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Unleashing Development Teams at Discover

Unleashing Development Teams at Discover: Accelerating Speed-to-Value Through Modernization Enablement

  • 05 June 2020
  • Enterprise Modernisation

Though the practice of modernization enablement, firms are achieving faster releases of higher quality digital products by eliminating legacy, manual dependencies while simultaneously upskilling individuals on the latest approaches to product development, design, and engineering. Even better: enablement can be seamlessly integrated into any standard delivery process.

Led by Kin + Carta Director of Modernization, Gretchen Goodrich, and joined by Discover’s Amanda Kreutziger, Director of Application Development, and Danielle Stark, Director Card Programs Strategy & Marketing, they discuss the role of culture within development teams, what may be holding firms back, and how to balance engineering and design practices. Highlighting key milestones in building Discover’s Identity Theft Protection systems, this session will focus on how to keep development teams aimed at accelerating speed-to-value, particularly when collaborating remotely.

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Amanda Kreutziger, App Dev Director, Discover Financial Services
Danielle Stark, Senior Director, Product Strategy - Identity Theft Protection, Discover Financial Services
Gretchen Goodrich, Director of Consulting Services - Modernization Network, Kin + Carta

Personally Experiencing the Product


I've been at Discover for over 17 years, and the vast majority of that time has been spent in card marketing. Well, back in October, I was given the opportunity to move over and head up our identity theft protection business. And so of course I jumped at the chance, it was something completely new. One of the very first things that I did when I joined was sign up for our product. I wanted to make sure I understood what the product was, what its features were, and experience it for myself. Well, little did I know how much I would be experiencing it, because two weeks later I got an alert from Discover's identity theft protection that I had a new derogatory trade on my credit bureau. After some momentary panic that I had for some reason forgotten to pay something and I actually had something in collections, I realized that it was, in fact, fraud. I had an account in collections being reported on my credit bureau in my name, with my SSN, but with a different address. So, I was a little excited at this point, because I didn't realize how much I would get to experience our identity theft protection product, but now I needed the resolution services.

So I called in, I spoke to our fraud resolution specialist. She was fantastic. She called the collections agency with me, advised me on what information to give them. "Yes, give them your address, but no, don't give them your phone number." She helped me figure out what paperwork I needed to file and fill out and send in, where to send it, and helped me remove that collections account from my credit report. Now, during this time, it probably took about six weeks to get all the paperwork, from the time I got the alert to getting the trade removed from my credit bureau, my credit score had dropped 80 points. I wasn't seeking any credit during this time, but if I had been buying a house, or trying to buy a car, it really could have hurt my chances to be able to do that.

At Discover, we know that I am not alone. There are millions of victims of identity theft every year. And we want to ensure that we are offering the very best product possible to help grow our business and keep these customers happy. We had at this point, I would say probably a multi-year product roadmap filled with tons of innovative ideas on how to grow this business. And this is when Amanda and I got together and said, "There has to be a better way than what we're currently doing to deliver on this. There has to be a way to deliver on this roadmap with far more speed and far better quality." And that's really how this whole experiment began.

The Missing Pieces


Fantastic, thank you. So, Amanda, I wanted to talk to you a little bit. You were part of the team that really led the first wave of agile transformation at Discover. From that waterfall SDLC to a more skilled, agile product, and now, you're part of this team that's leading the transition to XP and dev ops. So, I have to ask. You know I'm an agilist at heart, I love scrum, but what were you not getting out of scrum? Where was the missing piece? Where did it hit a wall in that delivery? And what are you really hoping to get out of this next wave of transformation?

A couple of things, I think it makes sense to understand where Discover's been with their journey. And we've been infusing a lean, agile culture with a continuous improvement mindset for quite some time. And that's really been the muscle that we've been trying to build. And with that lens and that perspective, you know, we started looking at, to your point, what we're not getting. And you see it in our delivery lead times, and our team’s failure, our operational state where we have an opportunity to leverage more lean products mindset and automation in our delivery process. And, you know, I think that's the biggest thing that we saw: How do we take advantage of that opportunity? And as we looked at the way that we had been enabling and thinking about our engineering culture in the past...

Oh, I think we might have lost Amanda for just a moment here. I tell you what, why don't I jump over, and we'll talk with Danielle just a little bit. So, Danielle, we've talked a little bit about product focus, right? And our work together. And really bringing that product focus to the team level. I think in the past it's been more the leadership decides what's being built, and defines the features. And now we're looking at having the teams be more engaged. So could you talk just a little bit more about that, about how the teams are working together now that's different from what they were doing in the past.

Yeah, absolutely. So, Amanda and I were both new to this area towards the end of last year. So it really gave us an opportunity to sit down with the teams and ask why. We conducted retros with our product owners, with the engineers, with the initiative owners. Everyone that was around and supporting the product. From a product marketing perspective, we've always had POs, right? We've always had product owners. But they were expected to be fungible and able to take on any type of work. They were more project owners, I would say, than product owners, because even though we called them a product owner they didn't really own the product.

Instead, like you were saying Gretchen, either senior leadership or what we were calling initiative owners, they really had the decision-making authority around “what are we gonna put in”, “how are we gonna build it”, “what is it gonna look like.” And they would hand that over to the product owners. So in our retro sessions, what we were learning from the product owners was that they felt disconnected from the why. Like, what problems are we actually trying to solve and the business value that would be created from solving that. We also learned in these sessions that the product owners wanted to, and actually could, do a ton more.

So in this new model, what we've done is we've actually collapsed that initiative owner and product owner into one role. And so now it's really the product owner that has the ultimate decision-making authority on how features are activated, how they're brought to life, and how these consumer problems are being solved. I don't know if Amanda's back yet. Does not look like it. But I can speak a little bit to what we were hearing about from the engineers. It was almost the same story. The engineers were also feeling pretty disconnected. Like, they were basically being handed final requirements and saying, "Okay, here. Let's go build this." And so they weren't really actively a part of building the solutions, which made them feel disconnected from the project themselves. Or from the product I should say itself.

I think one of the words that I heard floating around at the time was that the team felt like order-takers.

Yes, they were pass-throughs.

You know, "We just take the requirements and we build them, but we don't really have much of a say in helping figure out the solution, or value that we're delivering."

Exactly. And think of all the innovation that we were missing out on by not including those minds in that type of product grooming.

New Approach


So, Danielle filled in a little bit what you were trying in your engineering teams. And I just wanted to say, this whole idea of having the team really own the solution. Not only that, but also bringing in all this modern software engineering practices such as peer programming, such as DICT, trying to get that team to a point where they can deliver on a daily basis. This is a big change in how people are working.

People have to relearn their entire approach to building software. So of course with change, there is resistance. I know there was resistance. Where did you see it? Was everyone on your team in leadership, or on the teams, were they supportive? Did you have holdouts? Did you have to win some hearts and minds?

So I think Danielle and I have both actually been really pleasantly surprised by the energy and engagement that we've seen. I think when Danielle and I first joined, we spent a lot of time with the teams, better understanding what they were seeing, what they were feeling. And what we heard was, and you guys may have touched on this a little bit when I was disconnected, but they felt like they were receiving orders. Right? And it was more about feature delivery instead of problem-solving. And there was a little bit of underlying frustration with that, and them being part of a telephone game of handoff instead of owning the solution. And from the engineers as well, I heard this feedback of leveraging automation, modernizing our applications, learning TDD and being part of that type of ecosystem was almost elusive to them. It was for other parts of Discover, or other organizations. And they didn't feel like they had the time and space to be part of it.

And so, when I think of what we've seen is, with that underlying frustration and what they were feeling, this has really elevated their engagement because they were ready. They were ready for the change. And I think from a leadership standpoint and support, we've had so much of it. I think Discover, as I was starting to explain, has been on this journey for so long and our continuous improvement mindset of “how do we keep getting better and seeking perfection?” Has really taken hold. It's part of us saying, "We have gaps. What do we want to try next?" So, I've been, and I think Danielle would echo this, just really happy and surprised, pleasantly surprised, with the engagement. And there really isn't the resistance to try. There is a shifting of mindset and behaviors that need to take place as part of the learning experience, but it's not a resistance that I see.

That's excellent. It sounds like, and what I've seen, is just a real awakening and aliveness that's happening on the teams.

I would say at the team level for sure. I see that too. The teams are energized. I was really nervous. I'll just echo what Amanda said. It's such a big, disruptive change, but the teams were absolutely ready for it. I think where we see some... questions, more so than resistance, is in the areas that aren't working in this way. So we're answering a lot of questions and honestly we're only a couple months into this experiment and we need to make sure that the results that we end up getting... that's where the proof will be for the rest of the organization. If we're able to drive the right business results, that's when I think buy-in will explode for sure.

And we see in pockets all across Discover now, different areas are modernizing. So, the dependencies that have strangled so many projects, we're starting to be able to work through those more quickly. Which is great. Well, let's jump to... We've got all this great stuff going on, people are improving, we're feeling it, but how are we measuring it? What measurable results, what metrics have you been using to guide your way through this process?

Combined Metrics and Results


Obviously, we're laser-focused on how these new features and iterations are driving growth for our identity theft protection business. And Amanda can talk to some of the leading indicators that we're also using, but I think what's so different now about those, we used to call them "business metrics," is now they're owned by the entire team. So, Amanda is part of the results emails that go out. I think she and I both have this vision and I don't know that we're quite there yet, but I feel like we're getting close, that we can ask any developer, any designer, any product owner, anybody on the team, and they should be able to articulate both our 2020 goals as well as our north stars. And that is really exciting and very different because in the past it almost felt like there were technology metrics and business metrics, and now we're bringing those together in ways that we haven't before.

I think to add on to that, some of the leading metrics that we're using, and we could probably spend a whole hour talking about metrics, is really heavily influenced by Accelerate. So, if you haven't read Accelerate, it's just been really inspirational to us to really think about delivery lead time, change failure rate, deployment frequency. And seeing how that can inspire the teams with what they control, that really gives them the leading indicators to what Danielle is talking about in terms of a successful product. So, we've already seen early results of user story cycle time going from an average of 11-14 days to 2-3 days. That's quick wins that the teams are experiencing and how quick they can deliver in smaller iterations. Which has been really cool to see, too.

In addition to those product delivery metrics, we've also been really working closely with our partners at Kin + Carta to develop the right assessment as we go forward on the enablement. So, do we know that the individual technical skills are improving? Do we know that the behaviors that we expect out of the team and out of the individuals are also maturing? And so we've worked hard to create a scoring assessment that we can see the progress and celebrate the progress as we go. Not just waiting for some of those longer-term metrics to improve.

And just for our audience, the book that Amanda referred to, Accelerate, this is the science of lean software development in dev ops. It's by Nicole Forsgren, highly recommended read. I think, Amanda, one of the things that we've just really started exploring is how to measure culture, as well, with the western model that's proposed in that book. That's an exciting new area that we're starting to move into.

Open Ownership


And seeing that, it's just so core. I mean, there's so much that is about just enabling the technical skills, but so much about the mindset and quality first and automation, and openly receiving and giving feedback, especially when working in a pairing model, makes an incredible difference. You know, in addition to just having this product ownership. You build it, you own it, and even as our new CIO said, "You build it, you own it, you love it." So how do we start creating that environment where that's how the teams are operating?

Love it. So have there been any unexpected challenges? Anything that you would do differently next time? We're just about four months into this particular engagement, but any pitfalls you'd wanna warn folks about?

I don't know if it's a pitfall, but it's a mindset shift that I've noticed has been somewhat challenging, particularly challenging. And it might be related to culturally, at Discover, how we've conditioned our product owners to think about NVP. It's been pretty challenging, we're pretty much conditioned to try to get everything that we can into that first release. Simply because in the old model, it was rare that the team would get another shot or another iteration. There really wasn't iterating on top of previous releases. You'd have to get back in line to get reprioritized.

And so, mentally, it's difficult. Amanda and I continually find ourselves pushing the team. "Does that really need to be part of this first release? Can we go live without it? Can we put it in two weeks later? Three weeks later?" And that's just a new mindset shift for us that I think has been particularly challenging. Although, I will say I think we had an amazing breakthrough this week when we got some really great recommendations from the team. And then, I would say, this has been my experience in the couple of times I've done operating model transformations, is that at the start it's very difficult when you don't have a healthy backlog. So, spending time on that backlog out of the gate, that really helps the team. It's always a balance of what are we doing now and what are we doing next, and coaching and guiding the teams out of the gate in terms of what that right balance is, I think is really important, too.

Yeah, I would also say... We started this program right before the pandemic, and really had to do the heavy lifting in the middle of it. And I think we're still learning our way through how to create the right connections remotely. And so much of this is part of what every individual is going through personally, with our world environment right now. But then also helping support them the right way, empathetically, through this change. Their work environment is changing, they're working more closely with their teams than they ever have before, and so us trying to figure out how to still have the right remote environment that supports fun and supports human connection is something that we're just really still working on. Video is obviously key, but we're still trying to look for ways. So if anyone has any ideas, we're open. We still want to make that happen. We don't just want to cope with the environment, we want to still excel in it. And so we're working our way through that. It's been challenging.

The other thing that I'd say that we have learned through the years but somehow we keep falling back into, is this pitfall of, "This is tech for tech's sake." That's why I'm so excited that Danielle and I are working so closely on this, because for us to truly modernize... end to end modernization, it includes product, it includes marketing, it includes everything that we need to do from an engineering perspective. But it's not for tech's sake. It's for great customer products that drive business results. And so, we know this and we say this, but somehow we keep falling back into our engineering silo, our business silo. And so, I think it's just keeping reminding ourselves that this truly is end to end, and that's how we want to go about it.

The New Remote Workspace


Actually, there was a question related to this that we just got about remote working, and how that’s affected the culture of the team. Obviously, we started this in March. So, when we kicked off, we were in quarantine. How do you all feel that has impacted the ability of this team to form and to create the culture?

In some ways, we're lucky because there were relationships that were established ahead of this bursting out into our own homes. And so that helps foster something there. I think also that the teams have just stepped up in an incredible way.

But they’re pairing with Kin + Carta experience engineers that they've just met. And they've met remotely. And so that's part of what we're still trying to encourage. Virtual happy hours and social time where they can get to know each other too, instead of just showing up and doing the work.

And I think that just speaks volumes to how energized and excited people are about this change. That remote working doesn't seem to have slowed down the momentum and the excitement. And I think that's absolutely a testament to the team, and how much they wanna accomplish this.

On-the-job Learning


The other thing that I think about is the approach that we're taking. It's so different from what we've done in the past. And I think that's part of what spurs the engagement that we're seeing. Before we might have done a training program where we're taking them out of their day-to-day. Or we've taken teams to a lab environment and they've operated and learned in a lab environment, but still separate from the Discover world. Our Discover. And what's so inspiring and compelling about this approach is the learning isn't a separate activity. The learning is their job. It is their role. That is what they're doing every day. By learning, they're driving Discover forward and evolving and changing Discover and driving results for our products. And so, I think that helps it be easier for them to adopt and engage in as well.

I've seen the same thing, Amanda. And I think the challenge that the two of you have really set before this team that not only are we going to try to deliver this product faster than we ever have before, but we're also going to, along the way, learn all of these new technologies, new ways of pairing together these... you know, doing TDD. This is they just have so much juice and so much energy that they are really... rather than make them feel overwhelmed, I think it's just totally energized this group. Nice to be able to see that happening. Well, we are just about at the last five minutes here, and I don't see any other questions, so why don't we just close out. And I'd love for you to imagine we modernized Discover financial services. The whole kit and caboodle. Paint a picture for us. What does that look like? What gets you excited about that future?

I feel like we have a renewed energy and we kind of talked about it before at Discover right now. We have a new CIO, Amir Arooni, who came in and he's just helped lay out and refresh a really inspiring vision. Where at Discover, through extreme automation, we have small product focus, autonomous teams that can fly. Danielle and I are just really committed to making that a reality. And seeing teams that have fewer dependencies, that are driving their path forward. And we know that we need to hire in great engineering and product talent to help make that happen. So, if anything that we've said inspires you, please reach out to us. But we also know that we have great people at Discover that we can help enable, too. I'm just incredibly excited about making that vision come to life with the people that we have, and bringing in others to help them too. I think that there's just so much possible, and we have such a great foundation of culture that we can take advantage of at Discover.

I think, for me, I envision a time where we are so focused on innovation because we have the time, because we're not spending our time focusing on process, or how we're gonna get the work done or how we're gonna get the resources to do it all. Instead, we can really focus on innovation. I see fast, empowered, engaged, and energized teams that are moving so quickly that they're able to recognize and respond to consumer needs in ways that we haven't historically been able to do. And to me that's what, teams that can really fly, that's what it's going to enable for us.

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