Background

The goal of this project was to optimise a major internal web portal (herein referred to as AdviserSuite in order to conserve the client’s anonymity) which is heavily relied on by various types of users like financial advisers and the people who support them in order to make it easier and more efficient to manage their practices and to serve clients across Africa more effectively with numerous financial products.

  • Time Frame: 9 Weeks
  • Client: A pan-African financial institution.
  • Role: Sr. UX Designer
  • Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative
  • Deliverable: A 115p user and usability research report containing insights and recommendations.
  • Team: Clive (Delivery Manager), Branden (Research Lead), James (UX Lead), Anrolette (Sr. UI Designer)

My role

I joined Phase 1 of the project which consisted of 2 teams working concurrently:

  • Team 1, which I formed part of, was responsible for primary user research and need-finding.
  • Team 2 was responsible for initial high-level UX and UI improvements.

My responsibilities include planning, executing, and delivering the research alongside Branden, the team lead, as well as introducing UX concepts and methodologies that helped to develop the strategic and design recommendations.

Problem Statement

Conventional travel apps don't consider the unique needs of digital nomads, who require relevant and up-to-date information that is tailored to people who live abroad. These people need a product that can integrate into their mobile lifestyles to make it easier and more enjoyable to live and work abroad.

Understanding the problem space

Gaining context

We started by immersing ourselves in existing expertise and findings in order to gain business context and understand the problem space more clearly to inform the next phases of our research.

1. Introduction 
into the portal

  • Gaining access to the Adviser Suite portal to review individually.​
  • Participating in an expert walkthrough of the portal by stakeholders.

2. Reviewing existing data

  • Gaining access to existing MIS and FAQ data from client teams.​
  • Reviewing existing advisor research and prior work done with other contractors.​

3. Stakeholder 
envisioning

  • Gaining context and insights from stakeholders and other experts who are experienced with the portal and it’s users.

4. Extracting findings
 and themes

  • Identifying themes and other insights that can inform our next steps.
  • Identifying the key measures of success.
  • Identifying unvalidated hypothesis to inform research objectives.

Project challenge

We noticed early on that Stream 2 did not have enough information available to them to make effective design decisions and recommendations. Therefore, we ensured that we worked in a way that allows us to share pertinent research findings as they come in order to enable the design team with an Agile methodology.

Stakeholder engagement

Next, the product owner helped us to schedule semi-structured remote interviews with 9 stakeholders including client executives, the AdviserSuite team, engineering, auxiliary product owners, and various SMEs. 

These interviews provided valuable insights into stakeholders' goals, concerns, and pain points with the AdviserSuite portal hypothesised by the stakeholders

Our research process was as follows:

  • Reviewed existing data.
  • Synthesised stakeholder interviews by extracting essential insights.
  • Used Affinity Mapping to quickly identify trends.
  • Created 4 stakeholder themes.

Theme 2

Siloed communication and information sharing between departments have a significant impact on the users due to misaligned strategic goals and governance of the system and content.

Theme 3

There is a need for clearer and more controlled inter-departmental processes that ensure more effective systems are created and maintained for users in the client’s ecosystem.

Theme 4

The information architecture of the portal is widely regarded as the biggest pain point which is believed to negatively affect the user experience for various user groups.

Measures of success

Through discussions with the stakeholders we identified the following measures of success for the client team as a whole:

  • Increased engagement with the portal and its features.
  • Improved navigation on the portal.
  • More detailed information about the Adviser Suite portal users.
  • Insights to direct the client's strategic cross-channel overhaul.

The users

Next, we commenced user research by crafting a user research plan and preparing for the research by recruiting participants and preparing the research space with the following research goals and objectives:

Goal 1

Defining the user’s problem space

  • Identify user pain points with the portal.
  • ​Identify factors that would hinder engagement with the portal​.
  • Analysing user needs.

Goal 2

Understanding of the user context

  • Formulate baseline sentiments of users towards the portal​.
  • Understand user’s mental models, behaviours, drivers and blockers.
  • Understand users physical and technical environments​.
  • Identify if potential add-ons to improve the UX.

Goal 3

Understanding

  • Determine the key uses and workflows of the portal for the various user groups​.
  • Understand user’s dashboard requirements, content needs and preferences​.
  • Identify any knowledge dependencies, manually intensive tasks or cognitively demanding processes when engaging with the portal.

Goal 4

Formulating actionable insights

  • Understand what an optimised future state should entail for users​.
  • Formulate recommendations to advise future strategies, goals and initiatives.

Recruiting participants

In the end, we were able to source a sample of 23 participants that were sourced from the client's teams with help from the product owner on the basis of their roles, tenure, and gender as laid out in the recruitment matrix with a primary focus given to the advisers who use the Adviser Suite platform.

Primary users

4 Distinct adviser groups, Personal assistants

Rationale:

  • The Adviser Suite portal is primarily aimed at providing information and tools to advisers.​
  • There are several types of and supporting members in the adviser teams who must use the Adviser Suiteportal, each with very unique needs, goals, and pain points.

Secondary users

Adviser Suite support staff, Administrators

Rationale:

  • The advisers require support and management from the client support staff who rely on the portal for this, with different goals and needs.​
  • Their experience will demand different solutions to make both their and their advisers’ experience more effective.

Project challenge

Due to unforeseen challenges in recruiting participants, the recruitment matrix was greatly simplified to accommodate our constraints while still staying true to the diversity of users identified in the first part of our research.

Research methods

By leveraging a triangulated research approach, we are able to draw more reliable conclusions from our study by utilising three different research methods to cross-validate the findings:

1 User surveys

  • Benefit: Quantitative and qualitative information from a much larger sample.
  • Limitation: No opportunity to validate and follow up on answers.
  • Sample group: All active users on the Adviser Suite platform.
The survey was made available on the Adviser Suite platform and covered questions about the participant’s role and ways of working, their physical and technical environments, needs and pain points, and several benchmarking user experience questions.
This survey reached 310 users in various user groups which resulted in a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error.

An unforeseen code freeze in engineering delayed the creation of the survey component that I created for the Adviser Suite portal by 1 week forcing us to run the interview studies concurrently and use the survey results as an independent source of information.

2. Observation study

  • Benefit: Unbiased and authentic insights into a user’s experiences.
  • Limitation: Because of the remote nature of the study, it is difficult to get a true naturalistic view of a participant’s context.
  • Sample group: Tied and Independent advisers.
  • Time: 1hour per interview.
  • Total participants: 12
The research project was exploratory in nature which lead me to design an observational study that aims to learn about how users use the AdviserSuite platform in their day-to-day lives without the biases and constraints of a questionnaire.
Due to location constraints, the study had to be conducted virtually over MS Teams which meant that we were not able to do a purist observational study. Therefore, I recommended that we prepare 4 short exploratory tasks to learn about the user’s environments, behaviours, and sentiments in a naturalistic way:
  • Task 1 | Physical and technical environment:
    Asking the participant to show and describe their environment through their webcam.
  • Task 2 | User context: 
    Next, we facilitated a discussion where participants describe a regular day in their lives.
  • Task 3 Naturalistic observation: 
    Ask participants to teach us how to use the Adviser Suite platform to study how they use it and to gain insights into pain points and needs.
  • Task 4 | Self-reported data:
    Perceived usability ranking of key Adviser Suite features seen in the observation study.

3. Semi-structured interviews

  • Benefit: An in-depth understanding of points discussed through discourse and probing.
  • Limitation: Learnings are limited to the questions that we created.
  • Sample group: Tied and independent advisers, and support staff.
  • Time: 1hour per interview.
  • Total participants: 11
By using the questions and hypotheses that came up during the observation study, we created a protocol for remote semi-structured one-on-one interviews with users to validate these findings and to gain a deeper understanding and inform the learning goals.

These interviews allowed us to gain a much deeper and holistic understanding of the user and problem space with interesting correlations coming out of our discussions with participants.

Putting it all together

Analysing the data

After transferring our findings from our observation and interview study capture sheets to Miro, we started synthesising the data to draw insights through thematic analysis:

Ensuring validity in qualitative research by leveraging the foremost method recommended to extract reliable patterns and themes from qualitative data as shown by Braun and Clarke.

Benefits:
This approach offers benefits such as accessibility, reduction of bias, iterative data analysis, data set clarification and exhaustive analysis.

Limitations:
The research approach is limited in that it is time-consuming, reduces complex data to phrases, requires validation, and may not be representative of the population.

Ways to mitigate limitations:
By using a triangulated research approach and interrater reliability, we were able to produce more reliable research results.

User research findings

After careful consideration, we constructed 3 main themes through all our research findings which were illustrated in a research report alongside various artefacts like task flows to produce actionable insights that can be used by the client and future design teams.

Areas that we reported on:

  • The users: Findings and insights.
  • The Adviser Suite portal: Findings and insights.
  • Task analysis and optimisation.
  • Pain points and insights into areas of the Adviser Suite portal.
  • Strategic and experience recommendations.

After careful consideration, 3 key themes emerged from the research sessions conducted with primary and secondary users of the Adviser Suite portal:

Theme 1

Efficiency

Efficiency is seen as a driving factor to becoming a successful adviser. Efficient processes and quality service is needed in order to build rapport and instil trust in their clients.

  • Speed is vital to become a successful adviser.
  • Advisers want more time with their clients.
  • Users have tight time constraints.

Theme 2

Simplicity

Users' work is complex and time consuming, therefore simplifying processes and systems is vital to achieve a better user experience.

  • The IA design requires improved discoverability.
  • Users choose the easiest system to use.
  • Users experience information overload.

Theme 3

Habitual use of the portal.

User interactions with the Adviser Suite portal is shaped by task centric and self-taught behaviours.

  • User decisions and needs are task-driven.
  • Users have self-taught navigation of the portal.
  • There is a significant lack of awareness of the portal’s features.

Conclusion

After creating a research report containing all our findings and recommendations, we presented our findings to stakeholders. This session was very successful as the stakeholders were happy that we were able to answer questions that they had about their users and the portal for such a long time as well as the depth of insights we were able to provide.

Next, we presented our research findings to the other designs teams both internally and contractors, who were relying on these findings to implement future changes and improvements to the Adviser suite portal.

The report was seen as very helpful to these design teams and is still being circulated around the company to this day where various other teams like marketing and people teams are able to use our research to create a better experience for many more people in the client space.