Why Discover said goodbye to cubicles, and hello to collaboration
At Discover, innovation doesn’t start at the top, it starts with the team. And that’s by design.
The financial services company has adopted an agile, cross-collaborative model to keep up in the ever-changing tech world. Rather than working in silos, developers now work side-by-side with product owners to build new products and features for customers.
The result is an environment where employees at all levels are empowered to make decisions and shape Discover’s product to meet its customers’ needs. We spoke to four members on the digital applications team about how they’re busting down walls and working together to position Discover for the future.
Discover Financial Services
WHAT THEY DO: Discover offers banking, payment solutions and other financial services to customers around the world.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Riverwoods and Chicago
KNOWLEDGE CREDIT: Discover encourages its employees to continue learning by offering training, tuition reimbursement and job rotation opportunities.
WORK/LIFE BALANCE: Most employees receive more than 20 days of paid time off, while new parents can take advantage of the company’s generous paternal leave policy.
Ying, Director of Card Acquisitions Digital Development
Ying and her team are leading the transformation of the technology platform Discover’s customers use when they apply for a credit card.
BEYOND WORK: Fall means one thing for Ying — dinner parties. Every year at the turn of the season, she invites friends and family to dine on her cooking and baking.
How has Discover supported your growth at the company?
I’ve been with Discover for 17 years, and during that time, I’ve been promoted five times and rotated to different positions. Those experiences have taught me so much about different aspects of the financial industry and of technology disciplines. I’ve also had many leadership training opportunities, which have helped me grow both personally and professionally.
We are in the middle of an exciting journey to transform our technology platform that will position the organization for the future.”
We understand the tech team is changing the way it works. Tell us about that transition.
My team is at the forefront of this change. We are in the middle of an exciting journey to transform our technology platform that will position the organization for the future. This has required all of us to learn new technical skills and a new method of working together. We work in a collaborative environment, where teams are empowered to make decisions to improve our technology.
What opportunities are there to work with other teams?
In the past, technology teams were expected to code the requirements that were handed to them. Now, business product owners and technology teams work side-by-side to develop products iteratively. We practice paired programming, and, when we need assistance from another team, we request a team member to pair with our developer or product owner. They’re able to solve the problem together without emails or endless meetings.
Molly, Technical Product Owner
Molly brings a technology background to a product role. Those skills enable her to act as a bridge between the tech team and the customer, helping to shape the product around the customer’s needs and within the capabilities of Discover’s technology.
BEYOND WORK: Molly is happiest among trees and nature. She and her husband love pitching a tent and exploring the country’s national parks.
What are the advantages of bringing together the business and technology side?
I’m currently paired with a product owner from marketing. We sit together every day, develop the backlog of work for our team, work closely with our developers, test the work that is delivered back to us and communicate with stakeholders. We each bring different backgrounds and strengths and have learned from each other along the way. We’ve found that working together makes us a much more powerful team and results in a higher-quality product.
How has the transition to an agile method helped the tech team?
It’s almost impossible to predict all of the changes that might happen on a long-term technology project. Requirements change, priorities change, people change and even the technology can change. Agile is helping Discover move to a place that is more comfortable with change. We’re learning how to break our work into smaller pieces and adjust quicker instead of waiting until the end, which has allowed us to see value more quickly.
Business owners are more engaged with the technology teams, and technology leaders are more involved with shaping the vision of our products.”
How has Discover’s culture evolved?
The company is evolving into a more well-rounded organization. In the past, business would give technology a detailed list of project requirements and say, “Go build this.” That barrier between business and technology is breaking down. Business owners are more engaged with the technology teams, and technology leaders are more involved in shaping the vision of our products.
The company is learning that in order to act quickly, our business processes and technology systems need to be capable of responding quickly. The company as a whole is learning to work together in a new way that is less department-based and more customer journey-focused.
Kishore, Solution Architect
Kishore builds the architecture for Discover’s digital card acquisitions process. He collaborates with business teams and management to assess the technical feasibility of new product concepts and ensures system components are aligned with the architecture.
BEYOND WORK: When Kishore needs to relax, he enjoys playing ping pong and tennis.
What project excites you the most right now?
The past year-and-a-half has been the most exciting time of my 12-plus years at Discover. We are building a new platform for digital card acquisitions using an event-based architecture that leverages micro-services and continuous integration and delivery. We are using new tools and technologies with a product-focused delivery method.
This includes a lot of whiteboarding sessions, mind-mapping sessions and value stream mapping to analyze complex business processes and system architectures. These allow us to come up with options to address the problem at hand.
The past year-and-a-half has been the most exciting time of my 12-plus years at Discover.”
What values are held on the tech team?
We value respect, collaboration and openness. Everyone on my team collaborates and supports each other's learning. I’ve have been provided with ample opportunities to learn and even choose projects that excite me. This has allowed me to expand my technical horizons and get a perspective of system architecture while increasing my domain knowledge.
How often does your team collaborate on projects?
We collaborate every day. Our teams have adopted paired programming and we rotate pairs each day. At the start of the morning standup, we determine our pairing rotation. Throughout the day, we collaborate on the best possible approach to meet project requirements.
AJ, Lead Developer
AJ started as an intern at Discover and has since progressed to a senior position, where he writes the code that powers its technology. He loves whiteboarding and working with his teammates to solve complex problems.
BEYOND WORK: AJ spends his time playing board games, video games and running. Each feeds back into his work. Gaming has taught him how to influence a team and inspire them, while running every day has taught him how to stick to a schedule.
How has the way the tech team works evolved from when you first joined?
When I first started at Discover several years ago, I worked in a cubicle. I would sit in on a lot of conference calls at my desk, and projects were managed with waterfall methodology. Now, I sit in an open workspace with a team of developers who actively talk with each other. I’ve been doing it for three years now, and I haven’t looked back.
How does the team approach collaborating with the business side?
Early on, I had little influence on the product. Today, I sit with three pairs of developers and a product owner, whose time is dedicated to the team. It makes such a big difference having business sit next to us. Rather than communicate through email or play tag with messaging, we can simply look over and get answers to our questions.
What opportunities are there to have input in the product as a developer?
Every Monday, we plan our week and go over the backlog. This is where developers have the opportunity to raise questions and contribute to the stories. My team works on a self-service web page, and we constantly give feedback to the product owner about how we should be updating and implementing the pages.
One of the greatest things about coming to work is collaborating with people on problems.”
How does Discover foster a supportive tech environment?
Solving a problem by myself is rewarding, but it isn’t as rewarding as solving it with a team. One of the greatest things about coming to work is collaborating with people on problems. I enjoy the process through which we solve a problem and how we build on the solution. I get to see how others solve problems and learn from them.