Discovery challenge

Vanguard crew innovate new technology through the Discovery Challenge

One fall day in 2017, it was time for my 1-on-1 discussion with my manager, Christine. I work as a solutions architect and my team researches emerging technologies and ways to experiment with these technologies. So it made sense when, during our 1-on-1, Christine asked me “How do we get more innovative?” I thought about it for a few seconds and said “we ask the crew.” My manager’s eyes lit up, and she said “let’s do it!” What sounded like a simple answer spun into a new web of ideas on how we could get the crew equally excited about this new opportunity.

After shopping around our idea and gaining support from leaders to move forward, Discovery Challenge was born. Discovery Challenge was basically an ideation event for crew to submit ideas that would solve a business problem using a new or existing technology. Amber, a participant in this event, described it as “Vanguard’s version of the TV show, Shark Tank. It was an opportunity to take an innovative idea and plead its case for viability.” Over a 3 week period, 196 people participated and submitted a total of 121 creative ideas! The 4th week consisted of crew getting 5 votes to use on the ideas they liked. An astounding 5,255 votes were cast! After 2 rounds of narrowing down ideas, 5 ideas were selected to present in front of a panel of senior business and IT leaders at what we called Discovery Challenge Day.

Planning an event like this is definitely not easy and I now have a new appreciation for event planning. Of course, I could not do it all myself. My planning team was just as much involved in the intricate details as I was. And keep in mind, we were doing this as an extracurricular activity. We still had our day jobs, but we were meeting at least twice a week to coordinate all aspects of Discovery Challenge. My partner in planning, Charlotte, summed it up as, “Discovery Challenge was about discovering new ideas, but I also discovered my own potential while planning the event. I was able to develop skills that I don’t normally use in my day-to-day job. I feel grateful to have the opportunity and the support of my manager and team to learn new things and be creative in a new way at work.” Planning also involved marketing to get people thinking and excited about submitting ideas. We held promotional events to entice participation. We created a positive energy for Discovery Challenge, as well as generated an opportunity to have fun at work. Our efforts even led to getting idea submissions from departments we didn’t market to. It was amazing to actually see this event getting around to so many people!

Discovery Challenge Day was full of energy! What was even more special about this event was we were able to successfully do it cross-site with crew from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Arizona. The teams and individuals presenting their ideas did a fantastic job impressing the judges and the audience. Claire, a planner and emcee for the presentations, said it best: “My favorite part of the Discovery Challenge was seeing the innovation and creativity of my fellow crew. I was blown away by their intelligence and how connected they are with cutting edge technology and how we can use it to better serve our clients and crew.” It was awesome to see crew showcase their talents outside of their everyday work. The winning team from our North Carolina site, husband and wife, David and Jess, were very appreciative of the opportunity, “When we submitted our idea to the Discovery Challenge there was an excitement that so many people wanted to be a part of. We bounced our ideas off crew members across job disciplines, divisions, and job sites. The enthusiasm we received while we looked for feedback blew us away. By the time we presented our idea to management we had all the business knowledge we needed to make an effective pitch. It’s a good thing too because the judges didn’t go easy on the Q&A portion! The whole experience made us realize that innovation is on everyone’s minds all across Vanguard.”

Since the challenge ended in April, the rest of the planning team and I have been busy trying to find a home for as many of the ideas as possible. We feel it is important to connect ideas to owners to show that every idea is important and has the potential to make a difference. Alex and her team had a great experience with Discovery Challenge, “The Discovery Challenge was a great process for our team. We were able to submit a problem with divisional impact and that we knew had been an ongoing opportunity. Although our idea was not selected as a part of the competition, we still felt validation knowing our idea was heard and is currently being pursued by the impacted groups.”

Our mission for the Discovery Challenge was to provide an opportunity for crew to share an innovative idea on how to use technology to meet a business need, to be creative, and to give crew exposure to a forum outside of day-to-day project work. The whole experience was gratifying for everyone that participated. I am so proud of this event and to have accomplished the mission set forth. It has been personally satisfying to be able to make a difference, especially when you have the right support from your leaders. This whole experience has emphasized Vanguard’s dedication to crew development.

Who would have thought a random idea in my 1-on-1 could positively affect as many people as it did? Pretty powerful.

-Linda C.

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