Innovating the way we innovate: a job in itself Behind the Screens with Roba Al-Assi

As a child, Roba Alassi once opened up her parents’ big tube television. It wasn’t broken, but she wanted to look inside. She took it apart, studied all the parts and put it back together. It still worked. Twenty years later, Roba still takes things apart. As a professional, she dissects problems and systematically analyses all the individual parts. But unlike the TV, she doesn’t put the problems back the way she found them. This time, she works to improve the situation. “My job is to think about the problems to solve, tackle it systematically, experimentally, and iterate.” Innovation in a nutshell. 

Red cabbage, red carpet, red hair

Walking to the meeting room for the interview, Roba shows me the building. The tower has bright, colourful hallways, flanked by rooms with names like Blue Grape and Pomegranate. “These names make it easier to navigate. You’re more likely to remember a fruit or vegetable than a random string of numbers, right?” 

We sit down in the Red Cabbage room, decorated with vivid red carpet, that matches Roba’s coloured hair. Did she plan this? Roba laughs: “No, it’s pure coincidence. We’re partly working in the office again, and it’s often buzzing with activity. So, the rooms are usually just booked randomly. But I do enjoy the colours in the building.”

Innovation as a product

When asked about her job title, Roba dives right in. “My job title is a great example of why I enjoy working at I work in Product Management in the Innovation Support team. It shows that we treat innovation as a product. In every part of the organization, from Logistics to Fintech, we have teams dedicated to building things that improve something for our customers. They do this by constantly investigating, testing and iterating. Building better software for warehouses, for example. Or making it easier for customers to pay. We’re getting better and learning new things every day.” 

“We also innovate the way we innovate. That’s what my team is devoted to. We’re just here to support and improve the innovation teams – that’s what we call our product teams. We strengthen colleagues with the right training, to develop their skill set. Furthermore, we create and manage all the processes that help our innovation teams align their priorities with other teams, as well as with company strategy. And we identify what’s holding teams back, so we can work with them and keep moving forward.”

Roba supports innovation with colour, curiosity, and creativity

Experiment, iterate and improve

Innovation and moving forward is essential in a fast-paced tech world, Roba states. “That’s why we made an innovation manifesto: 7 principles that really reflect how fosters innovation. My favourite principle is ‘outcome over output’. It’s a reminder not to just build solutions, but to think about the problem you’re trying to solve. To start with: why?” 

“It’s important to get to know the problem inside out. For example, I’m currently building a self-assessment tool that enables product managers to identify how they can increase their impact. So, the first thing I do is to interview my target audience, product managers. I try to truly understand the underlying challenges and opportunities they face, what outcome they are trying to achieve, and why. By understanding the problems I’m solving, I’m able to formulate different hypotheses that I can systematically test through small experiments, and measure the success of these hypotheses against the outcome.”

We recall our first conversation about the names of the meeting rooms. Roba nods her head, swinging her colourful earrings. “Yes, exactly! To me, that’s a simple example of what innovation is. Making things easier. To become better at achieving the outcome you want. In the case of navigation, it’s straightforward: you need to know where to go. But other times, the thing we wish to achieve is less tangible. Those issues require a structured, scientific approach. We have to systematically dissect those problems.”

The secret to finding valuable solutions? Curiosity.

What makes people tick

“To me, curiosity is a crucial part of problem-solving. It’s essential to want to get to the bottom of things.” Roba’s curiosity shines through in her wide range of interests – from art and design to Sci-Fi, tech and psychology. Whenever something triggers her, her eyes light up, and she engages with enthusiasm. It’s this yearning for new knowledge that brought her to her current position. 

“I have worked in tech now for 15 years, but always in different roles. I thought about studying computer science and becoming an engineer, but I chose design. To me, it had a more direct connection to people, which I find fascinating. How does the human mind work? Studying design and UX taught me how to be inquisitive, and how to build things with intrinsic curiosity. You need to understand a person’s needs, to be able to design a good, valuable solution.”

This approach still helps Roba every day, she explains. “To find the right solutions, to innovate, I have to understand what makes people tick. I really enjoy interviewing people and finding the best answers with my colleagues. For me, is a great place to do this. Because people are open. Open to talk, and to learn from each other. One thing I have learned from my colleagues is the importance of fun. ‘Let’s just have fun together’ – I’ve heard that sentence so often! And I notice the difference. It makes it easier to connect with people. To come up with better solutions. And above all: to build better products.”