Internship at Steelcase Inc.
Growth Initiatives Department within Research and Strategy
During this recent summer of 2013, I interned at Steelcase within the Growth Initiatives department of Corporate Research and Strategy. Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase is the global leader ($3 billion) in furnishing the work experience within office environments. The corporation employs over 10,000 employees and has been publicly traded since 1998 (SCS).
Major Learning Experiences
- Rapid prototype conceptualization and execution
- Design planning and communication
- Collaboration among organization units: product design, sales, legal, finance, research
- Working with IDEO Launch Lab in Palo Alto, CA on prototyping methods
- Building financial statements to begin testing viability among business components
- Wireframing information architecture and user interfaces
“Paul was a solid contributor to our project right from the first week. His work was used in a variety of ways including executive presentations, concept development, business model design and storyboard creation. Paul has a natural ability to move easily between high-level conceptual thinking and detailed execution work, which was critical for a venture like ours.”
– Ryan Schmidt, Director of Business Development
My position and project allowed me to see / work with all facets of the company including: finance, research, product design, legal, strategy, IT, manufacturing, and more. Growth Initiatives leads new venture-like projects within the organization that fall inline with the company’s strategic vision, but outside of the current core business. The small, nimble group functions as a start-up, but has the benefit of tapping into the many resources made available by a large enterprise such as Steelcase. Once projects are proven successful (or unfavorable) they are adopted (or rejected) by the organization’s core. The main purpose of the team is to quickly develop and prototype new business concepts in order to test their business viability / user desirability / technical feasibility with the intent of bringing new products or services to market. This mentality makes for a quick pace, simultaneous project activities, and a learn-by-doing process.
While I cannot explain the details of my project, I can explain the processes, methods, and frameworks used to drive our ideas within the 3-month sprint. Throughout the summer, the notion of design thinking alongside critical thinking was very present in our work. At many instances we found ourselves diverging and converging on our point of view in order to throttle up and down the level of abstraction among the problems we faced. We began the summer by developing a 30-60-90 plan to structure our work and coordinate our weekly activities. Following, we generated storyboard narratives to consolidate our models into a clear, concise, and compelling format. Several workshops with other stakeholders within Steelcase, as well as a trip to IDEO Palo Alto, helped us work through which aspects of the business models to prototype. After which, we worked quickly to test many of the hypotheses revolving around our project at the intersection of user desirability, technical feasibility, and business viability.
One influential condition was the quick pace in which we had to learn, digest, and incorporate new information into our project’s scope. We essentially touched all parts of the organization, and at many times were juggling several experiments and prototypes simultaneously. The notion of indexing information in a highly visual manner, while prioritizing it using frameworks allowed us to stay focused on our objectives without getting too bogged down in the details. At many times, the design methods helped us to keep alignment while dealing with highly ambiguous problems.
Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better internship after my first year in graduate school – many thanks to my boss and mentor Ryan Schmidt. Steelcase treats their interns and employees very well, the project exposed me to an array of learning experiences, as well as enlightened me to more areas I can still focus on during my second year at graduate school. Not to mention that summer in Michigan is an awesome place to spend your time outdoors with friends; fishing, tubing, swimming, skateboarding, micro-brewing and more (when not working).