I am asked, from time to time, to talk about the most recent projects I’ve been working on so I scribbled them down here.

The days of COVID-19

January 2021, Michael Wood

When a Contract at FGH came to an end with the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020 I decided I would try to do some things to help if I could.

I did some work to finish off charity website I was helping with and started working on web projects for friends which I’d always wanted to do but had never got the chance to.

I delivered food, and then I made some food and delivered that, to help out people in my community. Every day I realised how lucky I was to have these choices. I got involved in reformatting old laptops to make them ready for kids to use while the Schools were closed.

I did a little politics, and I did a lot of design projects to different degrees collaborating as a product designer on a gamification project.

I painted with oil on canvas, I got poorly, I got well, I got a dog.

That upset my cat.

FGH: DD Track+

March 2020, Project Information

The Problem

Created in 2004, DD Track allowed businesses to conduct their sales through the various brands under the FGH umbrella. It could be summed up by saying that if you manufactured tables and sold them in the Grattan catalogue, then DD Track was the way you managed the relationship.

However, the system relied on technologies which would soon be unsupported, and so a decision was made to rebuild from scratch. The space which DD Track wanted to occupy was now being led by businesses like Amazon, who have better platforms that were easier to use.

The new system, DD Track+, would take into account the significant changes in the remote retail industry since 2004 when the original platform was built, and would create a demonstrably better system and user experience.

The tone of voice document for DD Track+

The Outcome

DD Track+ was launched in August 2020. User testing showed that customers preferred DD Track+ and that they spent less time engaged with the site and performed more interactions.

QA: Quote Calculator

November 2018, Project Information

The Problem

When selling training courses the QA Sales Team worked in an increasingly complex environment of discount offers and conditional reductions.

This matrix of reductions was disseminated in a series of Excel spreadsheets each one superseding the last which were increasingly hard to maintain and required powerful machines to run in an office environment.

The process of creating discounts and approving them was a hand cranked process in which managers and manager’s managers were in untracked phone calls or lengthy email threads which created vague audit trails and was reliant on human organisation.

The Project

The QA: Quote Calculator was a green field project in which we got to reinvision the process. The User Research was extensive talking to the sales teams, the managers of those teams, the business and the requirements it had and the customers who talked to the sales teams to see what answers they would want most often.

This research resulted in a set of ad hoc personas which were used to create a series of user journeys through the website and &emdash; working closely with a great tester &emdash; to create a set of scenarios that the website would aim to fulfil which we communicated to the development team.

An example of this would be the "8th hole test" where we asked could a manager walking about the fairway of the 8th hole of a Golf Course approve a discount offering easily. If the Quote Calculator could not do that it would have failed.

These scenarios allowed me to smuggle good User Experience concepts to a team which were at the start of a UX journey. They provoked conversations about responsive web design, about saving states on an application, and about ease of use which led to a better product.

As well as creating a front end user experience which mimicked Excel in some ways &emdash; users liked to be able to navigate between cells using arrow keys and expected to do so but also would switch out of that behaviour and back into a more traditional web interact &emdash; there was scope for including instruction on the application which was not available on the Excel documents and made the process of onboarding new employees substantially easier.

The Quote Calculator issued emails from the business to customers and allowed for binding legal digital signatures to be created shortcutting a layer of administration. It also allowed for the business to better track the progress of a sale while with the customer.

In addition there was a need to create a second site which overlaid the first with rich management information. This second site told managers about the performance of teams, of sales people, and of products in the range and how discounted those products had to be. This guided the business in their negotiations and gave key insights which drove increases in profitability.

The Outcome

The Quote Calculator was a success for QA both streamlining the interaction between the sales team and the customers to the extent where the business estimated that sales had increased (I’m not allowed to say the numbers, but the numbers were good) and that unsatisfactory interactions were down.

It was also a success in the management information it provided that allowed managers to better know which of the sales team needed encouragement and which teams and products were performing well.

QA: Arrivals

2017, Project Information

The Problem

At the QA Training Centre at International House, London every Monday morning up to a thousand delegates arrived to sign in for courses and it took just under ninety seconds to sign each person in. The queues snaked around the building and down the street and the Landlord complained because arriving delegates were a fire hazard in the elevators.

This is common in all the Training Centres to a greater or lesser degree and had previously been a problem solved by having more QA Staff manning Reception but a practical limit had been reached on that approach.

The sign in application had to be quicker.

The Project

It is rare to get a project with such a clear aim. The process of signing in a delegate had to go from around two minutes to between thirty seconds and forty five seconds and all current functionality had to be retained.

The application was a guided process and it was guided by QA staff who were more than happy to offer information for research which provided great insights.

We were able to watch the sign in happening and noted that &emdash; at one location a sign in took around fifteen seconds longer as delegates asked if the catered food was Halal while another fielded questions about which local car parks were troublesome.

Working with a single back end developer the approach we took was functionality plus which is to say we rebuilt the website to speed things up &emdash; in addition to the UX research and planning I designed the User Interface and wrote the Front End HTML / CSS / JS &emdash; and make a design that suited a tablets with large contact zones for fingers and simple interactions but we were also able to add sections for pertinent information.

In addition we were able to add some features which had come up talking to other people in the business. Often three or four delegates might be late from the same company and by recognising those patterns we were able to give information back to the business allowing QA staff to contact the party rather than the individual members.

In this and other ways the application created useful management information for the business which fed back into later releases of what was a successful project.

The Outcome

Sign in time was reduced to an average of fourteen seconds.