Advisor Case Study: Building Software Users Love

Rajesh Nerlikar June 16 2021

The following is adapted from Build What Matters.

After I joined Morningstar, we went through an Agile transformation that focused on user-centricity. Internally, the transition was known as Building Software Users Love. As a part of that transition, I reported directly to the Head of Individual Investor Business (our consumer product suite that included rather than the President of Retirement Solutions, whose clients bought the financial wellness/retirement robo advisor product suite I managed. Why? Because we wanted to introduce a diversity of product perspectives into the group.

Historically, most of the product managers for the robo advisor platform came from other parts of the retirement business, were familiar with how the industry and clients thought about the product category, and often had a deep technical understanding of the product (and therefore knew its limitations). Since the product was so big and complex, we had a team of a senior product manager (SPM) and three associate product managers (APMs) who rotated frequently as a part of the Morningstar Development Program. When recruiting these APMs, we looked for who could improve the diversity of perspective on the team by bringing a consumer product mindset and questioning why things worked the way they did as we re-platformed the product.

As a part of their homework, APMs were asked a simple question about the product (which all of them had access to through Morningstar’s own retirement plan): what one change would you make to the product and why? The responses quickly identified good design-oriented candidates and the great candidates were able to rationalize why their product change helped both users and the business.

These APMs were mentored by a Senior PM who also wanted to bring a new mindset to the product team. They were supported by a team of consumer product designers, who collaborated with designers across the organization (especially the Individual Investor Business) to bring a refreshed set of design principles, patterns and best practices. Collectively, these new team members improved the diversity of perspective across the team and led by example to show what it means to be user-centric.

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Written by Rajesh Nerlikar

Rajesh is a co-founder of Prodify and Principal Product Advisor / Coach. He is currently the VP of Product at Regrow. Prior to that, he was the Director of Workplace Products at Morningstar, a Senior PM at HelloWallet (which was acquired by Morningstar) and a PM at Opower (which went public in 2014).

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