Skip to content

How a Big-Three Automaker Navigated a Complex Digital Landscape by Partnering with Focused Labs





Fleets of automobiles are the backbone of commerce, powering everything from small mom-and-pop flower delivery shops to globally-recognized rental car agencies. In 2018, a Big Three Automaker launched a Marketplace of digital products and services to help commercial fleet owners optimize the management of their vehicles. The success and rapid growth of the Marketplace clashed with over a century of existing technology and manual processes. The Automaker knew that a transformation was needed to unlock the billion dollar market and provide a best-in-class customer experience.

They partnered with Focused Labs, a proven leader in unlocking the tremendous power of enterprise-scale systems, to answer the question:  How do we best organize our software and business teams to rapidly (and sustainably) grow the Marketplace? 

Launching the Partnership

Focused Labs facilitated a multi-day, bespoke Event Storm workshop in our Chicago office designed to unite the multitude of perspectives (including fleet owners, software developers, customer success, business analysts, and designers) and quickly reach a shared understanding and alignment on the definition of success.

Event Storms are a powerful tool to visualize the complex value streams that exist in enterprise organizations. Their collaborative nature guarantees that no stone is left unturned, and fosters understanding and empathy between business functions - a critical (and often overlooked) building block of modernization.

The Automaker was able to see their enterprise with a fresh perspective and discovered high-impact opportunities to better organize their teams around valuable lines of business. The Event Storm ultimately provides the blueprint for software and teams that are tightly aligned to value streams, and a clear path forward for all business functions.

Focused Labs often encounters a skeptic who rightfully challenges this “idealized” view of the world, and its relevance in designing a practical answer to the key question. It is tempting for an enterprise leader to translate the outcome of a Focused Labs workshop directly to a new org chart, but this is an anti-pattern: sustainable transformation is the outcome of consistent, intentional changes in behavior. This is a key reason that Focused Labs takes each step alongside our clients, emphasizing an impactful series of "micro-transformations" over a waterfall-style reorganization. In a healthy partnership, both parties have “skin in the game” and share the outcomes.

Proving the Concept

As an outcome to the Event Storm, we agreed that the highest-leverage challenge was the onboarding of new digital products into the Marketplace. The current-state value stream was overly-complex and ownership of this value stream was distributed across teams, creating the need for wasteful alignment meetings. 

To prove the value of the Focused Labs approach, we formed a new hybrid team to prove that we could simplify the product onboarding process. This team was given a business-critical goal: bringing a new digital product to market that was strategically positioned within the Automaker’s portfolio to grow fleet customers’ adoption of their flagship product. 

The shared understanding and domain-oriented vision of the Marketplace allowed the team to quickly move from forming into delivery. They ratified a set of working agreements (and revisited them periodically) giving a platform for continuous improvement. Within two business quarters, significant improvements in the onboarding experience were delivered to happy stakeholders.

Scaling the Model

In a healthy technical partnership, collaboration and adaptability win over waterfall-style planning. By regularly reviewing our alignment against the Automaker’s business priorities, we discovered an opportunity to pivot towards a new business-critical challenge: delivering an industry-leading fleet management experience to the Automaker’s smaller, high-growth customers.

Whereas the initial workstream focused on a limited set of stakeholders within the Marketplace group, this new effort spanned the Automaker’s entire business unit. It was a clear expansion of the partnership, and an opportunity to enable change more broadly in the organization.

Focused Labs formed a multi-disciplinary, hybrid team and applied the battle-tested formula: rapidly discover high-impact opportunities by collaborating with the full range of stakeholders, prioritize the highest-impact workstreams, mitigate risk through prototype-building, and incorporating user feedback to deliver high-value software to production. Within a single business quarter, the partnership successfully launched waste-minimizing software solutions into production.

In our initial engagement with the Marketplace group, Focused Labs built a single team, delivered quickly, and deprecated ourselves as we re-focused on a higher-impact challenge - leaving behind a high-functioning team. In this expanded engagement across the organization, Focused Labs built and launched an entire Product Line of multiple teams. It is our pragmatic approach to software and people that enables us to continuously advise our clients on that essential question: How do we best organize our software and business teams to deliver on this ambitious mission? 


In our ongoing partnership with the Automaker, Focused Labs demonstrates that it is possible for enterprises to move quickly to meet market demand, even with a century of human and technical processes to manage. The key to success is transparent, honest collaboration and battle-tested software development practices.

Although the specific workstreams and engagements will naturally change over the course of the partnership, the “formula” is remarkably simple:

  1. Establish a shared understanding and alignment of outcomes
  2. Discover the highest-impact challenges and mitigate risks to their delivery
  3. Build teams oriented around domains of user value, and quickly establish a process of continuous improvement of working practices
  4. Ship working software to real users in production and leverage feedback to maximize the value and quality delivered
  5. Periodically evaluate the alignment of the team against business priorities, which can change often in the real world

Partnering With Focused Labs

Is your enterprise struggling to orient people and software around real-world challenges? Are you looking for a technical partner who prioritizes collaboration and a “shared stake in the future” over transactional engagements? It’s time to talk to the experts at Focused Labs.