Demonstrating the Art of the Possible: Innovation, Technology and Experimentation at Target
Innovation has become as important to consumers as quality and value. Delivering consumer-relevant innovation requires getting into the consumer mindset and experiencing their journey firsthand.
Experimentation is the name of the game, according to Malyn Wrobel, Target’s Director of Technology Services, Infrastructure and Operations. We recently sat down with her to talk about Demo Day, the Guest eXperience Center (GXC) and how innovation and experimentation are at the heart of Target’s learning culture in technology.
First, describe your role at Target.
Malyn: I play multiple roles within the technology organization at Target. As Chief of Staff to the Senior Vice President of Infrastructure and Operations (I&O), my team manages key functions across I&O, including financial and resource planning, performance tracking, developing the global I&O brand and culture in both the U.S. and India, and internal and external marketing and communications efforts. My responsibilities also include organizing a quarterly Demo Day for Target Technology Services (TTS) and Product teams, as well as being accountable for the Guest eXperience Center (GXC).
How does Target foster innovation?
Malyn: Innovation doesn’t just sit with one team at Target—it’s everyone’s goal and part of our culture. The second piece is experimentation. Target creates a safe space to bring ideas to life, even if they don’t pan out. Here at Target, we like to say “tried and learned.” Experimentation helps us quickly say retrospectively what was good or what needs improvement.
What are some accomplishments that your team is particularly proud of?
Malyn: Two accomplishments stand out: the introduction of Demo Day at Target and launching our Guest eXperience Center (GXC). Teams across the company leverage these two resources to articulate the value of the products they’re developing, promote pride in our work and cultivate innovation daily. In fact, the GXC has been so successful that we are planning to launch a GXC in our India offices.
What is Demo Day like at Target?
Malyn: Demo Day began in November 2016 as an informal quarterly showcase of new and emerging innovations. It’s like a Target-only science fair—by team members, for team members—of the most valuable and exciting work delivered by Target Technology Services (TTS). Teams conduct quarterly retrospectives and choose which projects best educate fellow teams on new products and services either available now or in development.
The energy on Demo Day is very exciting. The participants pull back the curtain on projects they’ve poured their hearts into. It’s very much their time to shine—a celebration of their success.
Demo Day has become a wildly popular event. All on-campus corporate Target team members are invited, and all pyramids and solution portfolios are represented. About 1,500 team members attended the most recent Demo Day which had more than 65 booths. Sixty percent were new participants over the previous cycle, and it’s always new innovations on display—nothing anyone has seen before.
Maybe someone goes to Demo Day and gets a great idea for a complementary innovation. They see something in the works they wouldn’t otherwise be aware of, and now they’re able to iterate on the prototype and push the innovation to deliver even more value to the Target guest. This is how Demo Day builds collaboration from the inside out.
What is the GXC? How does the experimentation you do there help Target innovate meaningfully for guests?
Malyn: The Guest eXperience Center (GXC) is a first-of-its-kind proving ground for innovation. We like to call it “the smallest Target store,” and it even has its own store number. The GXC is the “center” where we bring team members together with product and vendor partners to rally around real-world business challenges and build innovative solutions. Its mission is: Accelerate experimentation. Learn quickly. Dream boldly.
The GXC enables hands-on experimentation. It combines store fixture interaction, back room functionality, retail product and point-of-sale equipment with current store infrastructure and device technology. There are maker spaces and collaboration areas with everything you’d ever need to build something new and start testing it immediately. Then, the results of a given experiment inform the next set of prototypes. The thinking in the GXC is always stretching beyond the current construct. How do we bring our vision to life? We want inspiration and we want to engage our guest while solving some pretty difficult business challenges, like a frictionless checkout experience, for example.
What future opportunities do you see for the GXC?
Malyn: We picked a couple of key focus areas for 2019: inventory and shortage. I see that continuing because it’s driving innovation with a very positive business impact. We also want to continue building relationships like our partnership with universities like Stanford, and joint development with some strategic tech vendors.
What has been your favorite project or opportunity to see come to life as a result of the GXC?
Malyn: We had an executive challenge: Fitting Room Experience. Within three weeks of an initial ideation session, we had a physical fitting room built in the GXC with some new technology to address the key touchpoints in the guest journey. These included requesting a different size or color, getting inspiration from seeing other options in our assortment or insights from guest reviews, and the ability to request help from a team member at any time. The resounding feedback we hear when we demonstrate this prototype is that people love it and want to see it in Target stores.
What would you tell someone considering a career in Technology or Data Sciences at Target?
Malyn: We are leading the industry. Our vibrant software engineering team is built on a culture where learning, creativity and innovation are part of our DNA. Join us.