How do you get more people in your organization comfortable with building prototypes quickly, and getting them in front of customers before they’re perfectly polished?
We sat down with Robin Beers, Senior Vice President and Head of Customer Experience Insights at Wells Fargo, earlier this year to hear how the $90 billion financial services giant has been doing just that. One standout quote from the conversation: “We’ve said that we’re not going for minimum viable products; we’re going for minimum lovable products. The emotional component has to be there. We are aiming for it to be delightful.”
Beers also shared a slide that lays out her guiding principles for rapid prototyping.
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“Our role in innovation has been around facilitation, and running workshops. Rapid prototyping is one type of workshop we run; we have a two-day course called Design Thinking and Doing. We’re building capability across the organization.”
“We also do rapid prototyping for the commercial electronic office in the bank — the CEO, for short. It has 90 different services within it, and it is what large organizations use for cash management, commercial cards, borrowing, etc.” In contrast to the retail side of the bank, in the wholesale world, “our customer base is smaller. It’s almost like being an enterprise software firm.” For that reason, many offerings would historically be custom-built for individual customers who needed them, as opposed to built as a product for wide-scale use.
As is the case in many organizations, Beers says that the traditional way to get funding for a new project was “to prove you know everything about the product or service, and that you have it all mapped out before you get a dollar.” The result, however, was that “people were spending a lot of time developing requirements for things they didn’t know would be a good idea or experience for customers.”
Beers says that she worked with Tom Chi, a speaker and consultant who was a co-founder of the Google X skunkworks, to adapt his rapid prototyping approach for Wells Fargo. The central question: “How might we get better at vetting and shaping ideas before we put a lot of investment into them?” (Beers acknowledges that there were some skeptics about bringing in outside help.)
“Rapid prototyping makes something physical and tangible, so everyone can align their understanding of what it is, versus just talking about it. Even though the prototype doesn’t have a back-end, it speaks to how it could be done” — even when executives responsible for technology and infrastructure may say it’s impossible. With the new process, Beers says that teams can build digital prototypes within a week, using tools like Sketch and InVision, versus three to six months to “get funding and secure resources” in the old model.
Beers says she is motivated by helping the organization “learn fast.” “We hear a lot about ‘fail fast, fail early.’ For me, it’s more about learn fast. And yes, inherent in that is you learn some things that don’t work.”
Beers acknowledges that some people “were worried about how we’d look by putting something in front of a customer that wasn’t finished — they might find it messy, unprofessional, horrible. But you know what? People enjoy being human.” Prototypes in paper or early digital form don’t need to have proper Wells Fargo branding on them, Beers says. And rough edges “signal that it’s not a finished thing, even though we want it to interact like a real app does.”
For a recent immersion week, Beers says she brought people to San Francisco together with experience in wholesale banking, consumer banking, ATMs, and other parts of the business to work on a challenge related to “how to create world-class security that is seamless for the customer.”
The immersion week led to a collaboration with EyeVerify, an identity verification product that uses retinal scanning. “There, we had to understand the creepy line: do people understand what’s going on, and are they concerned about what data we’re keeping about their bodies?” Design thinking and rapid prototyping have also been used in developing some not-yet-released offerings around expense report management.
While Beers says that the lean startup methodology and user-centered design approaches share many of the same principles, “We’ve said that we’re not going for minimum viable products; we’re going for minimum lovable products. The emotional component has to be there. We are aiming for it to be delightful.”
“Admitting up front you don’t know the answer is hugely enjoyable and freeing to people. Our world is too complex to know the answer to everything. That’s what we’re changing. We say, trust the process, and we’ll learn our way into the answer. One of the things Tom Chi says is, ‘Knowing is the enemy of learning.'”
“The biggest nut we [still] have to crack…is how to facilitate this remotely, versus getting people in a room and having them working with Sharpies and templates of phones and sticky notes. We don’t want to fly people all around the world to learn rapid prototyping.”