Case study: Time planning across the company

Héctor Rebollo Bollullo
9 min readSep 4, 2019

Digital solutions for our day to day problems come in a lot of different ways: apps, specific software, webpages… Most of the other projects I’ve published are centered on mobile applications, but in this post I’m going to focus on describing the process I followed to, in one week, develop a Software as a Service (SaaS) desktop web app for companies to use internally. I had 5 days and my goal was to research the market and to meet with people working in companies to understand their needs in the Human Resources field (HR from now on), to then develop a solution that had in mind both the end user and the company itself (being the latter the one with the power to decide to use the software in their company or not).

Research

I started my research with three interviews to get a better sense of the struggles companies were having, and to be able to narrow my focus and be more specific when tackling the problem more in depth in subsequent steps.

I approached a manager from a company with 5 highly educated employees, a commercial director of a furniture company with 15 employees, and one employee of a company related to healthcare with 10 workers; I decided to let them drive the conversation after prompting them to talk about HR problems. Some of the pain points that came out in all conversations were:

  • Vacation and time-off management. It was a difficult task to accomodate the necessities of all stakeholders when organizing vacation time, and usually a lack of information or communication resulted in further problems.
  • Communication and registration of vacations and schedule changes. Managers were worried about not having a clear log of all time-off agreed, and employees also felt that they needed more information to prepare when parts of the department were going to be absent.
  • Making sure workers were aware of deadlines and big meetings. All of the companies that I talked to were small enough to not have a systematic system to communicate and alert of this type of events, but big enough to experience that informal communication didn’t always work.

With this results, I decided to center my research on time planning across the company, with a focus on vacation time management and organization.

After collecting this information and defining my goal, I was able to really go deeper in a category of problems, so I conducted 9 more interviews going more in depth in this topic.

Summarising, the pain points that the people working as managers reported were:

  • Vacation days organization. It was difficult for them to have all the information necessary to make the best decision for everybody on top of all their other responsibilities.
  • Registration of confirmed vacation days. To make sure everybody have this information and for future reference.
  • Clear communication of deadlines and wide company events.

From the point of view of employees, the pain points were:

  • Vacation days organization with co-workers. Most managers delegate the organization of vacation days to employees to make sure they dont overlap before going to them. Sometimes one specific person have to deal with the responsibility and needs to spend time and energy recollecting information from everyone.
  • Shift exchanges. When the company have different locations and work hours, workers have a harder time to communicate or know who would be available for a change.
  • Difficult to communicate requests for vacation or schedule changes. When the company doesn’t have a systematic system sometimes it takes time to request the time-off and to get a confirmation.

All this conversations gave me enough information to create personas that could help me empathize with the user during the whole process. I decided to make two, an employee and a manager, to make sure I always had this two points of view in mind when making decisions.

Isabel is a psychologist working in shifts on a health center. In every shift there has to be at least one psychologist, so she needs to organize with her co-workers before asking for vacation days and in case she wants to change her shift with another psychologist.

Victor is Isabel’s manager. He’s relatively new to the company and wants to improve its organization and the awarenesses of all workers about deadlines and meetings. He also needs to register vacations for future auditories.

This two people represent the types of user I want to satisfy with my product. Every time I made decisions, Isabel and Victor had to be taken into account so I didn’t forget who I was designing for.

The problem

Clearly defining the problem as I move from this part of the research to ideation is a very important part of the process because it helps me prioritize and make decisions along the way. I decided to describe two problems so I always had the two types of users in mind.

I defined the problem from the point of view of the employee as:

“Employees need a way to agree on vacation, time-off days and shift exchanges with coworkers effectively so they can make plans for the future.”

And from the point of view of employers:

“Employers need a way to register vacation days and communicate company wide events so they can organize the company and the workload.”

After settling on a problem statements and with all my research in mind, I used User Stories to describe the features that my future solution could have. To write this User Stories I followed the structure:
“As a (type of user) I need to (goal/task) so that (motivation)”
Making an effort to use this structure while writing the User Stories allowed me to have this three key information points always in mind when defining the features.

After writing the User Stories, I used the MoSCoW method to prioritize the features, and to understand and discern what a MVP would really need and what could come in future updates.

I decided to have three main features that could encapsulate other ones. This three features were:

  • My schedule: A way to review your relevant company schedules
  • Vacation: A way to request for time-off having information about others vacations visible.
  • Shift: A way to know coworkers shift and make interchanges

Ideation

With the main features settled, it was time to start coming up with options and ideas. I knew early on that the use of calendars was going to be prominent in my web app, but I had to decide, what type of calendars? How do I organize the information in it? Do I show all the information I wanted to give to the users in the same calendar? Or do I use different ones?

In testing the different variations it was easy to see that the last questions had a quick answer: no, don’t show a lot of information at the same time, it can overwhelm users so yes, use different calendars. Also having the information I collected on my research, my solution needed to be straight forward, easy and simple. There are a lot of options in the market to deal with calendars and organization, but my research showed that the companies weren't using them because they didn’t want to spend time learning and getting use to what they felt as complex tools. Only one was using a digital tool: an excel spreadsheet, and they weren’t happy with the results. With this in mind I divided the app in four sections: the three main features that I described before, and a dashboard with very straightforward information about the near future, that is, the things that the user would need to deal with the sooner.

Iterations

Here you can see some of the variations I tried. On the left picture I show you some of the low-fi versions of how a day in the calendar would look like. I started using a lot of space realizing later that I was maybe using my “mobile screen” part of the brain and that the desktop interface had the capacity to show more information and let the content breath more. On the right picture you can also see some ideas about the kind of navigation menu that I would use and how the icon could display to show the users the deadlines, work hours and meetings. The icon that I was using for deadlines that resembles a warning sign, was identified by most users as something negative, a problem or an error, and even though you could say that when deadlines are getting closer is kind of a waning sign, I didn’t want to associate the concept of deadlines to something negative or dangerous, so after some iterations I decided to use a visible and colored dot that would only display the days that contained a deadline. Also the meeting icon was better identified when there were people in the icon itself and I used the space in a way that you could display the icon with a tag.

Prototype

In this video you can see a quick demo of the final version, where you can better see the sections, how each one works and the final design decisions made based on testing and a lot of trial and error. Below you can find a brief description of each section based on the use Isabel would give to the software.

Dashboard

The first part that you see is the dashboard. Here a user like Isabel can see a quick view of their week and how many days she has left until the closest deadlines and meetings. A notification icon is present in all the screens to get an alert when there’s any change in the schedule.

My Schedule

“My schedule” would show in a monthly calendar view three prominent types of information: work hours, deadlines and meetings.

Vacations

Vacations is thought as a straightforward and simple way to centralize time-off decisions for employees. You can view when everyone in your department is having their time-off in case you need to prepare something together or if you need to organize with them before oficially asking to the manager for your vacations days.

Shifts

Last but not least we have the “Shift” section. This section was created in response to the complaints that many workers had that when they had the option to change their shift with a co-worker sometimes the process could get difficult, so “Shift” is a way of knowing when everyones shifts are by clicking in the desired date. Shift is also meant for people who need to contact with a co-worker or make decisions about projects depending on other peoples schedules.

Next steps

I want to ideate a distinct experience for the manager. I would love to explore a way to make inputting deadlines and responding to requests as seamless as possible.

Roadmap

In three months

The idea is that three months after the realease, the ability to change shifts with co-workers directly from the platform would be available making this process even more easy, giving managers the option to let workers self-organize or requiring their approval to the changes.

In six months

In more complex organizations, with more than one location and with different schedules, this web app should, in six months, be able to help managers organize work hours to make sure everyone in the company meet their work hours and/or is treated equally when some schedules are worse than others.

The process of researching and making a design better never ends. All the decisions made until now were to make the product that had enough features and utility to be released, but after the product would be in the market a lot more information and feedback would be available- This data would be really helpful to make the application the best version of itself, improving the usefulness and usability. That’s a whole other fascinating step that I hope I can cover soon in a future post.

Thank you for staying until the end of this post and please, don’t hesitate to comment or contact me through email or at my LinkedIn if you have any suggestion or thought about my process.

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Héctor Rebollo Bollullo

UX Researcher with a background in psychology and UX Design. Based in Barcelona, I spend my free time reading comics 🦸‍♂️ and geeking out about tech.