There is no project that goes completely as planned. Always, something will come along to throw off even the most disciplined teams, often something that was not even considered during risk analysis and mitigation. Or, a company finds that one group has extra, unexpected capacity while another group is in need of help. What is really exciting is when teams use that curveball to drive creative solutions that make a positive impact, to use the new constraints to take their thinking to a higher level.
Compass Coffee, a D.C.-based coffee company with 13 café locations, began work on a building a large roasting facility several years ago with the hopes of expanding locations and entering other retail opportunities. As they grew closer to completing the project, COVID hit, and their business dropped precipitously. Suddenly they were faced with laying off a large number of their baristas and closing locations.
With a lot of work to finish and money not coming in, the design team took a bit of a risk and put 20 baristas to work in construction. Using digital design tools like Autodesk, the head of design was able to create models of the entire building, and those allowed the workers to see what they’d be creating each day.
The project is nearing completion, and now those baristas have a whole new set of skills to bring to bear. The company does their café design and construction in-house, as well as their furniture building; so they’ve actually trained a whole group of employees to do that work.
I love this story, and I love coffee, so I know where I’ll be getting my caffeine fix the next time I am in the D.C. area. Hopefully I’ll get to hear first-hand from some of the folks involved. Oh, and the company also pivoted in March 2020 to produce hand sanitizer for the city, so that’s pretty cool too.
Chase’s Ultimate Rewards product had to pivot significantly due to COVID, but in their case, to create value for customers. If you’re not familiar, many Chase credit cards allow customers to earn points that are redeemable for things like cash or travel. Some products charge annual fees, but those fees are generally offset by things like a higher earn structure. Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example, has a $95 annual fee, but it allows customers to earn extra points on dining and travel, and also allows to redeem those points to book travel through their site at a discount. It’s the core value proposition of the product, that suddenly gave a customer next to no value – no one was traveling or dining.
The group that manages the UR platform looked across the larger organization for resources to help brainstorm alternatives and then determine how to execute on the ideas. They looked at what customers were able to do – shop online, mostly! – then focused on how to push out that new functionality as rapidly as possible.
This also involved looking at the current slate of projects to determine which could be postponed, and move those resources to work on what mattered most: getting this feature up and running.
Between late March and the end of May, the teams were able to push the pedal to the floor, and on May 31, 2020, launched “Pay Yourself Back,” giving customers a reason to keep using their cards and find brand new value. While it was originally designed to have a limited shelf life – back in May 2020, the future was so uncertain – but since that time, PYB has become such a popular feature that Chase is continually morphing it to align with what is going on with its customers.
Pay Yourself Back redemption options change regularly, currently customers can use points to fund a ride to get a vaccine for those who aren’t able to drive themselves.
Admittedly, I am a bit biased, having seen this work first-hand, but it’s a tremendous example of doing the right thing while still creating a success for the business. There has been (and continues to be) a great deal of positive press on PYB as well as positive response from customers — which is, after all, what is most important.
Photos of Compass store exterior and construction site courtesy Compass Coffee
Nate Berg, Why this coffee shop turned its baristas into construction workers during COVID-19, Fast Company
Alyssa Jaber, Behind the Build: Interview with Joel Shetterly, Head of Design, Compass Coffee, Digital Builder Blog
The Big Pivot: How Compass Coffee Mobilized to Produce Simple Sanitizer in the Wake of COVID-19, Edible DC
Images of chase.com Pay Yourself Back features from the author