Keeping Netflix on schedule — Case study

Patrick Branigan

Scheduling is a huge deal to just about every industry. The entertainment industry, though, lives by calendars. Netflix had a need to alleviate friction in their production scheduling operations.

Challenge

Contrary to what we might believe, Hollywood is a land of legacy settings where things move very slowly and standardized toolsets are uncommon. Projects are long and complicated, and there are many parties involved. This means keeping everything (and everyone) on time is often a challenge–one that is both derived from but often solved by calendaring.

Objective

We needed to discover a way to keep project, team, and individual schedules more easily accessible, and in sync with their existing internal studio platform. Stakeholders hypothesized that by doing this, conflicts in scheduling would lessen, and therefore allow for more accurate release schedules and proper asset allocation to occur. Time is money.

Process

I was one of a handful of UX Designers on a team of designers, engineers, and an Account Manager who worked side by side with stakeholders and existing internal engineering teams to:

  1. Research
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Validate

Research

We spent a week on-site to familiarize ourselves with their users and their needs. It was a week-long discovery in which we:

  • Identified business goals
  • Identified and began to understand users and their pain points
  • Developed an MVP roadmap
Brainstorming session to explore preliminary user flows

We gathered insight around toolsets, routines, habits, pains, and desires by interviewing with Project Managers and Studio Editors (PMs and SEs). This allowed us to validate that there was indeed a problem across teams with scheduling and that a new product would be valuable. What we discovered is that calendars are at the core of their business operations. A calendar is such a profound artifact in their space, it would have been disorienting to start anywhere else.

Problem Definition

Our research revealed that calendars themselves are an integral part of operations, but the variety of options, uses and customization made it difficult to achieve consistency and reliability in scheduling:

  • The paradox of choice muddied consistency in scheduling processes.
  • No one calendar was able to achieve a level of reliability needed in regard to synchronizing with their internal platform.
  • Users relied on methods of customizing calendars to achieve what they couldn’t find: flexibility.

Ideation

Alongside their internal engineering team, we worked to create primary user flows, and low-fidelity sketches to accompany them. We continuously subjected these ideas to stakeholders and users in order to gather feedback. Before long we arrived at a solution worth building.

Developing user flows
Developing workflows

Prototype

We built a calendar application that brought a focus to high-value actions shared by PMs and SEs. The creation, viewing, editing, and sharing of calendars was fast, easy, and fluid with their internal platform.

Screen from a desktop prototype

We aimed to use succinct color palettes for clarity and vibrancy. We tested typefaces to find a stack that kept in mind optimized rendering while retaining good readability and scalability. We injected delight in the form of illustrations to provide personality and guidance at the right moments.

Modal screens from a desktop prototype

Customization was considered but was not completely subjective. The choices and settings users could engage in were timely and intentional.

Early screen testing clarity around event customization
Developing event detail customization from lower-higher fidelity

Validate

Being that we decided to make a progressive web app, a lot of the functionality of a PWA approach supplemented the workflows of our users. It also seamlessly integrated with their internal platform without friction, effectively engaging all users in a uniform, and trackable, scheduling workflow.

It increased the ability to survey events scheduling. It provided a single source of truth for their internal platform to communicate with. It developed a new, consistent mental model for users to engage in when addressing schedules. This resulted in a uniquely flexible tool that allowed for teams to schedule on their own terms, in their own ways, without sacrificing clarity and awareness to the rest of the organization.

Takeaways

The perfect tool may not exist, but the ingredients may very well already be a reality. It wasn’t that we created anything immensely innovative, nor did we need to invest a lot of time and energy into discovering ‘the unknown’. Instead, we focused on what we knew about our users and the common calendaring workflow. We were able to accomplish our goals by utilizing conventions that existed but were never tailored in a fashion that was uniform and unique to a business’ particular framework.

Unlisted

Patrick Branigan

Written by

Product Designer by day, gamer by night.

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