Client Onboarding Accelerator (COA)

How might we re-imagine the Sun Life onboarding process while finding new ways of working within the organization?
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What does that name even mean?

Three global teams (Canada, USA, and Asia) were established to solve unruly problems. I was asked to join the Canadian team and given the opportunity to work side-by-side with many of our senior leaders. While we looked to re-imagine our onboarding experience, the teams were intended to establish new ways of working together. This included nurturing a client-first culture as well as establishing faster, more effective methods of collaboration. It was also  — basically — a design thinking bootcamp which I had the pleasure to lead.


"Onboarding" is a vast and varied journey for Sun Life users. We began by narrowing our focus to the onboarding journey for individual life insurance  — one of our biggest products. I conducted numerous user interviews — 27 with existing or prospective clients, 12 with Sun Life advisors, and 4 interviews with third-party advisors — as well as knowledge spikes with various experts. Our team balanced this qualitative approach with a quantitative survey.

We were able to use the walls of our co-located office space to map out insights quickly on sticky notes and poster board — this was before COVID-19 and working from home. It helped fuel our research and enabled our team and stakeholders to view our findings. They would add their own perspectives, driving conversation and keeping us focused on the client.

Personas and User Journeys

These insights were synthesized into artifacts that would later be used to facilitate a zero-based design (ZBD) workshop, walking senior stakeholders and subject experts through the empathize, define, and ideate phases of the design thinking process. I created four personas (three client and one advisor) to showcase major use cases and created four corresponding user journeys to outline feelings, experiences, and highlight specific quotes that heard.

ZBD Workshop

Participants were split into four groups, each assigned to a different persona. The goal of this workshop was to define our north star vision for a future client journey. I was one of the key presenters, providing context and an overview of our research process. I also facilitated one of the four groups. They learned about the user, created empathy maps, generated problem statements, and ideated on ways to solve core issues and delight users. Each team ended up with a blue-sky journey that was shared back to rest of the group. We generated a lot of fantastic ideas that would later turn into our north star vision.

North Star

These outputs were collected, documented, grouped, and prioritized. I then used them to create a north-star journey artifact. After the first workshop, we had a vision: create a client-centric experience that bridged knowledge and behavioural gaps to make "someday" goals a reality; something transparent, streamlined, able to cut across channels to easily fulfill client needs, and flexible enough to adapt to changes in a client's life. The north star artifact enabled our team to break down these aspirations into potential epics.

MVP Workshop

To assess the potential epics, we brought together Sun Life experts in business, technology, and design. This workshop was based around the north star journey artifact, and I was again a key presenter and facilitator. In groups, the participants discussed each epic and rated it based on desirability, feasibility, and viability. This revealed the most opportune epics. My small group tied their results into one narrative and shared it out with the larger group.


The workshop surfaced a number of epics that were highly viable, desirable, and feasible. Our team turned this into a potential user journey, and I created a set of lo-fi wireframes to help with visualization. If you would like to read more about the actual design and build process of this project, I encourage you to visit my starting a family section. This team was always meant to be test out new ways of working and push for organizational change —I want to end discussing how I advocated for design at Sun Life and spoke to my work.

Advocating for Design

Not only was my time in the accelerator an incredible learning experience — watching and growing from amazing leaders — but I was thrown into the deep end. I had to produce design work in a high-stress, high-visibility project, coming into my own to lead as the singular designer. It also put me in a position to advocate for design throughout the organization. I was able to share my work at a quarterly Client Experience meeting and present weekly to our stakeholders, which occasionally included our CEOs. Watching our stakeholders take on a user-centric mindset was really fantastic. One of my favourite experiences was being interviewed for a video that was shown at our annual, global Senior Leaders Conference. This video was also used in a digital enterprise e-learning course, unbeknownst to me.

What happened next?

After the discovery phase was done, I began to design our MVP release. I moved from a dream-and-design mindset to working side-by-side with our developers in an agile team.

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