Mary Wharmby
Author - Mary Wharmby

What does it mean to ‘design at scale’ in a 132,000-employee organisation? Two years ago, BBVA, one of the world’s oldest and largest banks, launched a grand experiment to find the answer.

During that time, because of the sponsorship of top management including the Chairman and CEO, the design team grew from a handful to over two hundred, design evolved from downstream production to core strategic capability and design methodologies went beyond the Design Department to permeate the entire organisation, reshaping skillsets, processes and culture. Together, these changes have resulted in a more innovative and competitive organisation. — BBVA’s big learning? Meaningful change means orienting everyone around the customer.

Design Transformation: A Trojan horse

Organisational change is defined as “a process of profound and radical change that orients an organisation in a new direction and takes it to an entirely different level of effectiveness.”1 But change is hard. According to McKinsey, one third of change programmes fail.2

John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School, has worked with dozens of companies to develop an eight-step model of change: create urgency, form a powerful coalition, create a vision for change, communicate the vision, remove obstacles, create short-term wins, build on the change and finally, anchor the change in culture.3 Similarly, McKinsey has a five-step strategy: set strategic objectives, assess current capabilities, create a portfolio of initiatives, create an implementation model and sustain momentum through continuous improvement.4

Though clearly containing crucial ingredients for success, as designers, we found traditional change management models too abstract, top-down, linear and missing a key opportunity: leveraging the proven power of human-centred thinking.

Instead, as a design team at BBVA we looked to another designer for inspiration. Jared Spool has outlined a fivestep model of design maturity in organisations: design as production, sporadic projects, significant investment, embedding of designers, and finally, design is infused throughout the organisation. He refers to this last step as the UX/Design tipping point.5

We embraced the idea of infusing design into the organisation and set out to find our Design tipping point. We used Design Thinking as a Trojan horse to show our non-designer colleagues the importance of putting the client at the centre and using creative tools to provide new possibilities to understand, conceptualise, prototype and evaluate products and services.6

Getting started: From human needs to organisational needs

BBVA’s Design Transformation began in early 2016. Like many change management programmes in today’s competitive marketplace, the primary goal was to help BBVA be more innovative. Based on early research and analysis, the business chose three areas of focus: customer-centricity, collaboration and creativity.

Although BBVA was simultaneously building a world-class design team to create cutting-edge financial products and services, it was clear that key decisions about the customer experience were happening well beyond the Design Department.

All employees were making decisions impacting the customer experience. The goal was to make each employee’s link to the customer more visible, tangible and actionable. Using Design Thinking, we have been able to provide a common language and set of tools to enable collaboration and enhance creativity. It was also about finding a way to make Design Thinking accessible to colleagues for whom the process would have been well outside their ordinary working life.

The Design Organisational Ecosystem --
The Design Organisational Ecosystem —

Creating impact: From training to behaviour change

With these goals in mind, the initial strategy centred on building new skills and capabilities. We considered a number of tactics: shallow training for everyone would not yield enough early impact and deep training to just a few teams would ignore most of the organisation. Instead, we opted to deliver deep training and coaching to individuals across many teams, hoping to create a viral model of transformation and a more peer-to-peer approach.

In mid-2016, we piloted an intensive four-day Design Thinking workshop centred on an actual innovation challenge facing BBVA – the credit card experience. We found it crucial to ground training in real, practical challenges. Theory and jargon were out.

But to create impact, we needed to go beyond training and initiate behaviour change in each participant’s dayto- day environment. The pilot workshop was followed by six-weeks of coaching, during which the Transformation Team acted as help desk, mentor and occasional therapist.

In the end, one participant stood out. Known affectionately as ‘Design Ambassador Zero’, she represented a new life-form at BBVA: a Design Thinking hybrid. We envisioned an organisation of Design Thinking hybrids, each acting as change agent for their team. The Design Ambassador Program was born with the first-year goal of creating 1,000 Ambassadors.

We asked each Ambassador to exhibit six key behaviours:

  • Interact with customers
  • Connect with other areas
  • Experiment with new ideas
  • Prototype and test concepts
  • Iterate solutions
  • Pass on what you’ve learned!
Ambassadors practicing during the Design Thinking training.
Ambassadors practicing during the Design Thinking training.
Design Thinking Learning Pyramid
Design Thinking Learning Pyramid

Scaling: From individuals to pyramid

Though the Design Ambassador workshops were creating an elite group of viral change agents, to truly scale, we needed to provide multiple paths and levels of engagement. In early 2017, we began defining a pyramid-shaped framework to do just that.

At the bottom we placed small, bite-sized teaser content like innovation and design events, a virtual support community, posters to communicate new ways of working, and a single-page guide for formulating and submitting human-centred challenges and solutions.

At the second level of the pyramid we created a virtual course in Design Thinking open to all BBVA employees. This project-based course was designed to empower everyone with basic tools for innovation.

The third level of the pyramid, the Design Ambassador workshops and coaching, were already in place. To further incentivise and grow the Ambassadors, we began developing a series of Master Classes.

Finally, we created a parallel track for leaders with customised workshops focused on proving the value of Design Thinking and empowering each leader to act as an innovation enabler for their team.

Redesigning the organisation: From challenges to innovation

As part of our research effort, we spoke with dozens of Ambassadors and discovered that as they endeavoured to work differently, they were often bumping into institutional challenges: misunderstandings across teams, legacy processes and structures, cultural biases, etc. To create lasting change, the business needed to go beyond just its employees, but instead to reshape process and structure.

Like most mature organisations, over time, bureaucracy had built up and BBVA had become less friendly to innovation. But there was a silver lining: The Design Ambassadors were able to identify barriers to innovation that were often invisible to those operating with a business-as-usual mind-set. The Ambassadors became the canaries in the coal mine.

As the most common challenges came into focus, the next step was to remove or reimagine them. With a set of recipes, Ambassadors were empowered to individually tackle institutional challenges, effectively redesigning the organisation from the inside out.

Measuring impact: From numbers to stories

The importance and challenge of measurement and reporting cannot be overstated. Instead of building innovative products and services for customers, Design Transformation focuses on building the capacity for innovation, so measuring direct financial impact is not a metric we consider.

An early challenge was obtaining baseline metrics. When the programme launched two years ago, the reporting tools needed were not yet in place. By the time they were, the baseline had shifted.

A second challenge was finding the right metrics to track. We experimented with a number of mostly quantitative metrics with mixed results. In retrospect, it is clear that a successful approach must combine deep qualitative stories with broader quantitative extrapolation. We are still learning, and our Program is evolving.

Design Transformation: A new value proposition for design

Design, regardless of who practices it, is and has always been present in any business, either by action or by omission. Historically it has been the former. But now, rapid changes in technology have pushed design irreversibly into the core and spotlight of large organisations. Many digitally-focused businesses like BBVA are not only buying/building strong internal design teams, they are spreading design capacity throughout their organisations, training non-designers in design mind-sets and methods, essentially democratising design and experimenting with new paradigms of organisational change.

From the designer’s point of view, we have opened part of our toolbox to our colleagues in the organisation. This has had a very positive impact on the organisation and on the designers. It has facilitated design work in projects, due to increased awareness of design processes, and is generating a common framework, strengthening an equal and collaborative relationship between business, technology and design teams.

We found that design-led transformation efforts are not a substitute for traditional change management paradigms, but rather a powerful complement and extender. At BBVA, applying a service design filter to organisational change has reduced abstraction, providing a clear set of actionable behaviour changes. It has helped BBVA reorient the entire company around the customer.

Design has also enabled an organic, bottom-up process that evolved by learning at each step. This approach fosters the cultural mind-set that service companies are about people who have to work together to offer innovative solutions that fit the real needs of other people: BBVA’s customers, clients and colleagues.

1 transformation.html
2 organization/how-we-help-clients/ transformational-change
3 change
4 Frames_20110128.pdf
5 and 209323782
6 Benchmark+2017/-/E-RES137691

This article is part of Touchpoint Vol. 9 No. 3 - Service Design at Scale. Touchpoint Journal is available to purchase in print and PDF format. Become an SDN member, or upgrade your community membership, to be able to read all articles online and download the full-issue PDF at no charge.





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