Org Chart Design Challenge

The Challenge

Design an org chart in order to help the leadership and HR teams at Abc Co. quickly assess their org structure and where their employees are.

About the company:

  • 2,315 employees total (1,999 full time)
  • 689 employees in Mountain View, CA
  • 79 employees in Paris, France
  • 10 employees in Tokyo, Japan
  • 1,537 employees in Brooklyn, New York (HQ)
  • 18 departments

Constraints

The final solution needs to take the form of a web or mobile application.


Research

Before jumping into solutions straight away, I wanted to learn more about the company and the users’ goals and needs. I explored the problem space on the web and wrote a set of questions. I set out to understand if the company was currently organized into a specific organizational structure, and if so, did they want to transition to a different structure. I also wanted to understand what “assessing their org structure” entailed and why it was important for HR and leadership to know where their employees were currently located. Finally, I wanted to understand how and why HR and leadership use org charts (do they even use org charts at all?) and what, if any, problems they encounter.

In order to minimize the assumptions I had to make, I posed a series of questions to the “client” (in this case to Jessica). The answers I received were fairly vague, however, I was able to extract a few additional details:

  • The company is currently organized into a hierarchical structure and is possibly looking to change in the future.
  • The company is trying to coordinate schedules in different time zones
  • The company doesn’t have an existing org chart.
  • Importing the required data for the organizational chart is a solved problem

Talking to Users

I was off to a good start, but I still needed some more information to get a handle on why, how and if HR and leadership use org charts. Specifically, I wanted to know what it meant to “assess their structure.” Moreover, I set out to learn what pain points they experienced, if any.

To do that, I interviewed a couple of people who were in HR and leadership roles and asked them open ended questions like, “Walk me through the last time you used an org chart and why you used it.” I transcribed my notes from these conversations onto post it notes.

Afterward, I synthesized my impressions to identify patterns and commonalities.

Key insights

1. Scale increases complexity. There’s a limit to how much information HR can digest at one time.

“I wish there was an easier way to visualize some of this information, sometimes it’s hard for me to get a handle of what’s going on because there’s so many people.”

HR and leadership both voiced their concerns about the difficulty of extracting necessary information from the org chart as their companies continued to grow. Both expressed their desire to view their organization structure in a form that limits the amount of information they see at one time.

2. An org chart’s value depends on its accuracy and that accuracy is incredibly difficult to maintain

“No one ever updates it! If you were to ask me what our org chart looks like currently, I’d have to piece together the information myself and create one. It’s not fun and it’s super time-consuming.”

Both of the individuals I interviewed expressed their frustration with maintenance of the org chart. They were using spreadsheets to keep track of new hires and recent fires. They also had no visibility into teams that were self-organized on the ground.

3. In addition to using the org chart to see a bird’s eye view of their organizational structure, HR often uses it as a decision making tool.

“I’ll look at the org chart, for example, and see that this manager has ten direct reports under them. I’ll think, wow, this person is overwhelmed. We should do something about that and make sure they’re not overwhelmed.”

Much to my surprise, HR and leadership both described how they used their current org charts to make a variety of decisions in their day to day work. These decisions included: where to place new hires, evaluating burdens placed on managers, identifying opportunities to promote employees, among others. Despite using the org chart this way, both felt the tool was inadequate.

4. HR & leadership are not the only users! The employees use the org chart as well.

Both interviewees expressed their desire for employees to use the org chart as a tool to feel like part of the organization and to learn about the people they work with. While I wasn’t able to interview employees directly, I used the internet to conduct additional research. I learned that employees use the org chart to understand how they fit into the organization as a whole and to obtain contact information for other employees from different departments/teams that they need to speak with.


Reframe the problem

With a greater understanding of ABC Co., I felt I was ready to reframe the problem to make it more concrete:

How might we help leadership and HR at ABC Co. gain insight into their employees’ professional and geographic relationships so that they can make better hiring, firing, promotion, and reassignment decisions?

Competitive Review

A quick review of the competition gave me an inventory of existing patterns, and allowed me to begin brainstorming designs that addressed Abc Co.’s needs.

Personas

Before diving into potential solutions, I created personas of the target users. These personas helped me keep user needs in mind and more realistically anticipate decisions they’d likely make while navigating the user flow.

User Flow

Keeping Lucy’s persona in mind, I created a user flow that would reflect her decision making process as she interacted with the org chart.

Sketches/Brainstorming

Using the task flow as a guide, I began to sketch out potential implementations of each step in the journey. I kept the key insights I discovered during the research phase in mind as I sketched alternate solutions.

I briefly considered abandoning the org chart as a whole and focusing entirely on the decisions that HR/Leadership were trying to make using the tool. After all, networks can be represented without a traditional box-line chart (ex: Facebook). However, I soon realized that the org chart itself is excellent at providing an “at a glance” representation of employer-employee relationships and an instant understanding of how flat/vertical the organization currently is.

I also considered using a circle-node graph. This approach conserved space, but it came at a cost. It was difficult to determine if employees were in “laterally equivalent” positions, and, again, it was very difficult to determine how flat/vertical the current evolution of the organization was.

* A Note about Wireframing

My normal process at this stage would be to create wireframes. Using these wireframes, I would make an inter-actable prototype which I would use to validate my assumptions. Should any of my assumptions turn out to be incorrect, I would iterate on the wireframes until I had a solution that received a favorable response.

However, because this is a design challenge, my time was limited. I, instead, decided to create and iterate on my designs in high-fidelity. In addition, I identified some key metrics that I would test with real users (if time were available). I describe both below.

** Some Final Assumptions

Web Application

The challenge required that the final solution takes the form of either a web or mobile application. Through my interviews, I learned that many companies rely on desktop software to maintain records of their current employees (Excel, Sharepoint, ADP, etc). Because the user base is primarily working from their desktop while conducting business, I felt it made sense to continue that trend and prioritize a solution that was desktop friendly. Consequently, the solution I’ve designed is a web-based tool with a desktop view; future iterations would make this mobile friendly.

Maintenance

Jessica indicated that the data required for the org chart was readily available and “easy to add” to the application. Therefore, my designs don’t speak to data entry and management. My recommendation would be to integrate with existing HR software to keep the org chart accurate and up to date (without manual data entry!)


Mockups

Here I’ll walk you through some of the features in my final mockup

Bird’s Eye View

The bird’s eye view provides a zoomed out perspective of the overall organizational structure. At this level, the information provided to the viewer is minimal and all employees are represented as dots. Hovering over the dots, allows you to see their name and title. The purpose of this view is to allow the user to gain an “at a glance” understanding of the layers and hierarchy of their organization without overwhelming them with too much information. In addition, it allows the user to quickly navigate the tree of employees.

Focused View

By either clicking on one of the dots from the “Bird’s Eye View” or zooming in (using a scroll wheel or trackpad), the application switches to a “Focused View.” In this view, the user sees fewer employees on the screen at any given moment, but more detailed information about the employees who are in view. Their name, title, department, location, and number of reports are all immediately visible on individual cards. Moreover, in this view, the user can expand and collapse employees who are above and below them. At all times, the “Birds Eye View” is visible through a small window in the upper left hand corner. This allows the user to retain context about what portion of the overall org chart he or she is viewing.

Employee Detail View

While in the “Focused View”, clicking on a card expands a slide out panel which contains additional information about the employee. Their contact information and local time is visible, and, with a click, the user can schedule a meeting. HR can also leave notes about the employee that are only visible to other HR employees. We’ll look at some of the additional features of this view below.

Team “Tags”

Through my research I discovered that, increasingly, employees were self-organizing into teams. The team “tag” system allows employees to create teams and add team members. This information is then populated into their profile — providing HR/leadership insight into teams that have formed across the organization. Teams are not limited by department or geographic location.

Performance Information

The “Performance Information” button is only visible to HR and Leadership. Tapping the button expands the employee profile panel to the full width of the screen. New information is visible that helps HR determine if an employee is worthy of promotion or is struggling. The information includes peer reviews, manager reviews, and “Bonus points” — an internal system where peers can award points to one another for exceptional performance.

Search

Searching for an employee’s name will immediately locate the employee and expand their chain of managers. The employee’s “Detail View” will also expand from the side panel.

Directory

If HR or leadership aren’t looking for a particular person, they can use the directory to see an alphabetized list of employees. This list can be filtered by Department, Team, and Location using the options on the left side panel. The list can also be reordered based on their preferences.

Measuring Success

Again, due to time constraints, I was unable to validate my designs (as I would in a real world scenario). Given the opportunity, here are some of the questions I’d use to determine whether my designs successfully address the target users’ needs.

Questions

  • Can the user quickly identify the number of employees in the organization and the depth of the current hierarchy?
  • Can the user quickly determine who oversees a particular employee and contact that individual?
  • Can the user identify areas in the organization that may need additional resources/hires?
  • How long does it take for a user to determine whether a manager is responsible for overseeing more than 10 employees?
  • Do employees feel like promotions are appropriately being distributed after switching to the new system?
  • Do employees understand where they fit into the organizational structure?
  • Do leaders find it easier to create and coordinate distributed teams? Why or why not?

Thanks for reading!