As a UX design intern at Cox Communications, I was tasked with designing a tool that would streamline and standardize internal communications in Cox’s Product Development and Management (PD&M) organization. I followed the design thinking process to design an interactive HTML prototype of PD&M Grapevine, a web portal that allows PD&M communications originators and recipients to quickly locate information about PD&M projects and craft routine status report emails.
When I began my internship in May 2016, PD&M produced at least 10 different weekly organizational status reports, as well as various monthly reports and ad hoc communications. There was little consistency in formatting from team to team, so reports varied widely with regards to appearance and information architecture. In addition, PD&M communications were archived in a number of different places. While some teams and working groups utilized SharePoint sites and shared drives, it was a common practice within the organization for employees to search within their Outlook inboxes for communications.
In order to learn about the needs and pain points of PD&M communications originators and recipients, I conducted interviews with more than 25 members of PD&M, including members of every major team in a variety of levels and roles. Additionally, I distributed a five-question qualitative survey to more than 350 members of PD&M.
I used my findings from the empathy interviews and survey to create personas for two main groups of target users: recipients and originators of PD&M communications.
When asked about their ideal tools and environments for PD&M communications, recipients and originators determined that a combination of "push" and "pull" communications is needed for information access. They converged with regards to the following themes:
After analyzing my findings from the empathy phase, I determined that PD&M communications originators and recipients ultimately had unique needs, which are manifested in the following problem statements:
During several ideation brainstorming sessions, I determined that an improved communications tool for PD&M should incorporate content that is both pushed to recipients over email and pulled by them from a website. The emails should present high-level project information in a standardized format in order to improve coherence and readability, and they should contain links to more detailed project information pages on the website. In this context, the term “project” refers to any major initiative taking place within PD&M, and it encompasses work ranging from funded projects to Agile sprint cycles.
I identified the following features and functions as being necessities for the prototype, which would consist of both the email format and website:
The prototype consists of the following pages:
This page contains the weekly (or potentially bi-weekly or monthly) status report email that PD&M team members would receive from their respective team leaders. To ensure optimal readability, the email is organized with a grid structure: each row contains information about a given project, and each column contains a specific module of project information. When a recipient wants more information about a given project, they will click that project’s hyperlink to access PD&M Grapevine.
The Project Page contains information about a given project that is more in-depth than what is included in a status report email. Like the status report email, the Project Page organizes project information into several distinct modules. Each project has its own editable Project Page within PD&M Grapevine, making the information architecture of the website akin to that of a wiki.
The Home Page contains tools that allow users to quickly and easily navigate PD&M Grapevine’s wealth of project information. The prototype allows for the user to access the Home Page from the PD&M Grapevine navigator bar, as well as via a widget within Cox’s Office 365-based intranet.
The Home Page’s Projects tab contains a grid of rectangular “cards,” with each one representing a PD&M project. Each card contains brief blurbs describing the project, as well as two icons that link to the project’s Project Page and Edit Page. Users can select from dropdown menus to filter the project cards by team, sub-team, and state (active, inactive, or complete) and sort them alphabetically. The Documents tab contains a similar grid of rectangular cards, but these cards provide easy access to documents like scorecards, dashboards, roadmaps, and collision calendars, as well as one-sheets with high-level information about Cox’s products and programs. Users can filter project-related documents, and they can click directly on each card to load the corresponding document in a modal window.
The Edit Page contains a group of accordion-style collapsible panels that facilitate the editing process for each module of a given project’s Project Page. Each panel group represents one of the Project Page modules, and clicking the “+” button on a top-layer panel collapses additional panels with editable sections. Any projects that are labeled “Inactive” or “Complete” will not appear on the Publish Page for inclusion into status reports. If at any time users want to see how the live Project Page will appear to end users, they can click the “Page Preview” button to load an accurate visual impression of the page.
The Publish Page contains tools that help PD&M communications originators quickly craft and distribute status report emails. In the left section of the page, users can filter a grid of project cards and click on a project card to add it to a list in the “Build Report” section. If users typically include the same projects in their reports week after week, they can click the “Save Report” button to name and save their current list as a preset. Users can click the “Preview” button to load a preview of the final report and do a last-minute proof. All text in this preview version of the email is editable, and any changes made will automatically update the project’s Project Page.
As users finalize their email, they have the ability include a written message and attachments or links alongside the status report document. These capabilities make PD&M Grapevine an attractive tool for crafting and distributing many types of internal communications beyond status reports. Users can click the “Add Recipients” button to load an Outlook widget that allows them to add their contacts or mailing lists. Finally, when users are ready to send their email, they can click the “Send” button.
I began giving informal walkthroughs of PD&M Grapevine to PD&M team members and senior leaders when the prototype was in a medium-fidelity state. I received feedback from these individuals and continued to iterate on the prototype until it was in a high-fidelity state. I also wrote usability testing scenarios and began conducting guerrilla usability tests with team members to informally evaluate their ability to navigate the website and comprehend its terminology and interactions. I recruited a user experience researcher from Cox to conduct six formal usability testing sessions with PD&M team members. Feedback from these tests informed my final refinements to the prototype.
During the final week of my internship, I presented a demo of my PD&M Grapevine prototype to PD&M Executive Vice President Steve Necessary and his direct reports. The demo was well-received by Steve and his senior leaders, and after I finished my internship he began the process of determining the next steps for funding and implementing PD&M Grapevine.
This project was my first experience doing UX and design thinking work outside of a classroom, and it taught me quite a bit about how user-centered problem solving can support business goals and improve the day-to-day efficiency of an organization. It also introduced me to some of the challenges of corporate UX, namely the art of persuading senior leaders that redesigns and new initiatives are worth the time and money.
That said, being faced with skepticism from senior leaders about the need for PD&M Grapevine caused me to double down on my design thinking methods. I considered how PD&M Grapevine could accommodate the specific needs of these individuals while still addressing my broader design goals, and I learned how to effectively adjust my project pitch for a variety of different stakeholders.
Ultimately, my biggest takeaway from PD&M Grapevine was that design in the workplace involves as many meetings as it does mockups. It takes patience and an open mind to be a successful design thinker, but the hard work pays off when you can change an organization or community for the better.