A Day in the Life of Deltek Project Nation: In-Depth User Experience Interviews
Designing the user experience
In Deltek's User Experience (UX) team, we pride ourselves on being advocates for our users. We promote "user-centric" thinking, and focus on designing our products with users in mind.
The UX team looks for ways to design our software to simplify our users' work processes, make their interaction with our software easier, and generally improve the experience of using our software. This means coming up with intuitive patterns for navigation, designing simplified data entry processes, and creating visually pleasing and easy-to-use designs for everything including icons, buttons, dialogs, advanced tree-tables and dashboards graphics.
Understanding our Users
How do we know what users want? And how do we know which design will best solve their problem?
We cannot know simply by intuition. Although we are all occasional users of our software, and all have watched actual users interact with our products at one time or another, and naturally have ideas about which kinds of designs will work, WE ARE NOT actually OUR USERS. Believing that I intuitively understand what users need is more likely to result in products that I would like to use rather than products that Deltek’s customers will enjoy using.
In order to understand which design will work for the user, we really need to understand the job they are trying to do, how they use our software and other tools in that process and what challenges and problems they face. The best way to do that is to observe users at work and getting to know their world. The UX team gains a better understanding of how users interact with our solutions in a few different ways and each provides unique value to better understand the user experience.
Specific Feature Focus
Most of the opportunities for the UX Team to engage with users and customers revolve around specific issues, features or requirements.
We are often pulled in to carry out interviews or workshops with users and customers who have requested specific features, we conduct usability tests on specific user interface designs before they go into production, and of course we also hear about problems with existing functionality or requirements for new features through our customer care function.
While all of this interaction with users and customers is of course valuable to us, most of the feedback we are able to gather in this way is either very narrowly focused on critical usability problems, new high priority features or very specific customer requirements. This means that adjacent issues that may also be important for the overall user experience may be ignored, and that we rarely get to see the full picture when it comes to the users' experience of our products.
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"A Day in the Life..." – Going Back to the Source
While much of the feedback the UX team has received over the years has been extremely valuable, it has also been feature or customer specific. We saw the need for a more open, free form conversation with users, which would allow users to tell us directly about their experience with our products, show us how they actually work with our software, as well as demonstrate any problems they were experiencing.
This is how the "A Day in the Life..." interviews were conceived.
"A Day in the Life..." is a special interview format where a User Experience Designer meets with an end user for an hour to learn how that person works with our software and which challenges they are facing for their specific role.
When we set up the appointment with the user, we ask them to prepare for the interview by taking a few minutes to think about which work processes are most important in their daily work and which tools they use to get the job done. We focus mainly on how they use Deltek's software, but not exclusively. It can be extremely helpful to understand if a user uses a note-taking app to capture information about the phases or tasks in a project plan they created in a Deltek solution. This tells us there could be a need for better support for taking notes directly in the project plan.
We saw an example of this in our "A day in the life of a project manager" interviews that were carried out for the Deltek Vantagepoint team earlier this year. We talked to 10 project managers from a diverse selection of firms in the architecture and engineering industry. Here are a few examples of what we learned from just a few short open-ended interviews with project managers.
High level project management in that industry is a demanding job that requires experienced employees who have typically worked in multiple companies during their career. This means that many have developed their own approach to things like creating reliable cost estimates. This is something that is typically managed in specialized spreadsheets with just the right formulas and breakdowns the project manager needs to feel confident in the estimate. These are often used as a starting point before data is entered into Vantagepoint. During the interviews, we had a handful of project managers go through their personalized estimating process, showing us their spreadsheets and explaining why they do things the way they do. This has given us a lot of new knowledge about the flexibility required by project managers in this process, as well as important clues to how we may be able to improve our budgeting and estimating functionality to better support these roles in the future.
Another benefit to the open format and asking users to show us how they work is it sometimes lets us discover problems or challenges that users are not even necessarily aware of themselves.
Everyone, regardless of their line of work, just gets used to how things work over time. Even though a work process may be cumbersome and time consuming, users may not actually question it. There is a tendency to accept the way things are, even if they are not ideal. Of course users notice road blocks that impact work processes and may be more vocal about them, but subtle challenges may become part of the user’s routine.
In the project manager interviews, we saw several users working on their project plan in one screen, but then navigating to a completely different part of the system to drill down into data to retrieve a few special values not available in the plan. None of the users actually questioned this behavior. It had become second nature for them to do those additional clicks and typing to get to that number, but it was quite obvious to us as user experience designers that it could save significant time if the users could look up those numbers directly from the project plan.
The open interview format has given us the chance to discover both challenges and opportunities for development that we might not otherwise see. But, more than anything, they give us a deep understanding of how our end users work and how we can better support them.
As User Experience professionals, we LOVE talking to users and the reaction from customers has been overwhelming. Everyone has been so forthcoming and enthusiastic and many have offered to provide additional input as needed.
The people we have talked to in these interviews have been so well prepared and gone to great lengths to explain all the intricacies of their work processes in a language that we as designers can understand. This has quickly become about much more than just user interviews. It is really about getting to know the people that use our products.
We look forward to continuing these “A Day in the Life…” interviews and continuing to develop software that meets the ever-changing needs of our users. And, we look forward to sharing more feedback from future “A Day in the Life…” studies so you can see how these interviews are positively shaping the Deltek products of the future.
If you would like to participate in future interviews or other user research, please reach out to Anders Vogt, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Anders is a User Experience Designer and Analyst at Deltek with more than 20 years’ experience in the field of user experience and user interface design focused on making software products easier and more fun to use. He spends most of his time either talking to customers about their product experience or designing and user testing new designs.
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