K.C. Jones-Evans, a User Experience Developer, Josh Lathery, a Full Stack Developer, and Sara Darrah, a User Experience Specialist, sat down recently to talk through our design and project development planning process that we implemented for part of a project. This exercise was to help improve our overall project development planning and create best practices moving forward. We coined the term the “Design Huddle” to describe the process of taking the feature from a high level (often one sentence request from our customer) to a working product in our software, improving project planning for software development.

We started the design huddle because the contract we were working on already had a software process that did not include User Experience (UX). We knew we needed to include UX, but weren’t sure how it would work given the fast paced (2-week sprint cycles) software process we were contractually obligated to follow. We needed to come up with a software design planning solution that allowed us to work efficiently and cohesively. The Design Huddle allowed us to do just that.

What does the design huddle mean to you?

Josh: Previously the technical lead would have all the design processes worked out prior to being assigned a ticket for development. The huddle meant that I had more ownership in the feature upfront. It was nice to understand via the design process what the product would be used for and why.

K.C.: The huddle was an opportunity to get our thoughts together on the full product before diving into development right away. In the past, we have developed too quickly and discovered major issues. Development early equated to too much ownership in the code, so changes were painful when something needed to be corrected.

Sara: The huddle for me meant the opportunity to meet with the developers early to get on the same page prior to development. That way when we had the final product, we could discuss details and make changes, but we were coming from the same starting point. I have been on other projects where I’m not brought in until after the development is finished- which

immediately strains the relationship between UX and Development due to big changes needed to finished code.

What does the design huddle look like?

  • The Team: UX Designer, at least one front-end or UX developer, a full-stack developer, the software tester, a graphic designer (as needed), and a Subject Matter Experts (as needed)
  • The Meeting: This took time to work out. As with any group, sometimes there were louder or more passionate individuals that seemed to overshadow the rest. At the end of the day the group worked better with order and consensus:
    • Agendas were key: The UX lead created the agendas for our meetings. Without an agenda it was too easy to go down a rabbit hole of code details. This also helped folks who were spread across multiple projects focus on the task at hand faster. We included time to report on action items, old business/review of any design items and set the stage of what you hope to cover as new design work.
    • Action Items: Create and assign actions to maintain in the task management system (JIRA). This was a good translation for developers and helped everyone understand their responsibility leaving the room. These also really helped with sprint planning and the ability to scope tasking.
    • The facilitator had to be assertive: Yes, we are all professionals and in the ideal world we could “King Arthur Round Table” these huddles. But the few times we tried this meeting were quickly off-track and down a rabbit hole. Many teammates would leave frustrated and feeling like we hadn’t made any progress. The facilitator was the UX specialist for our meetings, but we think the owner of the feature should facilitate. The facilitator needs to be willing to assert themselves during conversations, keep the meeting on track and force topics to be tabled for another time when needed.
    • Include everyone and know the crowd: The facilitator needs to quickly understand the team they are working with to figure out how to include everyone. One way we ensured this happen was to do an around the room at the end of each meeting.
    • Visual Aid that the whole team can see during the meeting: Choose the tool that works best for the topic at hand- a dry erase board, a wireframe, JIRA tickets, or a mock-up can help people stay on track and ensure common understanding.
    • Table tough items and know when to end the meeting: sometimes in the larger meetings we needed to call it quits on a debate to give more time for thinking, research, and discussions. Any member of the team could ask for something to be tabled. A tabled item was given a smaller group of individuals to work through the details in between the regular design huddle sessions.
    • Choose the team participants wisely: The first few meetings most likely will involve the entire team, but smaller huddles (team of 2 or 3) can often work through details of tabled items more efficiently.

What is the benefit?

  • Everyone felt ownership in the product by the end of the design. Sara’s favorite thing about this learning experience was when one of the developers I hadn’t worked with before said he loved the process. He had the opportunity to provide input early and often, and then by the time development started there weren’t really any questions left on how to implement. Josh- the process helped me feel like an engineer and not just a code monkey. K.C.-: In other projects, we have been handed mock-ups without context. This process helped the “gray area” be taken away.
  • Developers were able to tame the ideals of the UX designer by understanding the system, not just the User Interface. Developers could assist UX by asking questions, helping understand the existing system limitations, and raising concerns that the design solution was too complicated given the time we had.
  • The software tester was able to understand the flow of the new designs, ask questions and assist in writing acceptance criteria that was specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and testable (SMART).
  • She provided guidance when we needed to go from concept to reality and ensured we understood the design requirements.
  • It was critical to designing 1-2 sprints in front of expected development as part of Agile software development. It allowed for the best design to be used rather than forcing ourselves into something that could be completed in two weeks. Together we would know what our end goal was, then break down the concept into tiers. Each tier would have a viable product that was one sprint long, and always kept the end product design in mind.

The Design Huddle is a way for teams to collaborate early on a new feature or application. We feel it is a great way to work User Experience into the Agile software process and simplify project development planning. We have taken our lessons learned and applied to a new project the three of us are getting to tackle together and expanded the concept of the huddle to different members on the team. If you are struggling to incorporate proper design or feel frustration from teammates on an application task, this may be the software design planning solution for you!

ACA Compliance Group needed help streamlining the communications landscape and its fast-growing workforce to collaborate more effectively. AIS recommended starting small with Microsoft Teams adoption and utilizing Microsoft Planner to gain advocates, realize quick wins, and gather insights to guide the larger rollout.

Starting Their Cloud Transformation Journey

The cloud brings many advantages to both companies and their employees, including unlimited access and seamless collaboration. However, to unleash the full power of cloud-based collaboration, a company must select the right collaboration technology that fits their business needs and ensures employees adopt the technology and changes in practices and processes. This ultimately benefits the business through increased productivity and satisfaction.

In early 2019, an international compliance firm with around 800 employees contacted AIS to help migrate multiple email accounts into a single Office 365 (O365) Exchange account. They invited AIS to continue their cloud journey and help them:

  • Understand their existing business processes and pain points across multiple time zones, countries, departments, and teams.
  • Provide their employees with a secure, reliable, and integrated solution to effective communication and collaboration.
  • Increase employee productivity by improving file and knowledge sharing and problem-solving.
  • Reduce cost from licensing fees for products duplicating features already available through the company’s enterprise O365 license.

Kicking Off a Customer Immersion Experience

First, AIS provided a Microsoft Customer Immersion Experience (CIE) demonstration, which served as the foundational step to introduce all O365 tools. After receiving stakeholder feedback, needs, and concerns, we collaboratively determined the best order for rolling out the O365 applications. The client selected to move forward with Microsoft Teams adoption as the first step to implementing collaboration software in the organization.

Pilots for Microsoft Teams Adoption

Next, we conducted a pilot with two departments to quickly bring benefits to the organization without a large cost investment and to gather insights that would inform the overall Teams adoption plan and strategy for the entire organization. We confirmed with pilot study employees that they saw and welcomed the benefits that Microsoft Teams provides, including:

  • Reduced internal emails.
  • Seamless communication and collaboration among (remote) teams/departments.
  • Increased productivity, efficiency, and transparency.
  • Centralized and accessible location for files, documents, and resources in Teams.

The pilot study also found that adopting Microsoft Teams in the organization would require a paradigm shift. Many employees were used to email communication, including sending attachments back and forth that was hard to track. In addition, while some departments had sophisticated collaboration tools, a common collaboration tool across the company did not exist. For web conferencing, for example, different departments preferred different tools, such as GoToMeeting and WebEx, and most of them incurred subscription fees. Employees had to install multiple tools on their computers to collaborate across departmental boundaries.

QUESTIONS ABOUT TEAMS ADOPTION PROCESS?

Embracing Benefits of Microsoft Teams with Organizational Change Management (OCM)

To help employees understand the benefits of Teams, embrace the new tool, and willingly navigate the associated changes. For the organization-wide deployment and Microsoft Teams adoption, we formed a project team with different roles, including: a Project Manager, Change Manager, UX researcher, Business Analyst, and Cloud Engineer. Organizational Change Management (OCM), User Experience (UX), and business analysis were as critical as technical aspects of the cloud implementation.

Building on each other’s expertise, the project team worked collaboratively and closely with technical and business leaders at the company to:

  • Guide communication efforts to drive awareness of the project and support it.
  • Identify levers that would drive or hinder adoption and plan ways to promote or mitigate.
  • Equip department leaders with champions and facilitate end-user Teams adoption best practices.
  • Guide end users on how to thrive using Teams through best practices and relevant business processes.
  • Provide data analytics and insights to support target adoption rates and customize training.
  • Use an agile approach to resolve both technical issues and people’s pain points, including using Teams for private chats, channel messages, and meetings.
  • Develop a governance plan that addressed technical and business evolution, accounting for the employee experience.

Cutting Costs & Boosting Collaboration

At the end of the 16-week engagement, AIS helped the client achieve its goals of enhanced collaboration, cost savings, and 90% Teams use with positive employee feedback. The company was well-positioned to achieve 100% by the agreed-upon target date.

Our OCM approach significantly contributed to our project success, which is grounded in the Prosci ADKAR® framework, a leading framework for change management based on 20 years of research. As Prosci described on their website, “ADKAR is an acronym that represents the five tangible and concrete outcomes that people need to achieve for lasting change”:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to support the change
  • Knowledge of how to change
  • Ability to demonstrate skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to make the change stick

The OCM designed was to provide busy executives, leaders, and end-users with key support and insights for action to achieve each outcome necessary for Teams adoption efficiently and effectively.

If you would like to participate in a CIE demonstration or learn more about adopting cloud-based collaboration tools and practices in your company, we are here to help!

READ MORE ABOUT OUR SUCCESS WITH
ACA COMPLIANCE GROUP

A variety of screens displaying Power Platform capabilities
Microsoft recently released a lot of new capabilities in their business applications, including the Microsoft Power Platform, which combines Flow, Power BI, Power Apps, the Common Data Service for apps, and Dynamics 365. To help people gain insights into the power of these applications, the Microsoft Technology Center in Reston, VA offered a Microsoft Business Applications Workshop for Federal Government, which I attended with two AIS colleagues.

As a User Experience (UX) Researcher who joined AIS earlier this year, I am new to Microsoft business applications. In addition, code writing is not my job responsibility and expertise, unlike my two colleagues. However, I found the workshop intriguing and registered for it right away because it was designed to:

  • Help people gain an understanding of the business applications
  • Be “interactive,” with hands-on opportunity for attendees to build a working application
  • Include topics like “solution envisioning and planning” and “no-code business workflow deployment” (Note that the workshop did offer coding exercises for developers on the last day of the workshop, which I did not attend.)

Indeed, attending the workshop allowed me to see the possibilities of these Microsoft applications, which is very relevant to what I do as a UX Researcher. It motivated me to further explore resources on this topic to better meet the needs of our current and future clients.

The User-Centered Design Process

The first project that I worked on after joining AIS was to help a client understand their employees’ needs and collect user requirements for a new intranet to be built on Office 365. In addition, the key stakeholders wanted to:

  • Streamline and automate their business processes, workflows, and document management
  • Drive overall collaboration and communication within the organization

I had extensive experience conducting user research for websites and web applications. To collect employee insights for this new intranet, we followed a user-centered design process:

  1. We started by interviewing stakeholders, content owners, and general employees to understand:
    • Their existing intranet use, areas that worked well, and areas that needed to improve
    • Intranet content that is important to them
    • Existing business processes, workflows, document management, internal collaboration, and communication
  2. Based on the interview findings, we then:
    • Compiled a list of important content pieces that the new intranet should include
    • Set up an online card sorting study for the employees to participate to inform the information architecture (IA) of the new intranet
    • Documented employees’ needs and expectations in other business areas
  3. Proposed a draft IA for the new intranet based on card sorting findings
  4. Developed a wireframe intranet prototype (using Axure), which reflected the draft IA, contained employee desired content, and mimicked the Office 365 structure and capabilities
  5. Conducted remote usability testing sessions with stakeholders and general employees to evaluate the wireframe prototype
  6. Finalized the intranet prototype and documented UX findings and recommendations to help developers build the new intranet using Office 365 in the next phase

As shown above, we made sure that the Intranet would meet the needs and expectations of the stakeholders and general employees, before it was coded and developed. However, as a UX researcher who does not code, I did not develop our solutions using the Microsoft business applications. I was curious to see how my technical colleagues would apply the capabilities of these applications to improve, streamline, and automate business processes and workflows.

Our user research showed that employees experienced a lot of frustration and pain points during their daily work. For example, both managers and general employees complained that their business processes heavily relied on emails, email attachments, and even hand-written notes, which were easy to miss or misplace and hard to locate. They described how difficult it was for them to keep track of project progresses and updates, especially when people from multiple departments were involved. Some of them also mentioned they had to manually enter or re-enter data during a workflow, which was error-prone. All these were real and common business process problems.

The Power of the Power Platform

This workshop provided me with a starting point and a glimpse into the power of the business applications. I’m still learning about their full power, the technical descriptions or details, and the rationale or logic behind each step that we went through when we built the model-driven app during the workshop. However, I was excited to walk away knowing about:

  • The use of a single, connected, and secure application platform to help organizations break down silos and improve their business outcomes
  • The availability of hundreds of out-of-box templates, connectors, and apps, including those that our client can take advantage of and easily customize, such as for onboarding tasks, leave requests, expense reimbursements, and shout-outs to co-workers
  • Building solutions and applications quickly and easily with simple drag-and-drop user interface, without the need to write a single line of code
  • Higher work efficiency of business people and non-developers to achieve what they want to do independently, relying less on IT support or developers, reducing overall cost, and saving time

After the workshop, I found a wealth of online resources and videos on Microsoft Business Applications. Below are some Microsoft webpages that describe the similar content or steps that we went through during the workshop:

I look forward to more in-depth learning about this topic to better understand the power of Microsoft business applications. With this knowledge and together with my colleagues, we will propose and build the best business solutions based on user research, helping our clients achieve desired outcomes by improving their employee experience.

Answers.com needed a Microsoft partner that could upgrade their Windows 8 application to maximize the use of a variety of new 8.1 features. Expediency was of the utmost importance in this instance and based on our prior experience with Microsoft, they knew we were the best partner for the job. AIS upgraded the Answers.com Windows 8.0 Store application to 8.1, meeting Answers.com goal of getting it done as quickly as possible. Our team also validated the application through the Microsoft DPE Windows 8 Partner Program to ensure adherence to all Windows 8.1 criterion. Read more…
Your company’s SharePoint site should be personalized to reflect your brand and culture.  How your site looks can impact how much it’s used.  One of the easiest ways to complete this personalization is by incorporating graphics that “match” your organization.  Sometimes you have a great set of graphics and icons to start with, and sometimes it can be difficult to find “exactly” what you are looking for. In these instances I have to create my own graphic from “scratch” or by using a few found images.  Read More…
Image courtesy of James Mollison for Colors Magazine

“I want the site to look like REI” is the first thing my government client says as I sit down for our meeting. I laugh out loud because the purpose of my client’s site has little and less to do with selling camping gear and North Face jackets. However, I know exactly what he means. REI sells a huge range of products and the web interface is loaded with helpful filters to make searching the huge inventory simple. Plus, the site just looks good.  Read More…

User Experience (UX) Design not only makes things look great, it can actually increase productivity for intranets and sales for e-commerce. And yet I cannot tell you how many times UX Design is an afterthought. It’s only after all the planning and requirements are done that someone asks who is going to design it. When you approach a project that way you are taking a huge risk. UX Design is extremely important.

Okay, yes, I am a designer so I am biased. But let’s look at some statistics: