Posted on 27 March 2023
The Need for Speed: How Rapid Prototyping can Kickstart Companies' Digital Transformation
By Curt Beck and Sandy McCarron
How prototyping fintech products can develop business agility, change customer perception, and generate value faster
Teams talk about digital transformation, but many struggle to embrace it. It can be costly, time consuming, and the sheer amount of legacy technology that needs addressing can be overwhelming. Yet digital transformation doesn’t always require a large time or financial investment to start. At Alter Domus, we’ve established a transformation playbook to effectively jumpstart our digital transformation journey, building and revamping systems and applications rapidly, while being methodical- and most critically - customer focused.
A technique employed at Alter Domus is Rapid prototyping - an approach that allows teams to test a product idea quickly and inexpensively with clients to gain early insights into their pain points and how to solution them. There are multiple ways to prototype depending on need and time available – a throwaway prototype made in a couple hours to a full five-day Design Sprint, requiring a team to clear calendars, roll up their sleeves and make decisions together quickly.
Case Study: Document Tracker to DealFact
As data in the alternatives marketplace compounds and outgrows the spreadsheet, the Data & Analytics team saw an opportunity for a SaaS application that stores and manages all documents specified in a credit agreement between a borrower and lender.
Lenders are required to receive and keep track of important financial information from their borrowers, and that process was typically being performed via email and local spreadsheets, a manual process that required multiple follow ups and chasing, as there was no one place where all the documents were stored, making it very challenging for the lender to determine if they were receiving all the documentation outlined in the credit agreement.
The team started quickly building a prototype leveraging an existing internal tool that allowed users to upload and store all their documents in one place, giving them a clear picture of what’s been submitted and what was missing. We then met with domain experts from other areas within Alter Domus that managed Credit Agreements on behalf of clients to understand that workflow and the requirements needed.
It was crucial that the initial set of requirements reflected only the core functionality, enabling the developers to move with speed while at the same time putting a compelling solution in front of our clients. After two weeks of prototyping, the initial app was previewed to product strategy, members of the sales team, and select prospects to elicit feedback. The key was the development team was given maximum space to build the initial app before fully deciding functionality, and that the process was iterative, enabling the development to continuously move with velocity.
One of the more critical activities during this phase was partnering with the Commercial team to ensure that the prototype told a story that aligned with their view of what the market needs and resonated with prospects. We quickly validated the idea and affirmed the potential market need opportunity at hand, so the team moved to a full Design Sprint to dive deeper into the client needs and build out a more polished interactive prototype to share with existing clients.
Google Ventures notably developed the Design Sprint process to help clients validate their product hypothesis before investing in the actual product build. This approach also condenses the time-consuming efforts of understanding requirements and getting customer feedback on a realistic prototype – commonly a 3-6 month process – into one week.
Here's an overview:
Structured conversations allow the team to understand as much information on the concept as quickly as possible, defining key questions and a long-term goal. The sprint teams make a simple map of the product or service, speak to experts and ultimately pick a target.
The team sketches ideas about how to best solve the market need (i.e., the problem that needs to be solved), focusing on individual thinking over a group brainstorm. Participants sketch their own detailed, opinionated solutions, emphasizing critical thinking over artistry.
The Facilitator leads the team through a gallery walk of Tuesday’s sketches and the team decides which should be prototyped and tested with clients by using silent votes over discussion to identify the best solutions. One “decider” picks the best of the best solutions which are combined into step-by-step storyboard for the prototype.
The Designer builds a realistic prototype of the storyboard that simulates a finished product for customers to get the best possible data from test, and you'll learn whether you're on the right track.
The team shares the realistic prototype with five customers in five 1:1 interviews. The Facilitator asks targeted questions in a way to elicit unbiased feedback to the team’s most pressing questions.
At the conclusion of the sprint, customer feedback would dictate if the idea is viable or not. Some teams find out after a sprint that the idea doesn’t have an audience. For us it was clear that our prototype resonated with interviewees, giving us the go-ahead to transition from high fidelity prototype to building an MVP Product.
The requirements and ideas gathered during prototyping became the basis for a product backlog. Following Agile Development methodology, our product, design, and development teams prioritized this backlog and built a validated idea into a shippable product in roughly seven months. DealFact is currently available for clients.
In one year, the Data & Analytics team has built several successful prototypes using these methods, highlighting our commitment to being a valuable partner to our clients.
- The Quant team built an application that tracked Loan Trade Settlement times, giving the Loan Trade Settlement team and their clients key insights into how to more effectively manage trade settlement.
- In a week, our Quant team built a dashboard that highlighted our financial spreading capabilities.
- The Credit Vision team used a Design Sprint to gain alignment on critical new features and reimagine the user experience for its next generation relaunch (pending Q3 launch).
- Recognizing the need for a centralized portal for our client-facing products, a Design Sprint was held in January for AD Storefront, to broaden our clients’ awareness of all our products and services, and act as the single “front door” for our clients to log into their respective products (pending Q2 launch).
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