the company and the employees in the field are facing.

Ten exploratory interviews with companies distributed all over Germany as well as ethnographic research in one Brandenburg firm, allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of the current status quo of handling back office tasks and communication amongst employees. We understood that the main reason for inefficient work was that many processes still relied on manual labour, and due to a focus on printed documents many steps had to be done twice (e.g. the manual tracking of working hours for field craftsmen and a later manual digitalisation of that same information). This time-intense conditions forced managers to spend more time focusing on paper and office work while keeping them from the field work they actually enjoyed.

With those findings in mind, we conducted an Ideation session with our colleagues from different disciplines in Data Science, UX, Business Development, and Tech around the question: How might we help crafts companies better manage their office processes to free up time for work they enjoyed?

The ideation yielded a concept for a easy-to-use and intuitive software that would support company managers in doing administrative tasks and be aligned with their unique work processes, while also covering the needs of employees in the field with a mobile solution.

With the technological solution in mind, we explored the minimal requirements for craftsmen software based on our interviews with them before we started creating wireframes that mirrored our learnings.

The outcome

Using the knowledge from interviews as well as findings from the competitor and design research, we developed our first prototype based on high-fi wireframes. Lastly, repeated testing sessions informed the design of our MVP (Minimum Viable Product) which covered identified user requirements.

The MVP on the one hand tackled work inefficiencies by covering the core needs of craft companies, such as:

  • handling customers and their requests,
  • communicating with customers, employees in the field and other stakeholders
  • planning and scheduling, and
  • manage projects and tasks.

On the other hand, the MVP also included a mobile use case for craftsmen in the field so that they could:

  • see customer details and access the projects they are involved in
  • while providing basic communication features so that workers in the field could stay in touch with the office.

With the software solution, we enable crafts businesses to dedicate more of their time for the work on site that they actually enjoy. All while also freeing up space for education on new and more innovative products from Hidden Champions.

After we finished our MVP, we conducted final usability testing sessions with the software’s target users in order to improve the end product, we decided to move forward with the client and turn this project into an internal venture for them.


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