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‘Radical Collaboration’ for Product Innovation


When San Francisco-based Bank of the West recently looked into introducing a new mobile banking app, it adopted a project management method known as “radical collaboration,” which involves the participation of all relevant units across the company. In April, the bank became the first in North America to introduce a Quick Balance app for mobile banking that lets customers obtain their checking account balance in seconds without logging into the account.

The successful introduction of Quick Balance was made possible by “an early and very, very deep engagement across the organization,” says Mathieu Krogstad, vice president, mobile banking and payments at Bank of the West. He will appear at BAI Retail Delivery 2013 on November 5 to discuss this process in depth in a session entitled “An Enterprise Approach to Delivering Innovation: Radical Collaboration.”

To implement radical collaboration, the product team working on the mobile app consulted with the bank’s information technology people, as well as with their operations, fraud, compliance and legal teams, Krogstad says, noting that this gave the other units a head start on seeing where the concerns might lie. For example, Krogstad says, radical collaboration enabled fraud, compliance and risk people at the bank to “see the business value” of the idea by giving them an early opportunity to understand how it works.

Thanks to the expanded level of collaboration, “as we go into development, we are 80% of the way done with our operational risk compliance and with fraud prevention risk assessments,” Krogstad says. “From a project management standpoint, this is really great. It gives you certainty about the goal that you’re trying to hit.”

Krogstad described this initial vetting as a “scope walk-through” of the new product. “We explain what the project is going to do before we even have detailed requirements,” he says, adding that this is done with one or two power point slides per area of functionality. So, while it is not completely detailed, “it’s detailed enough to give them a sense of what we’re talking about,” he adds.

The purpose of the walk-though is to look for what Krogstad calls “big rocks,” that is, big issues. The operational, compliance and legal people might say, for example, that the bank will need outside counsel, or a privacy expert, or detailed fraud prevention analysis, he says. 

With this input, the product team can proceed with the development of a new product idea in a way that immediately looks to satisfy concerns about fraud prevention and reputational risk. “They can get their heads around it – and that’s crucial, because if they don’t, the project doesn’t go live. And that’s true at Bank of the West and it’s true at any bank,” Krogstad says.

The product team also does an early consultation with the information technology (IT) team. “There, we’re looking for technical feasibility and complexity,” Krogstad says. The IT team gets a chance to find out whether or not specialist skills might be needed to deliver the product. “If there’s a ‘gotcha,’ we find out about it early in the project rather than later in the project.”

The idea for Quick Balance originated with the mobile product team, according to Krogstad. However, after Quick Balance went live with its initial offering, “more and more ideas for its improvement have been coming from all areas of the bank,” he says. For example, the transaction processing team “has generated a great number of ideas around how to make mobile deposit a better service.”

In addition, branch managers and branch employees have “generated a tremendous number of ideas because they are talking to the customer,” Krogstad says.

Quick Balance was introduced as part of Bank of the West’s new Mobile 2.0 version of the mobile banking app. When it was first introduced in April, users could only get a Quick Balance on two accounts, which the product team had viewed as sufficient to meet customer needs, according to Krogstad. However, branch staff soon began reporting that customers wanted to be able to get a Quick Balance on more just two accounts. Small business clients, for example, who might have as many as 15 accounts, wanted to be able to choose which accounts would be eligible for the Quick Balance feature.

“The feedback from the branch was so telling and so immediate and so clear that we immediately expanded the number of accounts displayed in Quick Balance from two to five,” says Krogstad. Bank of the West is now working on adding other ideas generated from all areas of the bank for the next release of its mobile app, he adds.

Mr. England is a contributing writer to BAI Banking Strategies and the author of Black Box Casino: How Wall Street’s Risky Shadow Banking Crashed Global Finance.