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Design Thinking with Bank of America

MMM students helped Bank of America reimagine the post-pandemic banking experience for their Business Innovation Lab (BIL) project.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many branch locations for Bank of America were forced to temporarily or permanently close. The pandemic also expedited the world’s transition to digital technology, and in many instances touchless, particularly when it comes to banking.

To help navigate that shift along with a strong desire to maintain face-to-face experiences, Bank of America turned to Northwestern's MMM program. 

Julie ChungBank of America wanted to maintain in-person experiences while also providing more digital solutions, said Julie Chung (MMM '22), one of five students who worked with Bank of America as part of the MMM Business Innovation Lab (BIL). "We sought to blend both in-person and digital experiences to enhance the relationship between Bank of America and its customers."

MMM is a dual-degree program between Northwestern Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management, where students focus on human-centered design thinking while also developing a rigorous business foundation. BIL is designed to give students time to deeply explore a solution for a real-world business client and serves as a capstore to the MMM program. 

Chung and her classmates honed their user-research skills by talking with Bank of America customers and banking associates to identify pain points, then sharpened their brainstorming and design-thinking talents by developing human-centered solutions to help take those pains away. 

“BIL was truly a great capstone to our MMM program because it encapsulated the entire design thinking process,” Hung Nguyen (MMM ‘22) said. “It was wonderful to realize that we had absorbed so much and were able to complete a design consulting project from end to end.”

One of the key lessons both Nguyen and Chung took away from their BIL experience was the value of communication, both internally within a team but also externally with a client. They saw the benefit of having a project timeline planned out from the beginning and the importance of sharing where on the timeline they were with the client. They also recognized the value of having frequent conversations with the client to understand their expectations as well as their feedback on work progress.

It was one of those conversations that led the team to tweak their solution late in the quarter following specific client feedback. 

"We were happy to be able to incorporate their feedback to make our recommendation more sound," Nguyen said.

Because of the frequent interactions with the client, the final presentation felt smooth for both the students and Bank of America. 

"The key thing is not only to deliver a great presentation at the end of the project, but to communicate with and update the client and get their feedback frequently," Nguyen said. "So actually, we kind of already did the work of the final presentation weekly from the beginning of the project."  

Chung agreed.

"There were no surprises when we delivered our final recommendation," she said. "It was a fun and conversational presentation because we communicated consistently with our clients every week via Zoom meetings and emails."

That communication not only created a good working relationship with Bank of America, but it also provided the students with added confidence they can now leverage as MMM graduates. 

"BIL validated the value of the MMM program and how we developed a toolkit to deliver high impact solutions for real clients, even of extremely high caliber like Bank of America," Chung said. "This allows us to hit the ground running and create and deliver value. It makes me feel confident I can bring a design thinking lens to the table no matter my role."

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