Adviser Suite | Research

A research project for a client in the financial sector seeking to improve an essential internal system.


The aim of this project was to conduct research that can be used to improve the usability and engagement of a major internal web portal, herein referred to as Adviser Suite (in order to preserve the client's anonymity).

The portal is heavily relied upon by various types of users such as financial advisers and their support staff, to manage their practices and serve clients in their regions more efficiently and easily with a range of financial products.

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.

User research project flight plan.

Project plan

Proposed flight plan for Team 1 consisted of four phases: Gaining context, conducting user research, analysing the data, and reporting on our findings.

Note: Due to unforeseen challenges with participant recruitment and scope creep, the deadline for the project was extended.
This extension provided us with an additional week to complete the project.

Understanding the problem space

Process >
Gaining context
We started by immersing ourselves in previous findings and work to gain business context and understand the problem space more clearly and to inform the next phases of our research.
1. Introduction to the system
  • 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 
  • Gaining context and insights from stakeholders and other experts who are experienced with the portal and it’s users.
4. Extracting findings
& themes
  • Identifying themes and another insights that can inform our next steps.
  • Identifying the key measures of success.
  • Identifying and validated hypotheses to inform research objectives
Project challenge

We noticed that Stream 2 didn't have enough information available to them to make design decisions and recommendations. Therefore, we adapted to work in a way that allows us to share pertinent research findings as they come in order to leverage a more Agile approach.

Stakeholder engagement

Next, the product owner helped us to schedule semi-structured remote interviews with 9 stakeholders which included various executives, the Adviser Suite team, engineering, auxiliary product owners, and various SMEs.

These interviews provided valuable insights into stakeholders' goals, concerns, and pain points regarding the Adviser Suite portal.

Stakeholder research process

stakeholder themes overview

Theme 1

The stakeholders' goals are to provide the advisers with a pleasant and holistic experience on the Adviser Suite portal that might lead to increased engagement.

Theme 2

The siloed communication and information sharing between departments has a significant impact on the users as misaligned strategic goals and governance of the system and content affects the portal in various ways.

Theme 3

The information architecture of the portal is widely considered the biggest pain point, negatively impacting the user experience for various user groups.

Theme 4

There is a need for clearer and more controlled inter-departmental processes to ensure that systems in the user's ecosystem are created and maintained more accurately and effectively.

Measures of success

In our discussions with stakeholders, we identified the following measures of success for the project:

Learning about the users

Research plan
Next, we commenced user research by crafting a user research plan and preparing for the research by recruiting participants and setting up the research space with the following research goals and objectives in mind:
Goal 1
Defining the problem space.
  • Identify user pain points with the portal.
  • ​Identify factors that might hinder engagement.
  • Analyse user needs.
Goal 2
Understanding the user context.
  • Formulate baseline user sentiments towards the portal​.
  • Understand users' mental models and behaviours.
  • Understand users physical and technical environments​.
  • Identify potential add-ons that might improve the UX.
Goal 3
Understanding the user's tasks.
  • Determine the key uses and workflows of the portal for 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


  • 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


  • 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.

User 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 qualitative data

After transferring our findings from the observation and interview capture sheets to Miro, we started synthesising the data to draw insights through thematic analysis by using the 6 step technique by Braun and Clarke to ensure more reliable and unbiased thematic insights.


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


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 synthesis on miro identifying codes and themes.

Synthesising the user research

We synthesised the data that was captured during the user observations and interviews using the 6 step method—as we did for stakeholder research earlier.

  • We started by coding findings individually on Miro.
  • Then, we collated those codes into buckets on various affinity diagrams to ensure interrater reliability.
  • After studying and refining those codes, we developed the research themes.

User research findings

After careful consideration, we constructed 3 main themes using of 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.


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 1
User Research Findings


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 2
User Research Findings

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.
Theme 3
User Research Findings

UX and strategic recommendations

At the end of the report, we then added a section outlining 21 actionable suggestions on ways to improve the system and align future strategies with the help of various artefacts like prioritisation matrixes and wireframe designs.

UX Recommendations overview

Improving navigation

With great care given to the user's needs and behaviours, I made various recommendations on ways to improve areas like the information architecture, linking, and search functionality to help users find content more easily and quickly (especially after a big redesign like proposed).

giving users what they need

I also made recommendations regarding the content on the portal to ensure that it adds value to users and meets their expectations and mental models to increase engagement and ensure that users are more successful in their every day tasks.

improving engagement

I noticed various ways to increase the discoverability of content and features by making improvements to the user interface and content strategies that will help users explore the portal more easily and promote returning visits.

usability optimization

I also made various other recommendations to improve the overall usability of the portal by leveraging the insights that we gathered during the user research.

Strategic Recommendations overview

change management

With big changes on the horizon and various limitations like siloed communication, it is important to create a change management plan to addresses things like training and communication of the organisation's goals and objectives to ensure a successful implementation.

more defined procedures

We also recommended that the way the platform and the content is currently created and managed should be clearly defined and communicated to improve the quality of the content and reduce misalignments that might affect users.

re-evaluating kpi's

I observed that the MIS system can be optimised and that the metrics used to evaluate success should be re-evaluated as they are not aligned with the goals and purpose of the Adviser Suite platform.


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.

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