Designing Teams for Outcomes vs. Outputs

It’s really easy to jump on the bandwagon and pay lip service to marketing and technology trends. Think of the number of times you’ve seen an organization’s tagline about putting customers first, or about striving to be innovative – but doing this rather than talking about it is where the hard work lies. Count the number of times you’ve seen words like innovation, creativity, and customer excellence riddled through text and taglines on an ad, brochure, or website only to experience the exact opposite.

When we took on the task of transformation, we knew that part of the shift was going to be  candid & bold storytelling. But…the hard, messy, grinding work would be in putting this into practice internally. We needed to find ways to focus on the outcomes of everything we do, and to put our customers’ needs first, always. If we focus on this, then we experience the right type of innovation. Experimentation can happen fruitfully, cross-functional teamwork excels, and efficiency accelerates - all with humans at the centre of it. 

To achieve this shift in how we worked on products and with one another meant ATB needed to ingrain customer experience goals broadly through our Transformation teams use a matrix-style organization vs. the typical hierarchical model. 

At ATB, the matrix organizational style aligns research and design, product, engineering, and partners around the business. It forces us to ensure that customer obsession is at top of mind in all that we do, rather than being a siloed off department that only touches products at points along an assembly line. Beyond the ethos of human-centred design, this matrix model means that teams aligned around a goal are the best positioned to make decisions. Leaders provide support and help solve problems, without needing to reach in to give specific direction. 

Hundreds of thousands of customers interact with ATB digital products millions of times per month, so decisions need to be fast and effective. Meanwhile, all of this needs to be informed by researchers, data, feedback – and of course, resources and other constraints. When teams coordinate laterally rather than vertically, this keeps focus on OUTCOMES rather than OUTPUTS. The end result is what we’re working towards: a great customer experience. 

Take for instance the example of testing our releases of our new personal banking platform. QA is a typical project role and there are automated tests created by QA experts. The final step is the whole team of design, product, engineering and partners getting together for a  testing party. Everyone is accountable for the end result, so everyone has an obligation to try to find a bug, an oddity, or just something that we might improve in the future.   

Being focused on the OUTCOME through a customer lens means that the people with the most relevant expertise and viewpoints are encouraged to speak up and help prioritize and influence decisions, rather than defaulting to the most senior person in the room. It bakes in the value of niche knowledge and specializations across teams, and gives everyone a seat at the table.   

The outcomes model also allows us to place value on incremental updates. If a product is moving in the right direction, let’s keep releasing the golden nuggets rather than focusing on one major release. In the case of the new ATB Business banking platform, we know customers need to pay bills. Adding a bill and paying it came first. That’s the core customer value. The ability to delete a payee came a little later. And editing payees will come a little later still.  

Matrix models are difficult. There’s no denying that. It requires a mind shift from the comfort of specialized functional groups who pass batons when ready and whose value is measured in their independent outputs. But if ATB’s transformation is to be successful, we need to look at new ways of working and collaborating with one crystal clear outcome in mind: the greater good of Albertans.

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