A smart home for smarter insurance

Driving the minimum viable experience to help members prevent water leaks through smart technology

Ethnographic Research
Design Sprint




  • Team lead product designer
  • Research planning, coordination, and moderation
  • Physical and digital prototyping
  • Design sprint facilitator

My role on the project

As the lead product designer, I was responsible for orchestrating the design process, from inception to delivery.

My role encompassed organizing and facilitating innovation sprints, creating prototypes with my team, moderating user tests, and refining our solutions based on feedback.

I collaborated closely with the business team, technical partners, and design peers to drive cross-functional collaboration from the beginning–a rare practice at the company.

A white water sensor on the floor of a laundry room

The opportunity

of homeowner insurance claims are water damage related

In collaboration with the internal business team, our design team embarked on a project aimed at revolutionizing member experience through the implementation of smart home devices to prevent water leaks and damage.

The most common, and expensive, sources of water damage are old water heater tanks failing, hidden long-term slow leaks, and catastrophic water main breaks. The damage is exacerbated when people are not at home and unaware of sudden issue to be able to quickly respond to an event.

With the use of smart water leak detectors synced to your mobile phone, catastrophic water damage could be mitigated by alerting you to a leak or other failures immediately–giving you time to address problems sooner, reducing or entirely preventing water damage in your home.

The vision

Significantly reduce water leak claims

Reducing preventable water leak claims ensures long-term financial health and success.

Drive adoption with a great experience

Members will not adopt the program if it’s cumbersome, too expensive, and does not meet expectations.

Expand behavior-based insurance

Building on the existing BBI auto insurance offering, USAA seeks to expand to other insurance product types.

Defining the objectives and experience

Two pilots were planned in order to begin a scaled proof of concept for the program: Pilot Alpha and Pilot Beta.

Through meeting with the business stakeholders and understanding their objectives, I identified a clear opportunity to run low-cost, low-risk, rapid innovation sprints to test key moments in the experience.

Each innovation sprint would take only 4-5 days to execute, resulting in a testable prototype of the experience.

Easy device installation

Members needed to be able to quickly and easily self-install devices

Install in high-risk areas

The water devices needed to be installed in the right locations to catch severe leaks early

Easy digital experience

The digital app experience needed to be easy to install and connect to devices

Hand-drawn concept sketches hanging on a wall

Innovation sprint #1:
Unboxing and installation

My role

  • Organize a 4-day design sprint in collaboration with the business team
  • Define test objectives
  • Recruit test participants
  • Moderate interviews using our unboxing prototype

Design sprint 2.0

Working quickly, I worked closely with my team to schedule and organize the first design sprint with our stakeholders. We leveraged a 4-day version that condenses the 5-day version released by Jake Knapp in his book “Sprint”.

  • By the end of Day 1, everyone had sketched out ideas for a great unboxing experience.
  • On Day 2, the team decided on the concept to prototype.
  • Day 3 and 4 were spent creating the prototype and recruiting participants. We scheduled in-home visits to test our prototype in realistic environments, which took place soon after the sprint.


By the end of the design sprint, the team had created a lo-fidelity prototype of the unboxing experience with real devices and a mock install guide that we could test with people in their homes.

Testing the experience

We recruited 12 participants to test the user experience with our unboxing prototype and install guidance. We used real devices and an existing 3rd party app to simulate the digital setup experience to get an idea of the holistic physical to digital setup process.

As a moderator through this process, I attended each test session and noted observations of the whole process.


After 3 days of in-home observations, the result was a flawed success with our prototype with which we gathered some important learnings:

  • The installation instructions were critical to helping members know where to start and how to be efficient during the process. This was heavily relied upon.
  • How a process looks on paper isn’t how people naturally want to proceed, at times the steps were confusing and needed to be restructured.
  • Anticipating ancillary needs provided a more delightful experience, such as extra ethernet adaptors in the box and providing extra instruction not included with manufacturer manuals.
Two test participants looking at the prototype device kit and installation instruction booklet
A cross-functional team looking at a wall of sticky notes together during a design sprint exercise

Innovation sprint #2:
Digital app experience

My role

  • Organize a 4-day design sprint in collaboration with the business team
  • Remote sprint facilitator
  • Define test objectives
  • Recruit test participants
  • Moderate user tests with app prototype

Design sprint 2.0

In order to keep up momentum, we decided to conduct this design sprint remotely using tools we already had access to internally. Again, we leveraged the 4-day format.

  • By the end of Day 1, everyone had sketched out ideas for app features meant to engage users
  • On Day 2, the team decided on a concept to prototype
  • Day 3, we rapidly created the prototype using various digital assets
  • Day 4, we remotely tested the prototype and interviewed users


The team converged on an app concept for controlling devices and encouraging engagement via gamification tied to their insurance policy.

Testing the experience

The sprint was organized and conducted remotely with the design team in Plano and the business partner in San Antonio. I used Mural and Zoom to facilitate the activities.

Five test participants were recruited to try the app out and give us feedback on the overall value proposition, as well as the usability of the concept. I co-moderated participant interviews with other members of the team.


The team learned 3 key things about a potential app experience:

  • Incentives might be required to boost regular use of the app, as opposed to competitor apps, in order to continue receiving a homeowners insurance discount.
  • Device controls must be simple and intuitive, following established patterns in the industry for smart home devices
  • Connecting member identification between two different native apps required a new, complex cyber security capability and investment

Demonstrating agility

Ultimately, current enterprise capabilities were not at a point where we felt confident we could economically build the initial scope of a custom unboxing experience and net-new native app for the public member launch.

However, the outcomes of the pilots have brought positive shifts, even with the project's scope adjustment.

Simplified pilot experience

The unboxing and installation processes were simplified, aligning with the scaled-down scope while retaining the core learnings from our prototype.

Increased cross-functional collaboration

The project continued to foster collaboration across teams, showcasing the adaptability and resilience of the design, business, and technical units working together to drive innovation.

Lower risk launch to market

The tested minimum viable experience allowed the team to launch publicly on time, cheaper, and respond faster to the market.


My efforts to break down siloes between teams and foster a new process for rapid learning resulted in a member-centric approach to behavior-based home insurance, helping the business meet their vision for success.

Early stage leaks being reported

Members are reporting early stage leaks caught by the water leak devices. The business predicts a seven-figure claims savings within 5 years.

Member adoption steadily growing

Member adoption is steady and growing as the business expands the program into new states.

Expanded BBI offerings

USAA seeks to provide more behavior-based insurance offerings for preventative solutions.

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Say hello!

Interested in working together? I'm open to discuss new challenges and ideas that are a mutual fit, so don't hesitate to reach out!

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