St. Thomas Newsroom

Why Is Target Doing Cartwheels?

The Minneapolis skyline looking down 11th Street is shown the night of October 5, 2015.

Building a $3 billion dollar business with 23 million users and $500 million in savings for customers is no easy feat. Yet, Sarah Peterson-Post and a small team at Target did just that with Cartwheel, Target’s revolutionary and innovative app, which has experienced overwhelming success since its launch three years ago. How did Peterson-Post and her team do it? She shared the keys to their success – culture, people, and practices – at a recent Master’s Pub event, held April 22 at the Opus College of Business.

Sarah Peterson Post is one of Cartwheel’s core inventors and the overall Product and Business Lead for the innovative app at Target.

Culture
As a Fortune 500-company, Target engages many decision-makers when launching a new product. But, as Peterson-Post and her team delved further into the Cartwheel development process, they realized that multiple decision-makers across different departments were creating inefficiencies and contributing to an “identity crisis” for the app in development. Was it a social app or a savings app?

For inspiration and a new perspective, Peterson-Post and other team members visited Pinterest, a web and mobile application company that operates a photo sharing website. After observing Pinterest’s small team of 16 people who supported 20 million users, it was clear that to succeed, the Cartwheel team needed to work more like a start-up and less like a large corporate office. This meant being less formal, personally taking on challenges, working nimbly and not being afraid to fail – all key elements of the start-up mentality.

People
Peterson-Post and the Cartwheel team’s start-up mentality included “enabling and allowing people to be great.” By empowering team members to try new things, take on new challenges and clearly define their roles, there was a greater sense of accountability. Each team member knew what they were supposed to be working on, who to collaborate with and took on new challenges with renewed motivation.

The nimble team structure fostered better and clearer communication among team members, which drove results, creativity and development of an optimal user experience for the Cartwheel app. From a management perspective, Peterson-Post found success through “harnessing the greatness” of employees – using each individual’s skills and interests to drive them to be the best version of themselves while also spending time during the training process to set up individuals for success.

Practices
Think lean. Peterson-Post realized that “starting with less” in the development process led to a better user interface and final product, because starting with less reduced complexity. The team also realized that “space matters” in terms of how, where and when they communicated. Being more fluid and less formal, and having direct, frequent conversations instead of sending multiple emails back and forth made the team more cohesive and productive. Finally, in the midst of innovation, it was still important to “eat your broccoli.” For Peterson-Post, this meant not ignoring the fundamentals that are necessary for your business to succeed – technology platforms, marketing plans and analytics.