The Five Pillars of User Experience Transformation

March 07, 2019
Lisa Rabideau
Lisa Rabideau
Sr. Director of Product Strategy

Today’s business software users are more sophisticated than ever—after all, many are Millennials or members of Gen Z, reputedly born with an iPad in their hands. Not to be left in the dust of younger generations, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have become more technologically savvy, even while remaining somewhat resistant to innovation—so expectations of simplicity in apps are increasing. (On a personal note, that makes me think of my mother: She’s willing to try new apps, but will abandon them if they’re difficult to use.)

Because of growing user sophistication and seemingly contradictory expectations of simplicity, organizations are giving end users a louder voice and more influence in software purchases. That presents software companies with a big challenge and opportunity: make software that’s indispensable to success not only because it meets all business requirements but also because it works the way users think.

Recognizing this new standard, Deltek set a goal to be at the forefront of the movement to make user-centric software. Deltek’s User Experience (UX) team set its own goals: Define its philosophy and refine its best practices into a process for delivering solutions that add value to their customers’ business by making solutions that work the way users think, increasing user productivity at lower cost, and automating the project lifecycle.

In doing so, the team committed itself to the Five Pillars of UX Transformation. And yes, while these pillars are steps in Deltek’s design process, they’re really much more than that. They do double and triple duty as the foundation of Design Thinking, the design philosophy we adopted. They are also best practices that guide us in building products with the optimum UX, leveraging the most appropriate technologies. To date, these activities are the most important thing Deltek has done to identify issues in the user interface and improve the UX.

Before I take you on a tour of the five pillars, let me say that I hope our trip will give you a better understanding of how Deltek develops solutions, how you and your organization can contribute to our process, and ultimately, how you can enhance your own systems, with or without our help. Who knows, it might even help you establish your own philosophy and process.

Pillar 1: Start the Process with User Empathy

For UX design to advance, we need to focus on both parts of the equation: the user and the experience, and Pillar 1 starts the process by empathizing with users. The UX goes way beyond a product’s interface, and includes everything from a user’s work area and their number of daily interruptions to how they search for learning topics.

We strive to build strong relationships with our customers and be their trusted partners, and one happy result is that our users are willing to have very open conversations with us.

We focus on both the user and the experience by having many one-on-one interactions, observing and interviewing users to understand how they work with and navigate through our software to complete business processes. We ask them questions to better understand their day-to-day goals and frustrations and where our solutions do and do not meet expectations. We tease out how their industry does things differently from other industries, to ensure that we include appropriate functions in the right product and display them in a clear, simple UI.

In fact, that’s one of the differentiators we’re most proud of—while other software is adaptable to multiple industries, its configuration must be so customized that it’s completely different from the out-of-the box product, making it much harder to maintain. Our deep and broad understanding of how our clients conduct business makes our software mission-critical.

A good example is resource planning. The main asset for many project-based organizations is people, so it’s paramount to have the right people on the right project at the right time. However, the work people do varies widely. Creative agencies plan tasks down to the minute, so they might bill time in 6-minute increments, where government contractors bill out resources for months at a time. The forecasting and time reporting function for each industry’s software must accommodate that difference.

Pillar 2: Define Personas and the Problems to Solve for Them

In Pillar 2, we review what we’ve learned from our user community; analyze behaviors and attributes; and look for patterns to create cohorts of like users into personas.

A persona, representing a type of user for a particular product, paints a picture of business goals, frustrations, and motivations. Personas help the team step outside their own beliefs and see the problems we’re trying to solve through the eyes of intended users.

For instance: Sales reps track opportunities, create bid and proposal budgets, and build contracts. Resource managers search for and assign resources based on skills, competencies, and availability. Project managers shepherd the onboarding process, manage customer expectations, manage resources, and identify new resource needs, among other responsibilities. So we create representative personas such as Sales Rep, Resource Manager, Project Manager, and Sales Manager after interviewing many users who actually walk those paths.

Pillar 3: Prioritize Problems to Solve

In Pillar 3, the UX team works with Product Management, which defines and prioritizes the problem statements we need to solve. We ask ourselves which problems are the most important to solve, and which solutions will help our customers work better, faster, cheaper, and smarter.

When we’re talking about solving a problem, there’s no better example than Hey Deltek. We can all relate to being bombarded with information overload, needing ways to quickly navigate our world and complete actions instantaneously. Hey Deltek, a natural language processing agent we put in Vantagepoint that will soon be in other products, helps us do just that: All we have to do is type or speak a simple command, such as “Add a meeting with Jane Doe tomorrow at 5 pm” or “Open the Galleria Expansion Project,” and the software does the work.

Pillars 4 and 5: Create Prototypes and Test

Pillars 4 and 5 are really inseparable, so I will discuss them together. We brainstorm and ideate on how to solve the prioritized problems, adopting the philosophy of failing quickly. We prototype disposable concepts and test them with users to understand what works, what doesn’t work, and what we’ve missed. 

In Pillar 4, when deciding how to solve the problem, we use thoughtful innovation. That means we bring new technologies to bear only if:

  • It’s practical to apply them to the problem we’re solving
  • They are mature enough that we don’t have to spend a lot in R&D to incorporate them seamlessly into the solution (which keeps customer costs down)
  • They add value to the UX.

If they don’t meet all three criteria, we’re just innovating for technology’s sake, which helps no one. Since Deltek is in the business of creating value for our customers, we selectively pick technologies that will give our customers value.

In Pillar 5, we put a prototype in front of users in one-on-one testing sessions. We’re looking for detailed feedback, so we listen while the user does all the talking. That feedback is worth its weight in gold, and usually we learn something that helps us improve the design. After testing, we regroup with Product Management to refine the problem statement and requirements and, if necessary, iterate on the solution, working closely with Development to ensure technical feasibility. This process allows us to move ahead with solutions that work and iterate longer on solutions that need tweaking. It also allows us to cut losses and pivot to another idea if testing reveals that a prototype doesn’t work.

One example: Making report options easy to understand and configure is notoriously difficult, as are configuring dashboards and creating dash parts that are user friendly and include enough—but not too much—data. The key to our success in getting it right in Vantagepoint and Costpoint is that we brainstorm concepts and put them in front of users so we can fail fast and continue iterating. We repeat this cycle until users had a very high success rate completing user flows and navigating the proposed system in a natural way. With reporting, we learned which report options users change most often and who defines and shares reports with others in their organization. This drove changes in pre-setting and saving report favorites and organizing report options. While organizing options in order—from most frequently to least frequently touched—may seem like a small change, we learned that it had a big impact on user efficiency.

When Product Management is satisfied with user testing results, the new feature is ready for coding and implementation.

The most important part of this process—and our philosophy—is the partnership we enjoy with our users. Many customers don’t have the cash flow or bandwidth to research emerging technologies. That’s our responsibility as a software vendor—to sift through the noise and thoughtfully incorporate new technology that delivers business value while making the experience feel familiar to both expert users and newly on-boarded users. Our goal is to connect the dots so that our customers spend less time managing their system and more time growing their business—and that’s something every generation can get behind.

So we’ve come to the end of our tour. I’d love to receive your questions or comments! Future blogs will delve into user-centric features/benefits, solutions, and technologies Deltek has recently innovated to enhance the UX, so please stay tuned!


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