Three Simple Steps to Kickstart your AI Journey

By Tela Gallagher Mathias , COO and Managing Partner, PhoenixTeam

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, we started our AI journey because we saw both opportunities and threats to our business. So much more than staying relevant, we want to lead the change that is coming with the commonplace availability of the awesome power of generative AI. As I say often, we want to be the change we want to see in the world. That’s why I co-created PhoenixTeam almost a decade ago. We started this company to create a place and a culture we would want to be a part of.

You may be wondering where to start your AI journey. Here are the three things you should literally do today.

  1. If you haven’t already, create an account with chat GPT and run the peanut butter and jelly experiment from our last post. Be smart guys, don’t put anything confidential or proprietary in there. Unless you are using a team account, OpenAIuses what you put in to train its models.
  2. Reflect on what this means to you and your business. Ask yourself – how does this technology apply to my business?
  3. Make a list of three people you need to talk to that can help you figure out what you are doing today that leverages AI.

AI technology has been around for decades, just not at the scale you see today, so don’t worry – you are probably doing more than you think. Using optical character recognition (OCR)? That’s AI. Robotic process automation (RPA)? Yes, that’s AI. Chat bots? AI. You get the picture. Tell us what you find out.

The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich AI Experiment

Written By Tela Gallagher Mathias , COO and Managing Partner, PhoenixTeam

Part of the scope of our MVP was to create storyboards, which was actually really hard. I highly recommend running your own peanut butter and jelly experiment. It’s super easy. Here are the steps:

1. Open up ChatGPT.

2. Enter the following prompt: “describe the process used to create a peanut butter and jelly sandwich”.

You’ll find that chat GPT provides an awesome answer, very thorough and just right. Perfect grammar, with all the steps described. Now the fun part.

3. Enter the following prompt: “create a storyboard illustrating the process”.

I’ve run this experiment a dozen times and it is always fun, but the best result remains the one achieved by Tom Westerlind.

What I love about this experiment is how profoundly it reveals both the awesome power and the hilarious limitations of the “today” technology. I say “today” technology because the tech is moving at a breakneck pace. I’m sure the absurd (and at times, disturbing) deficiencies will resolve in months, but I love discovering and overcoming these problems.

The more you stare at this image, the weirder it gets. It starts great – every hungry person ever, staring out the window posing the constant question to themself – “I’m hungry, what am I going to eat?”

As the steps progress, you can see the AI is trying to get it right, it has hints of the process it described so well just a moment ago, but what’s up with the cigarette in (the first) pane three? And those bowls of peanuts and fruit – are we doing tableside PB&J? Why would we use such a huge knife and a spoon to cut our sandwich? It goes on and on.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments on what you see, also feel free to post your image results.

Starting our AI Journey

Written By Tela Gallagher Mathias , COO and Managing Partner, PhoenixTeam

In late February, we kicked off our #AI journey. As a company that specializes in the design, delivery, implementation, and care of technology solutions, we saw both the opportunity and the threat that AI and generative AI brings to us.

The opportunity – AI augmented product development will empower us to dramatically reduce time to value for our customers. We will be able to test ideas faster and with less waste.

The threat – AI and generative AI will change the talent required in software development in radical ways that we do not yet understand. The jobs required to make software will change.

The facts – Pretty much everyone uses some variation of the same process to create software solutions. If we reduce the time it takes to complete the fundamental steps of software development, we will reduce time to value.

Our hypothesis – we can use #generativeAI to create the basic artifacts of software development faster than traditional approaches.

So, we kicked off a six-week proof of concept with a very talented team of Phoenix practitioners. We started with a plan and then we changed our plan as we learned. Opportunities to add value presented themselves so we pivoted a few times. What didn’t change was our main goal – learning.

We just finished our POC and where we ended up was with a custom GPT that creates context-specific training materials, storyboards, user stories, and acceptance criteria.

MVP Solution Flow

It was very refreshing to take something to production in literally days. Once we figured out what we wanted to do, we were up and running in less than a week. We learned a lot and there is more to come as move to the next phase of our AI journey. We’ll keep you posted.

MISMO Winter Summit 2024

The MISMO Winter Summit was jam-packed with insightful discussions, forward-looking sessions and it was also a celebration of MISMO’s 25-year anniversary of industry collaboration and standards development. Our team led 15 workgroup sessions, covering the latest standards in mortgage technology, credit reporting, and much more.

Let’s dive into the key insights and takeaways from the summit:

Embracing New Technologies:

A common theme of the summit was the focus on new technologies to streamline the mortgage process. Discussions and sessions highlighted the importance of enhancing security and transparency in transactions. The integration of AI, blockchain, and other emerging technologies is not merely a vision of the future, but a reality poised to reshape the mortgage landscape.

Legislative Developments- The VA Home Loan Awareness Act of 2023:

The proposed legislation brings greater awareness to the loan products available to Veterans by incorporating a disclaimer on the Uniform Residential Loan Application (URLA) to increase awareness of the direct and guaranteed home loan programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA Home Loan Awareness Act of 2023, detailed in a DS News story, is a bipartisan effort that underscores the industry’s continued efforts to highlight the VA home loan benefits available to those who have served our country.

New Initiatives: MISMO Certifications, Fee Modernization and Loan Servicing Data Standard

MISMO announced its new certification opportunities, including the MISMO Certified Consultants program and PhoenixTeam is proud to be an early applicant. “The new MISMO Certifications are designed for professionals and technology providers who demonstrate their commitment to effective business practices through their expertise in, and adherence to, MISMO standards,” said David Coleman, President of MISMO. “As adoption of MISMO standards continues to accelerate, we have more industry partners interested in pursuing the variety of certifications we are offering.”

MISMO is seeking participants for a NEW Fee Modernization Workgroup! VA announced plans for a collaborative effort with other federal housing agencies to develop a loan servicing data standard – more to come!

More Insights from the Sessions: AI, Credit Reporting, FHFA and SMART Docs®

  • The Emerging Tech Community of Practice session debuted an Emerging Tech updates segment that included trends, articles, and projections about emerging technologies such as AI and Blockchain.
  • The Artificial Intelligence panel discussion provided an engaging conversation around “The Missing Middle” and how to bridge the gap between ‘human only activity’ and ‘machine only activity’. Brian Stucky from Rocket Mortgage refers to this as “The Missing Middle.” Human only activities include components such as leadership, teamwork, empathy, judgement, and social skills. Machine only activities include accuracy, speed, scalability, quantitative capabilities, and iteration. The “missing middle” are hybrid activities that can train, explain, sustain, and interact. The implementation involves leveraging AI to perform tasks that don’t require human intervention, such as interpreting loan documents and assisting with origination systems. As a result, bankers are obtaining answers approximately 70% faster.
  • The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) shared an update on what it learned during recent stakeholder forums discussing how data digitization might drive transparency, increase access, fairness, affordability, and sustainability in mortgage lending. The stakeholder forums, focused on historical data and sequencing of events, had broad industry participation. FHFA acknowledged the industry preference for “big bang” vs. a phased approach implementation of the credit score changes. It also reiterated movement of the bi-merge implementation timeline and expect to announce upcoming FHFA stakeholder forms by the end of January.  Potential topics for future forums may include Gaming, Fair Lending, Cost to Consumers and Consumer Disclosure.
  • Although the implementation date for the credit score changes is pending, the Credit Reporting CoP continued their effort to develop implementation guidance of the MISMO standard and the representation of the FICO 10T and Vantage Score 4.0.
  • The use of SMART Docs®, remains a focus with the introduction of Version 3 which introduces the ability to verify data and documents while also being tamper evident.

We are grateful for the insights gained and more excited to put them into practice as we continue to execute our federal and commercial clients’ value delivery goals.

Follow PhoenixTeam on LinkedIn for the latest news and updates.

#MISMOWinterSummit #MISMO #ContinuousLearning #Adaptability

Jacki Frazer

We recently interviewed Jacki Frazer, Managing Director at PhoenixTeam and the well-deserved recipient of PhoenixTeam’s Leader of the Year Award. Our interview was nothing short of inspiring, and discussed many leadership topics, including her unique philosophy, the importance of team collaboration, her innovative strategies for overcoming leadership challenges.

Some key insights from our interview:

🏆 On Being Named Leader of the Year
Jacki shared her heartfelt feelings about receiving the Leader of the Year award, emphasizing the importance of team effort and collective success.

🌍 Leadership in Jacki’s Eyes
What does leadership mean? Our conversation revealed that for Jacki, leadership is less about authority and more about collaboration, mentorship, and showing growth in others.

🧭 Jacki’s Leadership Philosophy
Jacki shared her belief in collaboration with a focus on coaching. Her approach is a blend of empathy, strategic thinking, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

🚀 Tackling Challenges
Jacki recounted a particularly challenging situation and how she navigated it with grace and determination. The outcome? A stronger team and invaluable lessons in resilience and adaptability.

🌱 Advice for Aspiring Leaders
Jacki emphasized the importance of continuous learning, working closely with their leader or coach for honest feedback. Leadership takes time and effort and a continuous process that pays off over time.

📈 Upcoming Leadership Programs at PhoenixTeam
Finally, Jacki gave us a sneak peek into the exciting leadership community of practice program. This initiative promises to further strengthen the organization’s leadership culture and provide ample growth opportunities for team members.

Click here to watch the full interview

Why Phoenix Shawn Burke

In this “Why Phoenix” interview featuring Shawn Burke, Managing Practitioner at PhoenixTeam, we explore the dynamic culture of PhoenixTeam. Shawn uncovers what makes our Phoenix Village truly unique — its people, its culture of innovation, and its passion for excellence.

Shawn discusses topics including:
▶️ The dynamic and engaging culture at PhoenixTeam.
▶️ Key milestones and turning points that have shaped his experience with the team.
▶️ Inspiring moments that have stood out during his time with PhoenixTeam.
▶️ His time away from PhoenixTeam and the factors that influenced his decision to rejoin the team.
▶️ What makes PhoenixTeam a special and unique place to work.
▶️ His aspirations and plans for his future with PhoenixTeam.

Click here to watch the full interview!

Agile Dev Ops East 2023

The Agile + DevOps East Conference 2023, a TechWell Corp event, was full of innovative ideas, methodologies, and learnings. This annual gathering serves as a melting pot for industry experts, thought leaders, and practitioners, all sharing invaluable experiences, revelations, and strategies essential for navigating the ever-evolving landscape of software development.

Among our PhoenixTeam attendees was Noah Krueger, Senior Practitioner and Senior Software Engineer. Noah attended numerous sessions jam-packed with cutting-edge Agile methodologies, DevOps practices, and the impact of AI on software development.

Let’s dive into his key insights and takeaways from the event ranging from AI, Agile, Leadership and much more:

  1. A company’s digital transformation is an inevitable journey that must be handled with care and includes planning and discussions around the tools used, how the teams will pivot to accompany the transformation, and flexibility on the price and timeline. Platform engineering is a necessary role in companies that want to produce and support home-grown tools needed to maintain a digital presence and be at the forefront of their industry.
  2. Healthy leadership requires fostering a team culture of purpose, co-intelligence, and autonomy resulting in a resilient learning community.
  3. AI has the potential to enhance various aspects of a low-performing engineering team by analyzing metrics, identifying problem areas, generating mockups, and creating better unit tests. It can positively impact deployment frequency, failure likelihood in production, lead times, and recovery time.
  4. #GenerativeAI will be a crucial tool (not a replacement) for quality assurance teams as it speeds up the ability to create unit tests and other automated scripts. Understanding how to leverage this tool will help differentiate tech workers in the future. Still, we must also be mindful of its biases and make sure we are not blindly trusting the artifacts that it generates.
  5. Generative AI is a tool that can be used across every aspect of the software development lifecycle, including generating requirements with acceptance criteria and supporting UI mockups, system architecture design, and generating code.
  6. Large technology organizations that want to scale can easily become hampered by slow team member onboarding, inconsistency in tooling across different teams, high cognitive load demands, and a lack of reusability across the organization. Partnering with a digital modernization partner, like Stackspot, can smooth out these challenges and maintain a high level of productivity and satisfaction amongst technology teams.
  7. GitHub actions are a feature that many teams are not taking advantage of, even when their code repositories are stored in GitHub. By streamlining and automating most DevOps steps, software teams can eliminate many tedious tasks, go to market faster, focus on product innovation, and implement features that increase customer satisfaction.
  8. There is a growing fear in the tech industry that AI will replace developers, but this concern conveniently forgets that we have leveraged intelligent tools for decades, such as drag-n-drop components, Integrated Development Environments (IDEs), IntelliSense, and many more. The trend has been that the tools are getting better, but more is needed to offset the growing responsibilities of developers. Generative AI will simply become another tool that lifts the tedious tasks off the team’s shoulders, allowing them to focus on the more innovative and challenging work.
  9. Estimating is a common task in software development that usually relies on our past to guess the future but has two major issues: our biases and the tendency to rely on averages. Instead of relying on averages, using the data from start and end times, one should be able to provide ranges and probabilities about when projects will be completed.

Our team’s engagement in this event showcases our dedication to our clients. We remain at the forefront of innovation and agile methodologies, leveraging transformative technologies to elevate our software development practices. These takeaways will be inputs to PhoenixTeam’s strategies and culture of continuous learning, adaptability, and empathy. As tech continues to rapidly advance and new exciting opportunities come our way, we will adapt accordingly, responsibly and transparently.

Follow PhoenixTeam on LinkedIn for the latest news and updates.

Sessions Attended: Lead Without Blame – Building Resilient Learning Teams ◆ Digital Transformation Pitfalls, and How Cloud Development Environment Platforms Can Change Everything ◆ How AI is Shaping High Performance DevOps Teams ◆ The Potential of AI & Automated Testing: Conquer Test Script Challenges with AI ◆ AI-Powered Agile + DevOps: The Future Starts Now ◆ Case-Study – IT Delivery up to 70% faster ◆ Coding at the Speed of Business: Impacts of Modernizing and Scaling the Developer Experience in a Large Bank ◆ Automating Repetitive Tasks with GitHub Actions ◆ AI and the Future of Coding ◆ Chasing Predictability with AI: The Model of You Outperforms You


In the “Why Phoenix” series, PhoenixTeam Village members share their personal and unique journeys within the organization. Vicki Withrow’s experience with PhoenixTeam is a testament to the power of this dynamic workplace. Her story takes us on a remarkable journey, highlighting the key milestones, challenges, and inspiring moments that have shaped her professional growth and personal development.

The Beginning of a Journey 

As I reflect on my time with PhoenixTeam, certain milestones and turning points come into focus. It all began with a connection and familiar face – Lindsay Bennett. Lindsay and I worked together for a short time previously and her dedication and ability to embrace change left a lasting impression on me. When Lindsay accepted an opportunity with PhoenixTeam, we connected on LinkedIn, and I watched as she and PhoenixTeam grew and impacted the mortgage tech industry. Searching for professional growth and a change for myself, one day I made the decision to contact her when she was searching for someone to join her on a project. Little did I know this would mark the beginning of a career with PhoenixTeam. 

In my first three years at PhoenixTeam, I served as a Product Designer and Product Manager on two of its largest programs at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loan Guaranty (LGY). These programs challenged me in new ways, but it was the trust and support of our leadership that gave me the courage to embrace the unknown and showcase my experience. PhoenixTeam saw my worth, celebrated my work ethic, and always had my back. As a result, my confidence and sense of accomplishment grew both personally and professionally.  

In 2021, I transitioned over to support another large commercial mortgage technology client. Leading a team, we took a deep dive into the client’s world, creating high-quality design documents and future state vision. Here, I learned new creative techniques to elicit and understand the client’s daily challenges, the art of asking the right questions, and the power of empathy. We were making a difference, and the client knew that its voice, vision, and objectives, were heard and embraced.  

A Period of Transition

There was a moment when life presented challenges that caused me to consider a career outside of the mortgage industry and PhoenixTeam. After eight years in the fintech industry, I took a leap and transitioned into a new role as a Product Manager in the fashion industry, and I loved the idea of a four-day work week policy offered by this company. My father had been diagnosed with skin cancer, and this allowed me to spend more time with him. This timing, along with my aspiration to return to the fashion industry, couldn’t have been more perfect. When I shared my intentions to pursue a different passion with PhoenixTeam leadership, I was met with wholehearted support to follow my dreams. Our Partners blessed my departure and reassured me that I would always have a home with PhoenixTeam. 

During my new adventure, the deep product management, design, and implementation expertise I gained from PhoenixTeam set me apart from others. There were six systems I was responsible for as a Product Manager, but I was also called upon for assistance in the customer service arena, monthly catalogue creation, and general technology support. The role was very demanding and when colleagues asked, “WHERE did you come from?” The answer was simple – PhoenixTeam. 

I remained in touch with my PhoenixTeam comrades, and they always reassured me that my “village” was here should I find my way back. Within five months, I realized that the fashion industry was not as glamorous as I expected. I returned to the PhoenixTeam Village and was offered the chance to work with a well-known client whose work I greatly admired. This opportunity came under the leadership of Tanya Brennan, PhoenixTeam’s CEO and Managing Partner. She was the only “T” from our founding partners (Tanya, Tom Westerlind, and Tela Mathias) that I had not worked closely with to date, and I was thrilled to benefit from a new viewpoint and leadership style.   

As I look back, I have no regrets with my decision to take a chance and follow a dream. My time away allowed me to meet new people, try new things – even when doing so was professionally risky – and gain absolute clarity on what I need and deserve in a company. 

My “Why Phoenix” 

The heart of PhoenixTeam is its people, each of whom has a wealth of knowledge, a high bar for empathy and compassion, and a shared desire to make a difference. In our world, every project has its challenges, but it is navigating and conquering those experiences that bring the most inspiration. For me, it was several years ago when we were delivering a release under some intense pressure and facing significant challenges with delayed schedules and navigating a rigorous testing phase. In typical PhoenixTeam fashion, we all rallied to deliver on our commitment. Jacki Frazer, PhoenixTeam Managing Practitioner, and I were up until working until 2 a.m. to successfully push the release to production. The minute we dropped off the release call, I stood by the ocean in the cold winter air, tearing up with pride at what we achieved. That night is burned into my memory, and I draw on that energy whenever times get tough, or I just need a reminder of the outcomes I can deliver.  

PhoenixTeam has given me a space to push myself to new levels, learn from mistakes without fear, and benefit from true servant leadership and mentorship. I’ve been fortunate to work on federal and commercial programs which has afforded me the amazing opportunity to work with a majority of our Phoenicians. I hope there are those that can say that I made a difference for them. I am forever grateful for PhoenixTeam, its leadership, and its focus on humanity and authenticity.  

I will always be thankful to Lindsay Bennett, not just for leading me to this remarkable company but also for her continued mentorship and the heartfelt dedication she brings to everything she does. Without people like her, people who truly care and strive to help others prosper in their career, I would not have achieved the growth and success I have to date. There are many other Phoenicians who stand out as key players in my career journey, each of whom have impacted me in different ways. When you consider it all, everyone at PhoenixTeam is special and always eager to share their knowledge, personal and professional experiences, or just listen.  

Looking Ahead: 

As I look ahead, I intend to continue to crush every day and grow at PhoenixTeam. Over the past five years, my skillset has quadrupled. While my roots are in Product, PhoenixTeam gave me opportunities to stretch and successfully lead and deliver complex quality, implementation, and release management initiatives. My commitment to PhoenixTeam is strong. The PhoenixTeam Village has been a constant source of support during significant life changes, and I am eternally grateful for the love and mentorship they provide. 

PhoenixTeam is not just a workplace; it’s a place where dreams can flourish, and I am proud to call it home.

Vicki Withrow, Managing Practitioner, PhoenixTeam

Ann Hopkins, a celebrated and deeply respected woman ahead of her time, made history when she shattered the glass ceiling during the ‘Mad Men’ era when sexism prevailed, men drank scotch and smoked at their desks, and women had “no place in a man’s world.” She bravely battled gender discrimination at Price Waterhouse, now PwC , reshaping the workplace landscape for women and all minorities. This epic, years-long struggle began with commonplace injustices at the time that would be unthinkable in today’s workplace but ultimately paved the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.  

Ann was the definition of a modern woman, managing a successful career and a growing family, marrying her husband in 1974, keeping her name like a boss, and having three children before divorcing in the late 1980s. She joined PwC in 1978 after prior roles with IBM and accounting firm Touche Ross. By her own admission, Ann could be abrasive, relentless, and impatient in the office. She was also one of the best young consultants in PwC’s Washington branch in 1982, according to managers who put her up for a partnership that year. Hopkins billed more hours than any of her counterparts — all of whom were men — and helped secure one of the largest government contracts in the accounting firm’s history. Her successes were legendary, and she did all of this without conforming to her gender role.

Despite earning her place in the boardroom, her partnership with the firm was denied. Twice. First in 1982 and again in 1983. Leaders at PwC criticized her as “macho,” “difficult,” and “aggressive.” One male supervisor told Hopkins that, to have any chance of becoming a partner, she needed to “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear makeup, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.”   

Today, she would be a social media icon, based on a passage from her 1996 memoir, “So Ordered: Making Partner the Hard Way,” in which she described herself as someone equally devoted to her career and embracing her true self. She liked to smoke and drink beer, sometimes used salty language, and was unapologetically tough-minded. In 1974, when she landed an interview at Touche Ross, she wore a crisply pressed suit and Ferragamo pumps and rode to the meeting on a Yamaha motorcycle. Ann was a role model far ahead of her time!   

Hopkins led the change for equality by suing PwC for dismissing her partnership application based solely on gender. She won two federal court cases, in 1985 and 1987, but those decisions did not put her in the partner seat. Ann knew her worth and the value she delivered. She was not one to sit back, accept the “W” but not truly effectuate the change necessary to move the needle in a fair and equitable direction. So, in 1989, she took her case to the Supreme Court. In a 6-3 decision, the court sided with Ann under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which states that an employer must demonstrate that hiring decisions are based on merit, not discriminatory notions, including those related to gender. The Supreme Court established that discrimination based on sex stereotyping is unlawful, setting precedence and significantly contributing to the path women are still paving for equality in the workplace.

But Ann was not done. Winning is half the battle—retribution is the ultimate victory. 

In 1990, following the favorable Supreme Court ruling, a lower court ordered PwC to offer Hopkins the denied partnership and pay her $370,000 in back wages (equivalent to about $732,000 today). Even though many of her colleagues who had criticized her were no longer in the Washington office, PwC made it abundantly clear that she was unwanted. In an ultimate show of strength, Ann seized the opportunity to use her exceptional skills at the top-notch firm and claimed her partnership.

She worked for PwC Waterhouse, achieving great success, until her retirement in 2002. Ann Hopkins was reluctant to call herself a civil rights heroine.

In an interview after the decision, Hopkins said of her case: “The explanation I got about why I didn’t make partner didn’t make sense to me. … I filed suit not because of the money, but because I had been given an irrational explanation for a bad business decision.” She later told The Boston Globe, “I’m not a leading-edge person. The only thing that makes me remarkable is that I happened to stand up for a particular principle at a particular time. And enough with this talk about feminism and glass ceilings…Lord knows if I put a crack in it.” 

Fred Tombar, who worked closely with Ann Hopkins, said that her sometimes harsh demeanor masked traits like generosity and loyalty. “Her expectations were through the roof, and if you didn’t meet them, she let you know in clear and unambiguous terms,” Mr. Tombar said. “That intimidated some people. But many of us took it as an opportunity to learn and grow. She had a direct and immeasurable impact on me.”

Ann’s daughter, Tela Mathias, said her mother had been proud to have spent so much of her career drilling excellence into young consultants at the company. “I would describe her as a reluctant civil rights landmark, a Texan, a constant gardener, and an excellent baker of pies,” Mathias said. “She didn’t even like pie. But she’d bring six. That was her way of showing love.”  

Ann Hopkins’ career was the definition of full circle; it had all the makings of a sensational Pulitzer novel with Ann as the lead superhero. While Ann passed away in 2018, her legacy is eternal. Her passion for authenticity, equality, and non-conformity lives on in PhoenixTeam, as her iron-clad principles and fierce work ethic were the foundation on which Phoenix was built. Price Waterhouse vs Hopkins was a groundbreaking case, setting a precedent for future generations that is still enforced today. The 1989 Supreme Court decision has been cited in cases contending that the ban on discrimination also bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Obama administration also cited Hopkins’ case to declare that Title VII protects against discrimination based on gender identity. Congress later cited the case, making the simple but momentous announcement that sex, race, religion, and national origin are not relevant to the selection, evaluation, or compensation of employees. Ann’s case continues to be cited in cases fighting workplace discrimination today, making a significant impact in favor of women and all individuals discriminated against based on gender stereotyping, including the LGBTQ+ community.   

Ann’s passing in 2018 may have marked the end of her life, but her legacy continues to fight for justice and equality for all.  

Ann Hopkins 1943 – 2018. For an in-depth view into Ann’s journey and the extraordinary person that she was, read her 1996 memoir in which she shares more about her life, career, and priceless wisdom. So Ordered: Making Partner the Hard Way by Ann Hopkins.   

An exhausting, but amazing experience that brought a cross-functional group together to form a team to create and test an amazing prototype that set the direction for our next release within a week. 

Senior Business Strategist

The Challenge

Our client is a major mortgage lender who, similar to others in the industry, struggles to aggregate and display data in an intentional and useful way. As part of a hackathon, a team of developers recognized a need, and over a period of nine to 12 months, created a performance insight tool that provided up-to-date personalized metrics on individual team member and user performance. This tool increased efficiency, replacing the time spent manually extracting and analyzing data across disparate platforms, but was developed and delivered without a User Interface and Experience team, product leadership, or end-user feedback. When the enterprise product team learned of the effort and efficiencies the tool could deliver, they jumped in to understand the scope and value of the upcoming beta release and start shaping the next release of the tool. PhoenixTeam was engaged to help discover the end-user’s problems and ideate on solutions for the tool’s second release.

The Solution

Understanding the urgency to define, prepare, and deliver value quickly, PhoenixTeam recommended a modified design sprint that allowed for rapid feedback of the soon-to-be-released beta tool and identification of the highest-priority features for the second release to a larger group of end-users.

PhoenixTeam modified the traditional five-day design sprint to kick off with testing the beta version. This approach allowed the team to learn the most valuable functionality and pinpoint improvement opportunities. PhoenixTeam provided a trainer and expert facilitator to coordinate and lead the five-day session. The facilitator empowered the team to think creatively and kept the team on track to achieve the planned outcomes for each day. The facilitator assisted in trend analysis and provided guidance to streamline future discovery and delivery efforts for the tool. To achieve the desired outcomes of the design sprint, PhoenixTeam organized a cross-functional team with the right skillsets to identify product market fit of the next release.

Here was our gameplan for the next five days:

With a beta already in play, our goal was to obtain immediate end-user feedback to understand whether it met our client’s needs and delivered them value. The team spent the first day reviewing the beta, revisiting personas and journey maps, and aligning on interview roles and questions. On the second day, the facilitator welcomed end-user testers and set the stage—introducing the purpose, objective, and desired outcome of the beta testing activity. The Interviewer introduced the end-users to the tool and asked them to use it as they would on any business day. The rest of the interview team watched and listened to the testers, capturing observations in a feedback log.

In what would traditionally take place throughout the first three days of a design sprint, Day Three of the modified sprint was dedicated to analyzing and understanding tester feedback, brainstorming solutions, and prioritizing the most valuable opportunities. The team synthesized feedback, created artifacts (Crazy Eights, storyboards, etc.), and conducted lightning demos.

Figure 1: Modified Design Sprint for Existing but Untested Prototype. Where the traditional Design Sprint begins with Understanding, Solutioning, and Deciding, when a working prototype exists without an understanding of the problem, the team can prep for interview to learn if the prototype solves the problems or addresses the needs of the end-user.


On Day Four, the team self-organized into prototype creation roles—Interviewer, Maker, Stitcher, Asset Collector, and Writer—empowering them to collaboratively build the prototype, develop new interview questions, and outline specific scenarios testers would complete during testing to prove or disprove the team’s hypotheses. The final day of the design sprint culminated with testing the prototype the team developed based on the first round of interviews and subsequent ideation.

The Outcome

PhoenixTeam understood the client’s challenge and turned it into an opportunity the team could solution quickly and collaboratively. Despite the additional challenges of a unique design timeline and working with an existing beta prior to collecting user feedback, the team realized the value of continuous feedback at every point of the development lifecycle. The cross-functional team worked together to develop a reimagined prototype that would result in a more impactful second release of the tool.

The interview team gathered over 400 pieces of individual feedback from the end-user interviews and identified the following themes:

  1. End-users did not have independent visibility into key performance and business metrics
  2. Users performed work differently, focusing on different metrics at different times
  3. There was a lack of trust on the quality of the data and metrics
  4. End-users had an inconsistent work prioritization processes
  5. Users expressed desire for peer-to-peer performance stack ranking
  6. New users faced training and adoption challenges
  7. Users wanted visibility into “effort” metrics
  8. End-users wished for more intuitive icons
  9. The tool’s expected functionality was not consistent across all users

The team rounded out the five days with a prioritized roadmap and confidence that the next version of the tool achieved product market fit. The week’s efforts resulted in a tool that would bring higher value to end-users, eliminating tedious manual data extraction and analysis, and saving them precious time, money, and resources. The team shifted its mindset from “just build it fast” to a mindset of “build the right thing fast” and embraced the iterative approach of ideate, prototype, and test with a continuous feedback loop. PhoenixTeam utilized Lean-Agile practices to help create solutions as unique as the challenges. In doing so, we continue to adapt industry standards and techniques, resulting in motivated team members geared up to make homeownership an easier dream to achieve through better mortgage technology.

PhoenixTeam Can Help!

The Phoenix Way begins and ends with client delivery. We are front-line leaders in the mortgage industry through product, technology, strategy, and additional leadership disciplines. We do what it takes to bring our clients amazing outcomes while simultaneously sharing our lessons and experiences along the way.

Looking for results in your next design sprint? PhoenixTeam takes the lead in:

  • Facilitating Design Sprints
    • We validate assumptions, accelerate learning about users and their environment, and generate viable and valuable solutions to users’ most urgent challenges.
  • Modifying Traditional Design Sprints
    • Our team can help identify the next set of valuable features for existing products or prototypes with limited testing, validation, or user feedback behind them.
  • Designing Organizational Structure
    • We streamline processes to allow for small cross-functional teams to accelerate discovery and delivery of value.
  • Crafting Customized Rapid Prototyping
    • We host workshops to identify, validate, align, and communicate around value and functionality of products and their features.