Phase 1: Problem Space

Austin Guevara
Sep 16, 2017 · Unlisted

This document is written for the Midterm Project in H541: Interaction Design Practice—Instructed by Sonali Shah, at IUPUI in Indianapolis, IN.

Other parts of this project:

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The problem space I will focus on for this project is outlined in Scenario 3: Com/Business Industry. The prompt can be summarized as follows:

A [new tech company] has asked your firm to design a new type of software that can support business people on the run and can work with the Blackberry, Motorola Q, or the new Apple iPhone… consider a range of problem spaces that currently exist among business people who attempt to juggle their busy business day and family/personal life. What tools or systems might help them better connect with business associates and family?

This document provides an overview for the entire project. It provides a background for the current market in 1.1: Context and Use. I discuss the intended audience for this new software product in 1.2: Target Users. Also included is a timeline which incorporates all major milestones toward the completion of the project — 1.3: Project Plan.


1.1: Context and Use

The modern business day is difficult to manage. Between emails, phone calls, text messages, pings, and everything in between, it’s easy to lose track of important details. Requests are missed. Plans are forgotten. Keeping team members on the same page can be a colossal task. Even the number of everyday software tools used to get everything done can be overwhelming in and of themselves.

The difficulty with this problem space is that it spans multiple categories of existing software solutions. For the sake of clarity, I will focus on two key areas to examine the current enterprise software market: communication tools and office suites.

A couple key players—namely, Microsoft and Google—have office suites that span multiple categories and which dominate the market. As of October 2016, Microsoft Office (with Office 365) and G Suite were the two most-used enterprise software suites globally, representing over 2 billion users (Gupta, 2016). There may be some overlap and it is difficult to get exact numbers about market share percentage due to the inherent privacy of businesses. However, it’s safe to say that this number likely represents a majority of enterprise software users in the world.

Communication Tools

In the category of communication tools, it’s clear that distribution advantage makes a big impact on market share. In other words, those communication tools that belong to a suite which already has a large market are more likely to be successful. With Microsoft’s user base growing by 37% in 2016, the new Microsoft Teams will likely have an increased user base as well (Diwan, 2017). This, unfortunately, does not say much about their usability or effectiveness as communication tools.

An important point about these communication tools is that they are intended as a supplement of email. The persistence of email has not declined in the past several years as some might expect (Lafrance, 2016). These tools intend to de-clutter the email inbox by moving inter-team communications into a more organized, collaborative environment.

Included is a brief summary of some of the most popular products by use:

  • Slack
    Some argue that Slack blazed the trail for the current marketplace of team communication apps. It is well-known for its many integrations, superb thread management and ardently engaged users (Diwan, 2017).
  • Google Hangouts/Chat
    Hangouts has been Google’s basic communication tool for years, with simple direct and group conversations. With Google Chat (planned for release later this year), they intend to create, “an intelligent communication app, built for teams” (G Suite, 2017). Beyond this, value is brought with deep integration to Google and other 3rd party services (Lardinois, 2017).
  • Microsoft Teams
    This new chat and collaboration app intends to launch Microsoft into the team communications space that was created by Slack and Hipchat (Warren, 2017). However, in terms of features, nothing stands out as particularly special. It seems that the primary edge that Teams has over its competition is the existing wide user base of Microsoft Office.
  • Atlassian (Hipchat/Stride)
    Recently announced, Stride is a new product from Atlassian which will replace (and expand upon) the existing Hipchat. The new Stride intends to focus on encouraging team action, conference call tools and smart notifications (Newton, 2017).
  • Quip
    Recently acquired by Salesforce, Quip is a Content Collaboration Platform which touts the benefit of “The Living Document” (Salesforce, 2017). The inclusion of its document tools, similar to an office suite, is what gives Quip the edge over the other communication competitors.
  • Basecamp
    The main benefit of Basecamp is that it “organizes your communication, projects, and client work together so you have a central source of truth” (Basecamp). The main functionality of Basecamp involves uses threads that allow for collaboration on projects. As a competitive edge, it makes working with external teams seamless and easy. Though as a personal observation, it provides somewhat of a disorganized user experience.

Office Suites/File Management

  • G Suite (Drive, Docs, etc.)
    One of the key strategies used by Google with G Suite was getting home users to love G Suite and thereby ask to use them in their place of work (Au, 2014). As a bonus, G Suite is built into a tool for file management and cloud storage, Google Drive.
  • Office 365 (Microsoft Office)
    Microsoft Office was the office suite for many years. It was only in the past few years that G Suite began to catch up (Gupta, 2016). In an attempt to keep up with the live collaboration features of G Suite, Microsoft released Office 365, a blend of native and web-based cloud apps. While Office 365 offers a fluid integration with OverDrive for cloud file storage, it is not quite as seamless of an experience as Google Drive with G Suite (Crider, 2015).
  • Apple (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers)
    While Apple’s suite of productivity tools is barely existent at the enterprise level, it is worth mentioning because it represents a full office suite. It also supports live collaborative editing (like G Suite) and integration with iCloud Drive (cloud file storage). While not optimized for business usage, the individual apps in this office suite offer an excellent user experience, typical of Apple products.
  • Quip
    This one makes the list twice because of how its documents are seamlessly integrated into the core chat functionality. Although Quip is not a traditional office suite, it proclaims the benefit of “The Living Document,” a smarter, more focused document editor (Salesforce, 2017). It includes a word processor designed for the digital world, rather than for printing on physical paper.

This is by no means an exhaustive look at enterprise software solutions. It does however effectively represent the problem space. And further, this long but non-comprehensive list emphasizes the potentially overwhelming nature of working as a business person in the digital age. With so many tools to switch between, staying organized is a constant effort.

Clearly, there are many tools which aim to meet the needs of organization, team collaboration and team project completion. What is lacking from all of these is a truly successful integration between communication, file management and task completion. Not as a series of separate yet connected tools, but a single united product that permits uncluttered communication, collaboration and file management for teams (all on the go). The product I design will aim to solve that unmet problem.

1.2: Target Users

The primary users of this product are people on teams, especially ones that plan, design, strategize, and develop projects of all kinds. These users will come from backgrounds familiar with productivity tools. They will have familiarity with features of standard communication features such as channels and smart notifications. These users will have needs to create, share and manage a variety of file types in order to continue activities such as creating spreadsheets, documents and charts.

The target users will be familiar with software tools that allow them to collaborate. They will need the ability to edit files simultaneously. The level of connectedness that each user desires will vary at an individual level. Therefore, they will want the ability to have control over their preferences.

Furthermore, the primary users will desire to work quickly and effectively with their team. As busy collaborators, they will want organization to be automated and for important details to be easily tracked.

The user experience of the product should be helpful by allowing for users to quickly access their important files from anywhere and stay on the same page with their team members. It should be motivating by streamlining the completion of projects and preventing distractions from slowing users down. Fundamentally, the user experience should feel safe. This product will provide a way for users to save, manage and share their files of all types. An individual’s (or team’s) work files often can be the result of hundreds of thousands of hours of work. Without safety, users will not be severely limited in accomplishing anything.

1.3: Project Plan

One of the primary timeline considerations will be in week 6–7. The Dynamic Interactive Prototype is not due until October 8. However, I will want to have it ready for the Evaluating Design milestone by October 1 so that I leave myself enough time for a thorough evolution.

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Screenshot of the Project Plan Gantt Chart in Smartsheet

1.4: Summary

In this document, I have introduced a new business communication, collaboration and file management product. I have intentionally avoided going into detail about how the product might actually look (a difficult task), in order for the process of requirements gathering to not be prematurely influenced.

There are countless enterprise software solutions available that work within the field of team communication and collaboration, document creation, and even file management. However, none of them combine these vital business features into a single go-to place for getting projects done.

This software solution will need to accommodate business users accustomed to using aforementioned products for getting their work done. It will need to enable teams to work together swiftly and efficiently. It should promote simplicity by enabling important details to not be lost.

This primary research into the existing marketshare brings up a handful of considerations which will need to be explored further in the Identifying Needs and Establishing Requirements phase. Primary among them is the team environment that the collaboration tool will need to accommodate. This will include eclectic teams that use various methodologies for accomplishing tasks — such as waterfall, scrum or lean. Furthermore, it will need to accommodate diverse teams in terms of size (number of people), inclusivity (client-facing vs internal only), and type of work (creative vs development vs strategy).

Another topic that will be explored further in the Establishing Requirements phase is technical, non-functional requirements. This includes the need for a mobile-first multi-platform (Android, iOS and Blackberry) experience.


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