Embracing Inclusivity During the Product Development Process

By Ben Wadsley

Product Matters!, November 2021


As product development professionals, we know that getting customer feedback is a key component of the product development process. If crafted carefully, these sessions can uncover true unmet needs, unlock the next product innovation, and create market share gains, all while creating something that contributes to society. As quoted during one of our last focus groups, “Magic stuff happens here.”

When designing your research, are you doing all that you can to promote inclusive thinking? By focusing on the design of your study—through overall theme and by paying attention to the details in the process—you can uncover new perspectives that you may not have considered, if not for being deliberate in your actions. Instead of just avoiding structures that create biases, we need to actively incorporate inclusivity.

Our team performed a study titled “Designing Solutions to Empower Women,” which focused on women’s viewpoints and how those could be incorporated into life insurance product development. I would love to share some of my experiences and tips collected along the way.

  1. There is an abundance of folks who are willing to have the conversation focused on inclusivity. Our program was designed for 50 participants, and we had 140 people volunteer by the next day. I’ve never been a part of a research project with so many people that were eager and willing to participate, fully engage, and make a difference. I would note that we did not restrict who could volunteer for this project based on gender.
  2. Book Keynote Speakers to kick off the event. We booked three of our top external wholesalers and our chief marketing officer, who spoke to the full group of 50 participants about inclusion at our company, leadership, having confidence, leading with non-verbal communication, building a mentorship network, and leveraging emotional intelligence. I was so energized by this panel—by their leadership, their passion, and how they’ve overcome challenges in our industry to thrive—that I was ready to run through a brick wall and so were the participants. If you have hosted a focus group on sensitive topics before, you know that there is always a large part of the focus group spent trying to get the participants comfortable enough to share their true feelings. By leveraging this large group session to get folks in the right frame of mind, we were able to get personal feedback much faster than most of our studies. Talk about building trust!
  3. Educational sessions and pre-work can lead to deeper conversations. While we don’t always do this, for this study we provided pre-read marketing material and did an educational session after the keynote on existing products relevant to the discussion. This helped as a refresher to get the participants minds focused and ready to concentrate on the deeper conversation.
  4. Structure of smaller focus groups is important. We held a first round of our smaller breakout focus groups immediately after the large group presentations. We didn’t want to lose the momentum from the large group if we waited or staggered the breakouts. We used members of our product development team as moderators for the concurrent sessions, and it was imperative that we gave them the tools to succeed.
    • A well written moderator guide that had built-in icebreakers for sharing personal stories.
    • A standard template for inputting information from the conversation.
    • An open instant messaging chat window shared among the moderators which was monitored by product experts and a technical resource, so if any problems arose with the group dynamics, questions, logistics, or video conferencing, resources were on standby.

    As with many of our focus groups, we targeted five participants per group. I find that with three or less participants per group, the conversation is less robust. Any more than six, and not all the voices in the room are heard. Keeping neurodiversity in mind, an introvert’s opinions are just as important as ones from an extrovert.

  5. Using a two-session format can enable you to dig deeper. As with any focus group or survey result, you can find yourself asking “what did they really mean by that answer? I want to know more.” By planning to have two separate sessions, you can have time in between sessions to digest the information and determine where you want to dig deeper in the second session. One thing we found beneficial was to make sure to have the same participants and moderator in both sessions, so that the trust and comfortability built in the first session carry over to the second.
  6. Keep communication flowing. We had the entire group reconvene two more times after the initial keynote presentations and the educational sessions. Immediately following the first breakouts, we went group-by-group to discuss several of the discussion points and their outcomes with the larger group. We were also able to share data from surveys and word clouds from focus group answers, enabled by the technology built into the templates. Our great staff was able to compile the data real-time to share results immediately back to the participants. We were able to then do live polling of the large group which helped us to really narrow down what we wanted to focus on for the next session. Right before kicking off the second breakout session, we presented more product education, focusing on the deeper dive issues we identified during the first meeting.

    And the most important lesson:

  7. It made a difference. We learned a lot about women’s viewpoints on life insurance, which has led to the development of new product features for our life product roadmap. One of the themes during our breakout sessions was many participants “don’t want to be a burden to others.” They don’t want to be a financial burden to their loved one in the event of a terminal or chronic illness, but also worry about the non-financial burden as well. This led to discussions on how much women value products that provide benefit while they’re alive and help with the process in the event something unexpected does happen. It taught us a lot about the most important aspects and drove deep conversations about our Funeral Concierge Service, Long Term Care riders, and Living Benefit Riders.

I’ll leave you with this final thought … the internal teams who help put together the focus groups are helping you understand customers true underlying needs, so make sure to thank them. It takes patience, focus, and even bravery to truly listen, and the sessions may even have an impact on them. One of our moderators ended by saying “The Designing Solutions for Women meeting was engaging and insightful. … to be more deliberate and mindful in serving female consumers felt empowering and purposeful. Knowing the time was taken to dive into this topic and plan future messaging and products around women speaks volumes about the thoughtfulness of Transamerica."

Disclaimer: Transamerica Resources, Inc. is an Aegon company and is affiliated with various companies which include, but are not limited to, insurance companies and broker dealers. Transamerica Resources, Inc. does not offer insurance products or securities. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical or financial advice or guidance. Please consult your personal independent professionals for answers to your specific questions.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries, the newsletter editors, or the respective authors’ employers.

Ben Wadsley, FSA, MAAA, is head of Product Development & Pricing – Individual Solutions for Transamerica. He can be reached at Ben.Wadsley@Transamerica.com.