Waavely — Streamlining Crew Management in the Maritime Industry
Designing an efficient solution for personnel recruiting and crew management
Waavely is a double-sided marketplace to serve 10,000+ personnel and 1,000+ maritime companies in 20+ cities in Nigeria.
It is designed to curb the inefficiencies of personnel recruiting and crew management in the Nigerian maritime industry.
👉🏽 Personnel are crew members that sail on a voyage. Sailing is teamwork, so it needs different ranks to carry out specific duties.
The “ranks” that make up the ship’s team include: Master, Chief Mate, Second Mate, Third Mate, Deck Cadet, Chief Engineer, Second Engineer, Third Engineer, Fourth Engineer, Engine Cadet, Electrician, Bosun, Pump Man, Able-Bodied Seaman, Ordinary Seaman, Fitter, Oiler, Wiper, Chief Cook and Steward, etc.
👉🏽 Hiring managers at maritime companies are in charge of recruiting personnel for crew voyage.
Waavely was an opportunity to work with great folks in the B2B sector — a first for me. Because my previous works have been consumer-based apps, I was excited to work on something new.
I worked as a contract Product Designer on a small remote team with a tight budget over the period of 3 weeks. I was the sole designer.
I learned a lot working with product owners Peter (Papua New Guinea, Australia.) and Wendy (Lagos, Nigeria.), and the lead Engineer Victor (Port Harcourt, Nigeria.).
Collaboration with my teammates was great and fun. Thanks to Microsoft Teams, Trello, Telegram, Whatsapp, Dropbox Paper, Real Time Boards, and OBS Studio.
1. Create a standard model for personnel recruiting and crew management.
The current model for personnel recruiting and crew management has long been set by middlemen — management agencies.
There is no way the agencies can guarantee quality as it is subjective for any custom work. The onus has long been on the maritime companies and personnel to manage quality.
A standard model allows for a measured, controlled, improved upon and guaranteed quality.
2. Explore ways to create immense value for maritime companies.
We want to enable hiring managers to make concrete decisions in seconds — saving time, money and resources.
Such capability never existed before, as a result, the delta of the new experience as against the current experience will be high.
3. Create revenue opportunities from Day 1.
Designing a better solution for personnel recruiting requires experimenting hard and fast. This involves a healthy cash flow thus making it a priority to create revenue streams from day one.
Having understood our ground realities, some of my key deliverables were:
- Design the core experience of Waavely from the ground up.
- Produce a solid baseline product that can serve as a platform for further iterations.
- A regular sync with all stakeholders to track progress, share insights or course correct.
- Make the user interface and experience cohesive across mobile and desktop web platforms.
- Finally, present the new design to all stakeholders.
How does the current model of personnel recruiting and crew management work? Where does it fail to cater to both users and business needs?
Current situation analysis
Personnel like nomads, live an unsettled life and are always on the move. Maritime companies recruit personnel over phone calls by dialling them one by one.
A voyage comprises of 40+ personnel with mixed physical abilities and professional experiences. Small sized vessels equal cramped spaces and voyage with less experienced personnel. The big sized vessels are spacious and voyage with more experienced personnel. Both voyage on a 30-day average.
Contracts are both short and long-term with freedom of entry and exit. There is no legal paperwork committing personnel to companies, and as such, they compromise their contracts at will — depending on the benefits of prospective offers.
A Steward could be working on a vessel and gets info of another offer with better benefits and leaves. Benefits include bigger salaries, size of vessels, more qualified crew, health insurance, etc.
A voyage is only cancelled in the occurrence of an emergency. Crew change — replacement of personnel happen every 30 days.
Lengthy haggle over salaries, unavailability of personnel, the difficulty of tracking personnel over phone calls, and the unwillingness of personnel to voyage in expectation of better offers. These are problems maritime companies face in the event of a crew change.
I went over similar solutions to personnel recruiting across various geographies.
Legacy UI that doesn’t look trustworthy, a poor visual hierarchy with items competing for attention, complex navigation, and search functionality that delivers results half the time characterized most of these solutions.
A few had contextual call-to-actions, labels for urgent jobs and well-crafted descriptions.
Their business models varied by subscriptions, advertisings, one-time registration fees, and pay-as-you-hire model.
Research and feedback
The product owners both have related experience working in vessel and operations management. This gave me the opportunity to feed on user feedbacks already available to them.
We had access to both personnel and manning agencies complaints and suggestions. We further interviewed a few agencies to understand the financial side of the operations.
Some of the questions to which we sought answers to were?
- How do vessel operations and management currently work?
- How do companies currently hire personnel for a voyage?
- What does a typical working month look like for personnel?
- What are the most frustrating and time-consuming aspects of recruiting personnel?
- What workarounds have been created to solve the problems involved in recruiting personnel?
Synthesizing our findings
1. Searching for the ideal personnel is a hit and miss.
There’s no way the current model (dialling personnel one by one) takes into consideration prior experiences. This doesn’t speed up the process of getting the most desirable personnel. There’s a lot of going back and forth many times before finding the right personnel.
2. The unidimensional discovery of personnel.
While a hiring manager is ladened by the stress of finding the ideal personnel, narrowing down options by budget, qualifications, experience level, physical abilities, etc, takes even more thought, time and effort.
3. Breadth was unknown.
Since there are third-party involvements from the middlemen, the breadth of options available to the companies hiring the personnel is unknown, thereby leading to a less effective hiring process.
4. Identity verification is laborious.
Maritime companies finding the personnel have to take care of the verification process too. Running background checks on personnel involves verification of related documents, certifications, medicals, etc and the process is laborious.
5. Finding personnel in event of emergencies is hectic.
In the event of an emergency such as the abandonment of ships, accidents, sickness, etc, finding personnel replacements is hectic. There is a lot of pressure added to an already stressful process making the whole experience ugly.
Identifying the problem statement
A hiring manager feels frustrated recruiting personnel for every crew change. To hire the right personnel, she has to dial one by one, go back and forth many times, run background checks, and haggle over salaries.
How do we create a system for hiring personnel that is more efficient and effective?
I studied the information architecture of B2B and B2C hiring based apps like Upwork, Linkedin and Google Jobs so we could begin to find answers to some of our basic questions:
- How might we solve the problem of personnel and job discovery through flexible navigation thereby streamlining the decision-making process of hiring the most desirable personnel?
- How might we build an information architecture that will immediately appeal to both the personnel and maritime companies and reduce the anxiety of making a decision for both parties?
To provide a great ease of use, they made use of both heterogeneous(intent) and homogeneous(interests) matching systems. These were the primary touch-points of content discovery opening up a much deeper experience behind each.
Heterogeneous marketplaces are search marketplaces, where guests are responsible for finding their desired listing. Searching for the right supply becomes the biggest barrier to a transaction.
Homogeneous marketplaces are matching marketplaces, where demand doesn’t care which supply they receive as long as it is above the standard the marketplace sets. — Jonathan Golden.
Using both heterogeneous and homogeneous systems to match personnel and companies hiring, we could create a user-centred system addressing the needs of our users and also supports the business goals and objectives.
To do so, we first needed to understand how hiring managers recruit personnel and how personnel discover and apply for job opportunities.
Understanding our users
A hiring manager needs to make 14 hires in time for a crew change.
“As a hiring manager, Rebecca handles keeping vessels and voyages operations functional. She needs to oversee the quick hire of 14 crew members for voyage as part of a crew change happening in the next 3 days.”
A cook wants to join a crew on a 30-day voyage.
“Matthew is a trainee cook who hasn’t voyaged in a while due to health reasons. Mathew is fit, excited and ready to voyage again. He needs to quickly lookup jobs requiring a cook with his level of experience on crew and good pay.”
A hiring manager is informed of an emergency situation involving a crew 13 days in the middle of their 30-day voyage.
“Charles is the hiring manager at New Height Shipping Company. Informed of an emergency involving 3 personnel on one of their bigger vessels, the unit is in a state of urgency. Charles has to hire a Chief Engineer, Bosun and Motorman while working within the company’s current budget”
An engineer currently on the final week of a 30-day voyage but is actively looking for a new opportunity.
“Gbenga is looking for a new job as his current voyage isn’t turning out the way he expected. He’s wants to work on a bigger vessel and hopes to voyage with more experienced crew members.”
Creating a matching system that gets smarter with each use.
More than creating a platform for personnel and hiring managers to conduct transactions, as part of the business requirements we needed to create a standard model for personnel recruiting and crew management in the Nigerian Maritime Industry.
This meant building a marketplace platform with solid network effects — a phenomenon whereby a product or service gains additional value as more people use it. To do this, we could start with a matching system that learns from each use and gets smarter over time.
Homogeneous or Heterogeneous?
Popular solutions like Linkedin, Google Jobs, and Upwork make use of both intent and interests based matching systems. The right combination of both makes for a delightful experience.
We chose against an intent-based solution for a couple of reasons;
- Implementing a search functionality that is top notch is quite hard technically. An underpowered search functionality being the major way to interact on the platform leads to a poor experience. Working with a small budget, we had to say no.
- We needed to build the MVP and didn’t want to spend many resources building a full product without validation from initial users.
- An intent-based system using the search functionality with filters is a thoughtful way to streamline the decision-making process for both the personnel and hiring managers. This will only be viable when there is a lot of transaction happening on the platform. On a platform just getting off the ground with low liquidity, we don’t want people to perceive the product as shallow and mediocre.
- Finally, with an interest-based approach, we can create a product built on a system that learns from multiple uses. Creating a network effect where the system get valuable as more and more people use the platform.
Building for trust — identity verification, actionable rating and review system and transparency of listings.
I was emphatic on baking trust into personnel and hiring managers major touchpoints within the product. This builds a solid relationship between them and the brand, and with each other as they transact.
Trust is something that needs to be established over multiple interactions. We explored useful ways to establish this with each transaction;
1. Identity verification and background checks
Identity verification helps hiring managers to answer questions about personnel — “Who is this person?” and “Should I trust them?”
We require personnel to submit relevant work documents online for background checks and verification. This, in turn, guarantees the companies their transactions with personnel are safe.
2. Actionable rating and review system
We ask both personnel and hiring managers to rate their experience at the end of a contract. We plan to use this data to understand the unfilled gaps in the experience, educate users where necessary and continually improve the product.
3. Transparency of listings
To maintain complete transparency in the marketplace, the job listings have to be clear and concise so personnel have the perfect information on the companies, jobs and benefits.
Streamlining friction with convenience — one-click apply, and applications management.
Applications management helps hiring managers to manage their active hires, edit and update job listings, and more. It isn’t flashy stuff, but it makes hiring managers more productive and, in effect, makes the marketplace work.
Although personnel never see this interface, it ensures they have a positive experience connecting with the right jobs quickly and efficiently.
With one-click apply, the process of applying for jobs is instantaneous for personnel. No many processes, — one click only.
What could be improved?
Due to limited time, strict budget and a small team, creating a robust solution couldn’t happen. We chose to create a minimal viable go-to-market solution, examine the reaction from the market and create a solid plan for what next.
If I had infinite time and more resources, here are a few changes and solutions I would put in place;
Haggling over salaries is one of the current challenge personnel and hiring manager go through. Adding fixed prices to job listings helps, as personnel have the choice to apply to jobs with whatever salary size.
A way to improve on this would be to create a system where the platform handles the payment transaction. This would make the core use case of the product strong enough and helps builds more trust.
Also, handling payments between companies and personnel will reduce the chances for transactions to be taken off the platform.
For a marketplace to function — and keep functioning — both sides need to desire to conduct commerce within the marketplace and not outside of it. If either side leaves and brings the other along with them, then the platform is cut out of the equation and a transactional revenue model breaks down. This is called market breakage. — Jonathan Golden
In the long term, personnel would look to us as a provider of revenue. This eventually creates a standard model for hiring in the maritime industry.
Top notch messaging and notification system
A fraction of personnel are not tech savvy. Making them move back and forth with emails for communication, permits the chances for ghosted mails, and increased friction in the feedback loop between them and the hiring managers.
An instant messaging system will ensure communication between both parties is tight and expectations are clearly emphasized. A notification system could be implemented encouraging personnel to reply within a 3-day window.
For a start, we encouraged hiring managers to use follow up phone calls in the event case of ghosted communications.
Taking experiences offline
Not everything can be automated from the get-go. Some scenarios need making use of offline experiences to complement the online solution. When expectations are violated on either side, for instance — companies are left hanging, or personnel never receives payment, deploying a very human-centric customer service strategy, heavily reliant on phone calls and personal communications from staffs makes sense.
Also following up when poor experiences are reported, with phone calls and emails. A hiring manager giving personnel a 3-star rating could trigger an email from a named customer service rep asking for more information about the experience and making it clear the feedback would be worked on. The result would be a humanizing experience could catalyze user retention.
Designing for marketplaces was eyeopening for me and taught me a lot about the nuances involved, especially in the business aspects. Coming up with solid pricing for the product was tricky at first — as this could directly impact the success of the product.
At one point we had to meet with the companies and hiring managers to understand how their feedback could influence our decision and help make us get the pricing right.
Waavely is currently in a closed-beta and set to launch in Q3 of 2019.
Through multiple tests, we’ll explore opportunities to iterate on and improve the experience across the rest of Waavely based on user feedback immediately it is launched.
Wendy Karibo — Project Manager and Product Owner.
Peter Oyekola — Product Owner
Victor Ofoegbu — Lead Engineer