How Fidelity Used a Key Ring to Capture Project Learnings

By Scott Kirsner |  July 17, 2018

What happens after you run the debrief on a project you’ve completed?

Often, there’s a whiteboard full of learnings, or a few documents stashed away in a directory somewhere. Usually, only the most dedicated information archaeologist can unearth them a year or two later.

At Fidelity Investments, the Fidelity Labs innovation team came up with a clever way to capture what they learned from a project that launched in 2016: a key ring full of questions and prompts that they can use in their daily work going forward.

We asked Adam Schouela, Vice President of Product Management at Fidelity Labs, to explain how the key ring came about.

“It started off during a retrospective at the end of a very long project [related to doing estate planning online],” Schouela says. “The project took about two-and-a-half years from the initial glimmer of the idea, to transitioning it into the core business.” (You can see the offering that made it to market here.)

“We felt there was so much valuable information from that project that we wanted to capture,” Schouela says.The first step was putting up “a full timeline of the project” on a wall at Fidelity Labs, which included photos of various stages of the estate planning product’s evolution, as well as some learnings about the development process. “We filled up one wall, and then started going around a corner,” Schouela says. “Everyone contributed,” no matter how long they had spent working on the project.

While “the act of doing these retrospectives is very valuable,” he says, oftentimes the notes just end up in some kind of digital repository. This time, given the amount of time and effort that went into the project, Schouela and his colleagues wanted to create a way “to make the learnings usable and tangible and applicable to the next project. We wanted to make them actionable.”

So the second step was to turn the observations about the project into questions and prompts. A lot of what people wrote on the wall, Schouela says, felt too prescriptive: here’s what to do if this situation comes up again. Instead, Schouela asked his colleagues to think about “what do I wish someone would’ve asked me at that moment in time that would’ve led me to that insight sooner, without as much pain.”

That led to a set of questions that they grouped into five categories: process, team, experiments, customers, and strategy.Among the questions (with a few explanations from Schouela in parentheses):

  • What is the opportunity we are going after?
  • What if it takes twice as long to build our product or service?
  • Are we communicating well?
  • Am I staying out of my team’s way?
  • How can we tell if we’re de-risking the right things?
  • Where are we getting diminishing returns on our research?
  • Are we testing what we think we’re testing?
  • Is it too late to change course?
  • What are the active roles in our project, and who is filling them?
  • Is this a “real” test? Does it need to be? (Schouela: “Does it need to be a real test in real-world conditions, or what other kinds of tests can we do that might be a good proxy?”)
  • How does this idea look on the wall? (Schouela: “Usually, you are working on an idea on the computer. When it’s on the wall, everybody has the same view, and we all start editing it at the same time. Sometimes, it looks completely different when it’s on the wall”)

The final step was working with in-house designers to have the set of questions printed onto a set of small cards, connected together by a key ring. Schouela says they made enough copies so that everyone who was on the team could have one. He adds that he consults the ring on his desk regularly — even though the estate planning project concluded almost two years ago.

“Consciously and purposefully thinking about what you learned,” he says, “is very valuable for the next project.” Creating a key ring helped those learnings to live on — and ensured that they are never more than arm’s length away.