Now a household name in personal finance, Intuit was founded in 1983 by Scott Cook. The company’s four decades of success — the company reported 2022 annual revenue of $12.7 billion and a portfolio of valued products including TurboTax, QuickBooks, Credit Karma, Mint, and Mailchimp — has been possible in part by the company’s dedication to innovation. Innovation is necessary for modern businesses to maintain a competitive advantage, meet evolving customer needs, and attract top talent. Prioritizing innovation can also improve the IT-business relationship by positioning the IT organization as a partner that is uniquely suited to evaluate ideas and pursue those most likely to succeed. 

Two conversations on Peter High’s Technovation podcast with Intuit’s Chief Information Security and Fraud Prevention Officer, Atticus Tysen, and Chief Data Officer, Ashok Srivastava, show how Intuit has reinvented itself through IT-driven experimentation driven by a desire to solve real business problems and foster a strong IT-business partnership in the process. These interviews show how a formalized test-and-learn process, a set of practices formalizing the steps taken to ideate, conduct pilots, analyze results and scale valuable ideas across an enterprise, can be used to systematically scale innovation and deliver a range of benefits. Among them:

Change the culture of the IT organization to encourage more frequent ideation and support team members in voicing ideas they might not have previously 

Empower the IT organization with data and agility that allows it to show up as a true business partner

-Increase the influence of the IT organization to build trust and credibility with the business

-Eliminate silos and encourage expansive thinking to ensure the creation of durable, enterprise-grade solutions

Intuit’s innovation journey highlights these improvements in action, as we’ll see below. We will also share Metis Strategy’s 10-step test-and-learn process that you can implement in your own organization. 

Change the culture of the IT organization

Intuit’s innovation frameworks (Intuit)

“At Intuit, experimentation is everyone’s job,” said Brad Smith, Intuit’s former Executive Chairman. Building a culture of experimentation and innovation requires creating a safe space to allow risk-taking and encourage more people to bring ideas to the table. Intuit’s IT organization prides itself on its hypothesis-driven testing culture designed to pursue new ideas with clear business outcomes rather than rely on legacy solutions, bolstering the IT organization’s strategic value. 

Solidifying a test-and-learn process positions IT organizations to play a more active role with business teams, understand customer needs, unlock innovation opportunities, and change the culture of IT from reactive order-takers who “just” keep the lights on to partners who help shape the future of the enterprise. At Intuit, the test-and-learn process is guided by the company’s two innovation competencies, Customer Driven Innovation and Design for Delight, which drive all solution development and ensure strategic focus throughout the ideation process. These defined principles, outlined and enforced by the Intuit labs, help narrow down and develop winning ideas by ensuring new solutions unlock value and solve real problems. 

IT leaders must be change champions to ensure the successful adoption of a test-and-learn process and the subsequent shift in culture required to improve the IT-business partnership. Broad participation in the test-and-learn process happens when the process is accessible and engagement is encouraged across all roles and tenures.

Intuit’s technology leaders incentivize innovation by giving employees unstructured time for ideation and solutioning, which fosters their participation in the test-and-learn process and refines the company’s ideation muscle outside of day-to-day responsibilities. Other incentives used to ensure test-and-learn participation include the Scott Cook Innovation Awards, which recognize employee innovators; mentorship programs to guide new participants through the test-and-learn process; rotational development programs to upskill employees; and workshops to refine critical thinking skills.

By enabling test-and-learn experimentation, IT leaders can begin to change their organizations’ culture and empower the IT organization to become a true business partner. Intuit notes that the test-and-learn culture has enabled a durable competitive advantage that allows the company to differentiate itself from competitors while focusing on what matters most to its customers.

Empower the IT organization with ideas, data, and agility 

A test-and-learn process helps narrow down innovative ideas and create a “cone of optionality,” Tysen says. (Metis Strategy)

In a recent survey, 63% of CIOs reported that they struggle to communicate IT’s business value to business partners. Formalizing a test-and-learn process can improve that communication by giving IT leaders the data needed to tell their innovation story and tie new ideas to tangible business outcomes.

Test-and-learn experimentation produces data surrounding the feasibility and value of scaling an idea. Ideas that are ultimately chosen to scale are backed by data on their projected success and business impact. IT organizations can also provide their business counterparts with data on risk mitigation and projected costs based on the initial testing.

Tysen names data as the primary enabler for successful test-and-learn experimentation as it creates opportunities to take calculated risks. Tysen and Srivastava work together to break down data silos and democratize data so teams can more effectively derive and deliver insights. 

Pairing test-and-learn with agile delivery methods can promote a culture that rewards failing fast, iterating, and delivering value in the shortest sustainable time. Intuit focuses on lessons learned from experiments rather than if one was a success or a failure.

Intuit’s innovation competency, Design for Delight, further showcases agile ways of working by prioritizing constant customer feedback, quick prototypes, and iterative solutions to ensure initiatives pursue maximum customer value. 

The agile product development process, as visualized by Metis Strategy, highlights the importance of feedback in directing revisions and pursuing maximum customer satisfaction. (Metis Strategy)

Increase the business influence of the IT organization

Since experimentation often happens on top of day-to-day responsibilities, transparent and realistic expectations must be set to prevent under-delivery or delays and preserve working relationships. Tysen manages business expectations by ensuring that the IT organization outperforms traditional IT metrics as a prerequisite for experimentation. Operational excellence builds trust between IT and business partners and creates space for test-and-learn experimentation that builds that trust further via successful ROI-generating innovation initiatives.

The typical IT delivery muscle must be refined, and often rebranded, to position the IT organization as an innovator rather than an expensive bottleneck. Tysen says his organization builds credibility with the rest of the business by leveraging business metrics and KPIs, not just IT metrics, when evaluating ideas generated through the test-and-learn process. Applying business metrics to IT-generated ideas ensures that the IT organization and the business are being held to the same standard and can help ensure fair appraisal and understanding of each initiative’s value.

In a recent survey, fewer than 5% of CIOs reported that they spend time talking about business outcomes or measuring the business outcomes created by the technology they deploy. This is a significant oversight preventing buy-in and limiting the IT-business partnership. Tysen emphasizes the importance of listening to partners to ensure his organization accurately understands their problems so he knows what is needed to create relevant soultions. The consistent use of business metrics across Intuit also ensures the appropriate acknowledgment of IT’s test-and-learn successes. 

Eliminate silos and ensure enterprise-grade, durable solutions

The product life cycle that incorporates the test-and-learn process. (Metis Strategy)

Test-and-learn experimentation breaks down traditional business silos and seeks to prevent ad-hoc ideation, eliminate repetitive solutioning, and facilitate cross-functional collaboration. It also promotes enterprise thinking, a practice of monitoring cross-functional requirements, scalability considerations, and long-term needs such as reducing future rework and technical debt.

Srivastava notes that Intuit’s process for test-and-learn experimentation relies on conducting deliberate tests that solve specific and identified problems rather than needless, temporary solutions. Test-and-learn experimentation not only brings MVPs to life with speed but also facilitates deliberate and intentional conversations about long-term considerations and dependencies during the product creation process, ensuring that the final product meets as many consumer needs as possible.   

The Metis Strategy approach

An experimentation example in which an A-B test is used to determine the impact a change in a single variable will have on a population’s conversion rate. (Metis Strategy)

When working with clients seeking to streamline and scale innovation, we use a 10-step test-and-learn process to govern the intake of ideas, manage stakeholder expectations, accurately reflect capacity, and capture data to inform a solution’s journey. This process helped a recent client identify and eliminate silos that hindered collaboration while elevating the IT organization to the status of a business partner rather than an order taker. 

Implementing a test-and-learn experimentation process enables an organization to narrow an infinite number of ideas and pursue only those that will deliver the most value. The IT organization is uniquely positioned to facilitate this process and help the business identify winning ideas due to its digital testing capabilities and data collection methodologies.

Working closely with business partners can help teams across the organization avoid placing big bets on ideas that may drain their resources without delivering the needed value. Prioritizing resource allocation based on test data and iterating throughout the solution development process creates a virtuous cycle where the business will increase its speed to market for winning ideas while guaranteeing maximum customer satisfaction. 

Metis Strategy’s 10-step test-and-learn process (Metis Strategy)

The benefits that come from implementing a test-and-learn process will not be realized overnight. A structured approach to change management and user adoption is needed to ensure an effective transition. It makes sense to start small. With support from internal change champions, consider piloting a beta test-and-learn process, secure quick wins, and use that momentum to facilitate a broader rollout. 

Once adopted, an enterprise might face execution hurdles that prevent maximum value realization. For example, a company may not have the discipline needed to define the hypotheses that drive testing, resulting in the creation of tests that do not produce the needed information.

Alternatively, existing data collection and analysis capabilities may not be sufficient to derive conclusive test results. An enterprise may also suffer from “analysis paralysis,” which can create stagnation when a test fails and lacks ownership over revisions. To learn more about avoiding these experimentation pitfalls, see this article that outlines how business experimentation frameworks can help mature a test-and-learn culture across an enterprise.