By Lisa Helminiak
May 3, 2017
A Discussion with Chris Collins, Innovation Product Development at U.S. Bank
Azul Seven Webinar: May 16, 2017 12:00pm – 1:00pm CST
Presenter: Lisa Helminiak with Chris Collins
Developing new, innovative products in a highly regulated industry presents unique challenges for Product Development and Innovation teams. Product innovators in these industries are as committed to delivering products that address the real customer needs as innovators in any other business environment. However, moving products from initial concept in a highly regulated environment requires skill, teamwork and tools for addressing complexity. Key areas for success include:
Expert enterprise navigation skills
Identifying your stakeholders, influencers, and saboteurs early in the process. Getting buy in for new ideas from the relevant business lines. And, defining and navigating failure, which is an inherent part of the innovation process.
A focus on customers needs
Keeping product design decisions focused on placing customers’ needs ahead of standard business practices. Ensuring empathy gathering and gaining and understanding of customers lives and contexts to make products and services work better for people. Ensuring the whole team understands who they are designing for throughout the product development and innovation process.
Strategies for avoiding pitfalls
Using constraints to your advantage. Working in advance to accelerate the review and risk compliance process. Understanding and dealing with “no” as an indication to pivot your strategy and keep moving.
Join us for a candid discussion with Chris Collins, Innovation and New Product Development at U.S. Bank. Chris will share product innovation strategies for:
- Gaining visibility for innovative products
- Securing buy-in from business teams
- Finding support from innovators outside your team
- Leveraging regulators
We’ll also ask Chris to share stories from the trenches, insights from his experiences, and nuggets of wisdom that can be applied to help ensure products being developed in any business environment are being designed to meet the needs of real people first.
Lisa Helminiak: Hello everybody. Thanks for joining us today for Azul Seven’s webinar “Getting Beyond Innovation Theater”. We have with us today Chris Collins. He’s on the innovation team at U.S. Bank and we’re really thrilled to have him here today. He’s going to be talking a little bit about what U.S. Bank has been working on within the innovation group, and some of the things they’ve learned through that process. I think most importantly he’s going to be giving us his perspective on what it’s like to work in an innovation team, especially in a highly regulated industry. We know there can be challenges with that. I’m just going to dig in Chris. Are you ready to go?
Chris Collins: Sure. Let’s go at it.
Lisa: I want people to know a little bit more about your background. I think it would be helpful to understand where you’ve been and where you’ve come from. Tell us a little bit about that and a little bit more about your role on U.S. Bank innovation team.
Chris: Sure. I started my career in the early 90s as a bank teller. That was back when you could still find a stray ash tray somewhere on a desk here and there. I was a teller for a few years and then I took an opportunity at a small community bank managing a branch. And then heading up various functions within that. It was a great experience because it allowed me to wear a bunch of hats at one time. I was in an administration role, an HR role. I got involved in the ACH program while I was there. I led the network efforts. I also led data processing. It was really interesting. It gave me a broad perspective on how a company at that scale runs. It was very good. That was 20 years ago or so. Then I moved into a project management/business analyst role at an insurance company for a few years. Then joined U.S. Bank back in 2003 primarily within their payments business starting within consumer and then moved to commercial payments after that. I have been with the innovation team now for about two and a half years.
In my role within the innovation team, I report into the head of our product development team within the innovation team. We’re a little more focused near the business lines, the commercialized side of things.
Lisa: I think it’s really interesting that you have such a broad background and how that has led you to being in the position you are in now. I think we see that with other clients and folks that we’ve worked with over the years; that the people on the innovation team really are those broader thinkers and have had to role up their sleeves in multiple roles. It’s great to hear a little bit more about how you got there. Can I ask how long there’s been an official innovation team at U.S. Bank?
Chris: It’s funny because it seems like whenever I ask this question I get a different answer. I don’t know. All I know is that when I was with the bank back then, I remember hearing rumblings about them starting this new team. I remember jokingly to myself thinking, I can’t even get a printer to work. How could I be on an innovation team? In all seriousness, I think it’s probably been around ten years now. That’s probably how long we’ve had the official innovation team at U.S. Bank.
Lisa: What are your key areas of focus? Where are you guys spending most of your time?
Chris: Most of our focus is monitoring the changes in consumer behavior across different industries, whether that be individual people or organizations who engage with us. When I say consumer that could mean, consumer how most of us understand that word or it could be a small business or it could be a corporation as well. How their behaviors and expectations are changing. But then also taking a look at not only that piece of it but also where emerging technologies intersect with that. That is the area I would say we primarily spend most of our time on. There’s a lot of analysis about where those two things intersect.
Lisa: That’s interesting too because you’re taking that people side but also the tech side.
Chris: Right. Exactly.
Lisa: Is there a weight to one or the other or is it equal?
Chris: I think if you ask most people on the team they would say that it starts really with the customer and that technology is really the enabler. I think sometimes it’s easy to get caught up, and this is where I think it becomes problematic for some innovation teams. They get a little too focused on the technology and a little too focused on what that shiny new thing can do. But if it doesn’t really solve a real problem, it’s not really all that interesting in and of itself. It’s interesting to watch and monitor, so to speak. But I wouldn’t say it’s something that stands on its own. You can say this is really cool and solve a lot of problems, but you really need to figure out that customer problem first.
Lisa: Just a couple questions too about team structure and how you fit into the larger bank. Can you explain how large is U.S. Bank and how large is the innovation team and where are those intersections where you play within the bank?
Chris: Sometimes I’ll have conversations with people and parts of the bank. They’ll go, I didn’t even know we had an innovation team. It’s just like, oh, yeah. We do. Our team consists of about 30 people. Our overall organization is about 70 thousand. Our retail footprint spans the West, Midwest, into the Ohio River Valley, not so much in the southeastern, northeast. Then we’ve got some employees in Canada and Europe as well, especially on our commercial payment side. Being a 30 person team sometimes is a little hard to get your message across to that many people, obviously. But that’s where we fit and we have folks on our team that office out of not only Minneapolis but different parts of the country as well. That helps us I think in a lot off ways too because it gives us exposure to different offices and different business lines too.
Lisa: Great. I was going to ask a little bit more, are you working with all the business lines or are there particular ones that you’re working with more?
Chris: We historically grow out of our payments business, which tends to be the area where there seems to be a lot more interesting things going on. Our scope of work is really across the organization. That’s effective to varying degrees obviously, but that’s the scope of our focus.
Lisa: How do you get on the innovation team at U.S. Bank? Are there certain traits that you guys all have that allowed you to get on the team?
Chris: I probably fooled somebody. I say that in jest, but in a way there’s I think an element of humility and vulnerability that you have to have in order I think to be considered. Part of it is I think the nature of the work. Working in a large faceless institution in a role that has some visibility, there’s an expectation that you always write about everything. You have to be right. You always have to be right. Innovation is about failing, right, and making mistakes. And that’s a really hard thing to grow accustomed too, especially when you’re used to being right about things and knowing your business. So I think there’s an element of vulnerability and humility that goes with it. A lot of my colleagues also agree that … and I agree with this too, is that there’s an element of I think natural curiosity. You just have to be naturally curious about things. I don’t spend a lot of time on things like Sports Illustrated for example.
I think personally I don’t read sports magazines. I have subscriptions to things like National Geographic and Scientific American. I wish I had a subscription to the Economist but it’s just too darn expensive. The running joke is that most of us have spent at least some time in the principal’s office because at the end of the day we’re charged with questioning things, the status quo. We’re charged with questioning and pushing change and asking why we’re doing things a certain way. That’s hard. That’s hard when you’ve got folks in the business line who are ingrained in doing things a certain way, and that’s okay. That’s where the humility and vulnerability comes in. You’re putting yourself out there a little bit. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Lisa: That’s great. I think that’s great insight. I appreciate you talking about having to get to the principal’s office sometimes because …
Chris: I’ve been there a couple times.
Lisa: All right. I love that. Criteria for all of you out there about how to get on an innovation team. I just want to remind people we are going to take some questions at the end. There should be a questions area within your control panel on the webinar. If you want to ask questions as we go along, please feel free to enter those in the questions section. We’ll take those questions and answer as many as we can at the end of our discussion here. All right. I’m going to move into a next line of questioning. Just a little bit more about your processes and tools. Can you talk a little bit about the innovation tool set that you work with? Especially the day to day stuff that really helps you do your job.
Chris: Yeah. I’m not joking when I say this, it’s PowerPoint and Excel.
Lisa: Uh, Oh.
Chris: It is. It’s no secret. Part of that too I think is the specific role I have within the organization, which is really closer to that business line. So it’s the language that those groups speak, right. Even broader than that, I’ve used PowerPoint before just even as a prototyping tool because it works. I understand it. Certainly there are plenty of other great tools out there that people use.
Lisa: So for low-fidelity prototyping?
Chris: Yeah, exactly. Although my preference really around that is, I’m just one of those people who likes to sit down with about five pieces of paper and pencil and just start to sketch something out. I don’t like getting hung up on logging into a new system to do something and then getting hung up. Where do I find the tools and where do I find other stuff. I prefer just building that low prototype with just paper and pencil.
Chris: Ultimately, I have to communicate that out in some sort of electronic way because it goes across a broad group of people. But, ultimately where that lands is PowerPoint or Excel in many ways.
Lisa: What about processes? Human-center design or lean start up, agile. Any tool sets or processes that you’re using to actually get the work done?
Chris: Yeah. I guess in a lot of ways I don’t see a lot of hard fast rules about what we use in our group to get that stuff done. A few of us have looked into lean start up as an approach to do things. That’s one that I actually latched onto. It’s one thing to ask people questions as I learned through the process. But there’s a real discipline around asking questions the right way. It’s really, really hard to learn. It takes a lot of practice. It’s one of the things I took away from that. If you’re familiar with that process, some of you out there probably know what I mean by that. I latched onto it because I found it useful in a couple of ways. Number one: if you do it right, you can really get some interesting insights on things. If you do it right, you can also get a little bit scared away. One specific example I recall. I was interviewing someone about a specific problem and this poor person got in the middle of it and basically fell apart emotionally. I wasn’t really prepared for that.
That’s where if you’re familiar with that process, one of the things that they focus on is identifying that morphine problem versus the aspirin problem. We latched onto that notion and I clearly hit on a morphine problem. What we do about that, I don’t know. We’re still in the process of figuring it out. I like it too because you really get that deep insight and understanding. It’s the voice of the customer in a way.
Lisa: It is, absolutely.
Chris: The other thing I like about it, too, is that in many ways it can validate some of the things that secondary research is telling you or maybe a business line has done some research and they’re sharing that with you. You go, that seems to be aligned with what I’m learning. Or maybe there’s a variation in what you’ve learned from the interviews that the business line hadn’t really thought of or didn’t really uncover. You can at least have a conversation about it. I had that very thing happen with a business line we had where we were working with them on a project and we introduced some of the things that I had found through research around some consumer problems. What I took out of that is it really validated what we were doing. It’s like, I think this is the right approach. We’re on the right path here, if you will. I really liked that interview process as a way to get an in-depth understanding about customer problem.
Lisa: We always talk about, if you’re getting your interview subject or the customer that you’re talking to, to cry, it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing and a bad thing, of course. You don’t want to make people sad but you know when you’re touching someone and it’s getting emotional, you’re getting something real. That’s great.
Chris: Part of the challenge there too is how far do you dig into that? Do you stop there? Especially if you don’t know the person well. That’s an interesting balancing act.
Lisa: Absolutely. I think every researcher has to dig into their own heart and find where that line is. From the work that you’re doing, it sounds like you’ve got a number of projects going at any given time? How do you track your ideas and evaluate them at the end of the day to pick which ones to go forward with?
Chris: A lot of it is just are you … the big question for me is are you solving a big enough problem. Will the thing that you’re working on, scale in such a way that it impacts a broad base of the organization. I frankly, have struggled with that a little bit just as I started in the team. Starting with ideas that I’ve had where it’s been like, this seems like a really cool idea. But I’ve struggled to really get it to a point where you could say, boy, that really impacts a broad base of the organization. You have to come to grips with that notion of, you know, I think this is a cool idea. It’s got this cool technology. There it is again! Technology enablement. That’s where you get caught, right. I think it’s a cool technology. I think it’s a cool approach. It solves a problem but at the end of the day does it solve a big enough problem and will people use it? I just actually killed an idea recently that fit that description to a T.
Lisa: Congratulations by the way.
Chris: I failed.
Chris: It’s one of those things where, when I talk to people and created a prototype and walk people through it, people were like that’s a really unique way to solve this. We think this is really cool. I got a couple of business lines on board with it. Ultimately it just stopped because I couldn’t get past that group. I just couldn’t get it big enough. As much as it pained me, I said we have to stop this and put it on the shelf. Maybe someday somebody will take care of it. But at this point we just can’t do it.
Lisa: I do mean congratulations because killing bad ideas or killing the wrong idea early enough is definitely a skill to have. That’s great. Can I ask how you guys are measured as a team? Is it output? Is it stuff getting into market? How are you guys measured?
Chris: It’s pretty much all of the above. We’re measured on coming up with different concepts and identifying potential opportunities with partners. We’re measured on learnings that we get from running pilots. We’re measured on POCs and things of that nature. There’s obviously a body of work that we need to complete and partners that we have to work with internally to build that out and get that done. Fortunately we’ve got a lot of support from all of our senior leaders in what we do. That’s really, really nice. That’s really critical. It helps us get things done. Are we perfect? No. But I feel like we’re really getting there.
Lisa: That’s great. I’m going to move onto another section here. Innovators everywhere. We talked a little bit about this before we went live. One of the things I loved is that you said that innovation is coming from different places within the organization. Can you talk a little bit more about that? How are ideas coming to the team and where are you finding them?
Chris: Yeah. I think it varies by person and area too. It’s one of those things where sometimes you just get a person in a business line who is really on the forefront of those things. A lot of times they self identify themselves as being that person too, which is great. It’s someone who has taken that proactive approach of understanding that there is the possibility of destruction in their organization and they need to be focused on it. They’re thinking about different ways to address that. That can come to us from the business line, which is great. Oftentimes we’ll partner with that person to help them research the issue more, help them understand the problem they are trying to solve a little bit more. Then a lot of the times we’re also looking at problems by giving them our approaches to interviewing that type of thing.
A lot of times we’ll take ideas or concepts to the business line. In that sense, there’s a business development piece to what we do as well, which is essentially creating a one minute picture around what this concept is. Saying, what do you think and getting the first initial thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s generally the first step we have to go through. Then if it sounds good we move onto the next step. It really goes both ways, which is good because I think the folks in the business lines are in a better position to understand where they sit. If they can bring that stuff to us, that’s all the better.
Lisa: Is that how most of your projects start?
Chris: I would say most of it starts with us and then I would say it feels like I can’t say for sure. I want to say it’s probably closer to fifty, fifty. It feels to me sometimes, maybe it’s just my perspective, but it feels to me it’s more us bringing things to the business line, if you will.
Lisa: You’re doing customer research you said. But are you looking elsewhere? Are you looking at what’s happening in other markets or at trends? Different things within banking in general?
Chris: Yeah. It goes back to those key areas of focus. There are areas of expectations and consumer behavior we see and then we look at where that intersects with an emerging technology. That leads to where we seeing opportunities here and there. One of the things that we’re focusing on is understanding if that’s a trend, then what is the implication for us. It’s not enough to just track what that is. What is the implication for our particular business line and our particular consumer segment and things of that nature. That’s really critical. That’s a lot of times how these things get started too.
Lisa: You mentioned earlier when we were talking about business lines bringing stuff to you that you run into people who say, you didn’t even know we had an innovation team. How do they find out about you? Are there particular business lines that tend to come more often? How does that work?
Chris: A lot of it is just folks who need to work within a project who are heads down in their daily work. They’re extremely busy and then you go out on your business development call and you give them a shout. You say, I have this question for you and this is who I am and this is what I do. Somebody told me to call you. That’s kind of it. They often say, I didn’t even know we had an innovation team. That’s great. That’s really cool. Another connection is through some programs that we lead on a regular basis, quarterly, monthly where we bring in speakers from the outside or maybe we have somebody within the team who’s an expert at something, share out across the organization. Do a lunch and learn type of thing. Talk about some other work that, that group has done. Then help people understand it. Learn different approaches for how they can do their work and understand the customers better. That’s a lot of what we do. We have quite a few people who are really good at writing too.
I’m not. Someone on our team has a journalism degree and he’s fantastic at writing. A lot of what we do is internal blogging about things that we’re doing. That’s getting our name out there as well. Hopefully all those things gel together and create an atmosphere where people, the more you hear about us, the more that they’ll understand what we do. It’s always a challenge. It’s a big company. I think we do pretty well at it.
Lisa: It’s been interesting. I’ve seen a lot more writing from your team on LinkedIn lately.
Lisa: I don’t know if you’ve stepped that up.
Chris: I haven’t personally noticed that.
Lisa: It’s been some interesting block chain stuff.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Lisa: Which I’m actually fascinated with so I actually read it. I wanted to talk a little bit more in this next section just about the idea. All projects have stakeholders, influencers, and of course saboteurs. How do identify them and then work with them to get stuff done?
Chris: Wow. That’s not an easy question because they’re not always … well, the stakeholders and influencers are usually easy to identify up front. It’s not always easy to identify the saboteur. I only say that because it’s often a passive aggressive approach where it’s not always obvious that they’re doing that. It may not even be intentional either. It may be partly that they really are very busy and just don’t have time to talk to you. In some ways, what I’ve tried to do anyway and I think it’s an interesting little trick and a twist. As you’re developing that relationship with those folks and working with them, I’ve learned ways to try to help them think that they’re part of the solution. Part of this was their idea so they get this sort of buy in. I don’t know that I can describe exactly how I do that. It’s sort of like …
Lisa: Secret sauce?
Chris: Yeah. It’s almost like giving credit to them on something where maybe they didn’t have anything to do with it. Sort of praising them for whatever it is. It may be very small but just offering a little bit of an enticement to pull in a little bit more and encourage them and reinforce the fact that we’re not looking to disrupt exactly what they do. We think this is a really unique solution and it could help you. Part of it is just influencing them to help them understand and help them think they were part of the solution. That they can take some credit for that.
Lisa: That’s great. I think the people side of innovation is one of those areas I don’t think we talk enough about. It’s critical. Innovation is hard work and innovation generally gets into territory where you don’t have certainty, you feel your rate can be higher. The people stuff is I think some of the hardest work that we do.
Chris: Yeah. That’s a hard language to speak to someone in the business line, “we don’t know if this will work.” “Why are you coming into talk about this?” “We just need a little bit of your time.” “If we test it out and it works out really well, this could be a really nice thing for you for your business line.” It’s definitely not easy.
Lisa: Once you have identified a good idea, maybe this is getting a little into the question before. How do you nurture these good ideas and gain support? Especially if you’re going to go ahead and try to bring something to market.
Chris: A lot of it is pivoting. I worked on an opportunity where you could see where there was a pain point in this particular process. Finding the right place to partner with an organization is really tough because it just didn’t really fit all that neatly. A lot of it is just having a conversation with someone in the business line, getting their response to it, an initial response, that kind of thing, and then asking for their opinion. If they say no they are not interested, then one of the things I usually follow up with is, can you think of somebody else that this really seems to fit with. Most people are more than willing to offer you that information. What I found is that they won’t offer it up unless you ask proactively. I’ve gotten to that point where I’ll ask them, who else do you think I might be able to talk to about this? Generally I’ve gotten really good feedback on that. It’s taken me down a lot of rabbit holes in this particular problem I’m working on, which is fine. It’s taken some time but you at least at the end of the day know that you haven’t left any stone unturned. You’ve taken it as far as you can. At the end of the day, if you just can’t find a home for it, it is what it is. Asking for that additional follow up, an additional name to help me with this, help me understand that, who else can potentially use this, where does this potentially fit somewhere else? That kind of thing.
Lisa: Yeah. It sounds like there’s a bit of a sales process.
Chris: Yes, and a pivot too.
Lisa: Exactly. Speaking of that, and I think we talked a little bit about this earlier, when to kill a bad idea. How do you know it’s the right time to kill an idea?
Chris: I don’t know that I know.
Lisa: That’s a fair answer.
Chris: It’s interesting. It seems like you get different answers depending on who you ask. I start with just, if you can get to the recommendation in your own head and articulate the reason why and explain that to someone else, it’s probably … let them challenge it obviously. It’s probably the best approach. Rather than going to them and saying, I don’t know what to do with this thing. I learned that the hard way myself. I’ve just said, this things really big and gangly. I don’t know what to do with it. Just go, it’s hard for people to really go out onto that and respond to that. If you have a well articulated reason for that, then it works out pretty well.
Lisa: It sounds like you’re trying to get to crisper ideas. Things that are simpler.
Chris: Yeah. Right. Exactly.
Lisa: Do you have a process for killing stuff internally?
Chris: One time we killed zombies. We did zombie killing. We had a bunch of ideas. We brought in a Nerf gun. Once we killed an idea, somebody on the team shot a Nerf gun at the idea at the wall. That was dead. One of those Nerf darts.
Lisa: I love that.
Chris: It made it fun because that’s not an easy conversation to have. I think there’s recognition that when you’re killing somebody’s idea it’s just … ah, I’m sorry, man. Love you, but this is just not going anywhere. Can you kill it now? It was your own hard work, sweat, blood, and tears coming up with it. In having somebody else shoot it down and it hurts a little bit, but you just have to get past that.
Lisa: That may be the number one idea coming out of this.
Chris: The Nerf dart.
Lisa: The Nerf dart killing of the idea.
Chris: It was one of the more fun meetings I’ve ever had.
Lisa: That’s great. I love that. We’re going to move onto some other questions here. You mentioned customers earlier and that a good chunk of what you guys are doing is focusing on customers. How do you learn about your customers’ needs? Can we talk about some of your approaches?
Chris: Yeah. We’ve dabbled in journey mapping. I’ve done that before. We’ve done some training with that. Prototyping. I know that a lot of folks on the team do that. A lot of times we’ll start with a low fidelity piece and then move onto something that’s a little higher fidelity to show customers. We’ll do some co-creation events. We’ll do an internal brainstorming too. Recently on a project I was working on, a concept I was working, one morning I brought a couple people into the room and just said, I’m stuck here. It feels like there’s something here. Can you help me build it out or not? We wound up coming up with some ideas, but it still wasn’t big and strong enough to really stand up on its own. But I think we benefit from a group that’s always willing to jump into a conference room really quick and be that gut check for you to say, yea, what about this? Or it feels like this could be a good approach here.
We also benefit, I think within our team, because we have a group of people that have experience across the organization. It’s easy to find somebody in the team with experience. its almost like our team is a microcosm of the whole organization, which is good because you can always find somebody to just say…hey, you know something about this. It’s an area I’ve never worked in, but can you just spend five minutes with me and help me understand how that works? I did that last night with a colleague of mine who has broad experience in this one area of the bank that I’m not familiar with at all. He sat down with me for a half hour and laid out; here’s what you want to do now and here’s the person who should talk to. It was really useful in helping me understand, here are the steps I should really follow. We’ll engage that team, get them going on this project. That’s really, really, I think, key to our success too.
Lisa: It sounds like there’s a bit of a balance between talking to your customers and then engaging a business line, engaging the folks that are going to be working on that idea. Any tricks around that? Any tools?
Chris: None that I can think of. I think everyone has their own process. There are no hard fast rules. What works for you doesn’t work for me and that’s fine. I wouldn’t say there are any hard fast rules around that.
Lisa: Another line in customer needs. You’re doing all the research and talking to people obviously. Do you monitor or track customer’s needs over time longitudinally? Do you have any ways of looking at it?
Chris: I would say it’s mostly done through just the focus on the consumer behavior that we do and the trends monitoring that we do. That’s primarily where I see that anyway. Nothing is discrete from that I would say.
Lisa: I would say it’s one of the things that we’re interested in.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Lisa: A challenge across a number of industries that we’re working. I just am always asking people are they able to look at things over a time period. I think an interesting niche that we, as innovators, might want to start looking at.
Chris: I can’t disagree with that. I don’t know. It’s not something that we’ve talked about a lot. I’m not well versed on it I should say.
Lisa: Do you have a favorite research story that something that really impacted the final idea or project outcome?
Chris: Oh yeah. We had come out of a co-creation event. I was working with a colleague of mine and had a concept coming out of that. We had some customers there who were giving us some feedback. We journey mapped it out with them. They gave us some feedback and then we landed on a hypothesis statement, a problem statement. I was going to work a little bit on using my low five prototype approach with a piece of paper and pencil. What might this look like? At that point we decided, let’s maybe talk to some customers in this segment and see if doing that lean approach of interviewing and just see if we’re heading down the right direction here. It was interesting because we thought we had the right problem we were addressing initially. After about four or five interviews we said, that’s not really the problem they’re going after. It’s really something else. It was one of those eye-opening moments that says, we really need to end what we did at the start and move onto something else here. There seems like there’s something else here though.
Actually, I found out that there’s a company out there that’s actually solving for the problem I think that we landed on. We feel sure that maybe we were validated in taking this approach. That’s probably my favorite one. It feels like we had a little bit of success there even though it wasn’t what we expected. We’ll see what happens with that.
Lisa: I think that’s the beauty of continuing to touch bases with customers. I think you start digging deeper. You mentioned earlier, I just want to address this, getting that right definition for the problem statement is half the battle. I love that you got some research. You kept researching and that’s changed the question.
Chris: Yeah. I think that’s exactly what happened. It’s really interesting.
Lisa: That’s great. I want to get a little bit into some constraint discussion. Because we all face constraints obviously, I think everyone does, especially when you’re in a regulated industry. I think if you’re in banking or health care, there’s just another layer of decision making, review, all of that stuff. We know that. What are some of the common constraints that you face?
Chris: It’s time. You want to try this new process and you want to make it work with the organization. But a lot of times what you wind up doing is taking an approach or a process that’s from an academic perspective, the right way to do it. You have to adapt it to our organization. I think in a lot of ways lean start up was that way for me. When I dabbled in it last year, obviously we learned a lot about that process and how that really works, but ultimately what I wound up doing was picking and chosing those things that fit what I needed at the time. It works for me. A lot of it is just trying to find those processes and then doing something quick and fast and adapting those processes to fit because there’s just no time. You still have to deliver things at the end of the day. You can stand all day and throw post it notes on a white board and see what happens. There just isn’t that amount of time left in the day.
You’re really forced to look at these processes and say, what’s the thing that’s really going to help me get to the next step of understanding. For me, that interviewing piece of it was really the piece I pulled out of it. The right way to interview people. That’s been helpful.
Lisa: I think we’ve been having that discussion here at Azul Seven just about the purity of the process because every organization is different. I love the fact that U.S. Bank is doing what works for you guys and that you’re taking the best of the different processes that you’re working in and apply it the way it needs to be. That’s great. Is there a difference between a bad constraint and a good constraint? Would you label them that way?
Chris: It feels bad at the time. I always look at it like it is an opportunity. It’s the road you tried but you know there’s some liberation in knowing that, it’s a road you can’t go down. A lot of times if you’re in a business line, those constraints are pretty self evident. You know what you can do and what you can’t do. In an innovation group, it’s a little less defined, I guess. That’s a little scary, but moving through the process and identifying those things starting with feasibility and saying, “no that won’t work, no that won’t work”… the further you get in that process you can turn those things off and move onto the next step of understanding, which is, if that’s not going to work, how will it work now. Not enough constraints, I think, is actually bad. It’s an opportunity to move off one approach and pivot to taking a different approach for solving a problem.
Lisa: Do you have any examples around constraints that you face that have actually helped you?
Chris: Yeah. I think about a lot of times, just given the regulatory nature of what we do, I’ve historically taken the opportunity to meet with our compliance partners internally to chat through different ideas that we have. While they may not necessarily get it right away, oftentimes they’ll be able to tell me, “here’s some things you want to think about. Here’s some concerns, here’s some things.”
Lisa: I bet that’s helpful.
Chris: It is. Some of the work is pretty esoteric. One project that was pretty technologically advanced that we were working on awhile ago is an example. Sometimes it’s just really hard to get this type of thing socialized with them because they’re used to thinking about product in a certain way. Getting them to think about product in a different way is not easy. There was a lot of socialization in that particular instance I had to do. After about four or five conversations, I think I finally got the person on that team to understand what I was getting at. They could really then consult with me to help me out with what do we do, what don’t we do, that kind of thing.
Lisa: I’m going to get a little bit deeper into the leveraging risk and compliance here. What advice do you have for working with compliance and your regulatory departments?
Chris: I’ve had a lot of luck historically just having a conversation. Bringing them in early and just having a conversation about something that we’re thinking about. I might not necessarily get anything out of it and that’s okay. I’m hopeful that the conversation will at least let them feel like they’re a part of the solution, that we’ve cared enough to talk to them about it. They might have a comment about it but generally speaking I’m not looking for anything necessarily concrete from them. It’s more of just, we’ve got this idea, we’re thinking about it. If that seems to have really … at least for me, helped bring them along in that process. It’s fortunate that they don’t necessarily require us to stage gate everything and have everything is wrapped up in a neat bow when we bring them in. They’re more than willing to jump on the phone and talk to us about something that’s really high level and really early on, which is good.
Lisa: Early and often.
Chris: Early and often, yeah.
Lisa: I think that’s always a good thing. Do you think the folks that you’re working with on that side of things understand your innovation process. Do you want to do anything to help them understand it?
Chris: Yeah. I think they do. They understand what we’re trying to do. They understand what it does for the company. I never really had any concerns about it. There’s not always an easy explanation … sometimes it’s that square peg in a round hole where you’ve got this thing in the middle of something. Then it doesn’t fit neatly into a box for them. As long as you have that conversation with them, they completely get it. My experience has been really good there.
Lisa: That’s great. I have a couple more questions then I think we’re going to turn to some questions. We have a couple questions that came in. We will get to wrapping things up here. What areas are either you personally or the innovation team working on to improve your outcomes? Are there any things that you’re interested in doing that are going to help you be better?
Chris: Yeah. Me personally I would say it’s probably getting better about failing. Historically I’ve …
Lisa: With Nerf guns.
Chris: Yeah. It’s getting more comfortable at failing. I do like coming up with different concepts and ideas and letting people go… granted, I think a few of those things were candles as opposed to light bulbs. I guess is the way to describe it. I guess for me, it would be thinking more broadly about…and thinking in bigger terms and solving bigger problems. Part of it is just a learning process for me. I would like, me personally, I would like to get to the point where I’m failing more frequently and being comfortable with it.
Lisa: That’s a very bold thing to say so I appreciate that.
Chris: Yeah, I know.
Lisa: How many people in big corporations say they want to fail more? Right? Not many. Yay. Good for you. Any last words of advice before we get to questions for anyone trying to get into innovation or working with innovation?
Chris: Yeah. I think for me it’s different from a business line in the sense that you just have to be comfortable with ambiguity. That is hard for some people. It’s hard for me. Granted, it’s taken me some time to understand what that means. I’ve gotten there but it is difficult. It’s not easy. It’s beyond just the shiny gadget. It’s not just the tech. It’s not just showing up with an iPad and demonstrating or showing that you’re innovative. It’s actually rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard work of customer interviews and things of that nature to get us to a point where you understand. That’s the part that’s hard. Going out and interviewing somebody that you don’t know is really hard. It’s REALLY hard. You reach out to them and you say, I just want 20 minutes of your time. I’ve learned how to get over that hump and say, I can do that now. It comes with time. I would say you have to be willing to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to try new things. You have to be willing to question things.
Lisa: I think that’s great words of wisdom. Chris, you’ve got a few questions that we would like to go through. What is the best way to get the business areas to stop focusing on the latest tech? You talked about that earlier. Or platform or what customers need and want in new product or features. I don’t know if I’m reading that right. What is the best way to get … let’s start with that. What’s the best way to get the business areas to stop focusing on the latest tech?
Chris: I personally have not run into that.
Lisa: Oh, that’s great.
Chris: Maybe someone else has run into that in our team. Most of the people that I’ve worked with have been focused on that customer experience. I don’t know that I can speak to that I guess is my point.
Lisa: That sounds good. How do you keep yourselves from getting enamored with the latest tech?
Chris: Our leaders do that for us. You know, that’s great tech but you got to solve a problem first. Yep.
Lisa: I’m looking for another question here. Can you share any tips for bringing together areas of the business who don’t usually partner on problem solving? Or even want to work together for any number of reasons? Do you have to convene different people? It sounds like when you’re working on a project you need to get different people aligned.
Chris: Yeah. I guess I’m just trying … I don’t know that we … when we’ve talked to business lines before it just feels like people really want to hang with you. “Hey, let’s try this thing”. I’m trying to think of a specific example when I’ve had a business line basically shut the door on us. I honestly can not think of a situation like that. I have found at least personally, I’ve never had any problem engaging with a business line and having a conversation. “Here’s what we think we want to do and having them say yeah, that’s a really cool idea. Let’s play along with that.”
Lisa: That’s great. All right. I guess that’s it for the questions. Chris, thank you so much for coming by.
Chris: Yeah, sure.
Lisa: I can’t believe you took time out of your lunch hour to come over here and spend time with us. We really, really appreciate it. I just want to let listeners know that we will have the recording of the webinar up on the website at some point here in the next few days.