This is part 2 of a 3-part series where I take a look at the design process at some of the world’s top companies.
3M is a global company of scientists, researchers, and marketers with operations in more than 65 countries, 31 billion in annual sales, and ~90,000 employees worldwide. Their inventions have improved daily life for hundreds of millions of people all over the world including well-known products like Scotch tape, Scotch Brite, and Post-its.
3M healthcare is an arm of 3M that “Strives to protect patients and make providers’ jobs easier so they can focus on what’s important. They develop medical products that help prevent infection and promote healing, create oral care solutions that simplify procedures and improve outcomes and design software solutions that get the right people the right information when they need it (1).”
Like the needs of modern medical professionals, 3M healthcare’s UX team works on both physical and digital products ranging from internal sales tools and smart inhalers to enterprise medical software. The team consists of 6 people with talents covering the full span of UX design: content strategy, front-end development, UI design, visual design, UX strategy, information architecture, user research, and interaction design.
Projects and feature requests come from many different sources within 3M; business analysts, technical teams, and designers all contribute to bringing new ideas to the table. Once a project begins, the team makes sure to do one thing before the meat of project work really begins: comb through existing research.
Because of the size of 3M, many business units exist within the organization that perform ongoing research. Whether its market research data about specific markets, industry insights research, or voice of customer research, reviewing the data allows the team to better understand the context such as who the target users might be, what markets look attractive, and where they can validate or refute certain points with more research. It also provides a wide range of topics to discuss in stakeholders interviews.
Stakeholder interviews are used to understand business requirements, project expectations, and measurable outcomes. These interviews at 3M healthcare last between 45-60 min per session and follow a 1:1 model. The goal is to thoroughly explore each person’s subject matter expertise and success expectations. The result is an initial project brief. Intermittently, the team will conduct focus groups with 2-3 people depending on the project scope and type of information they need. Generally speaking, key questions to ask during stakeholder interviews include:
- What’s your role in the organization and how does it relate to the product?
- What are your goals and objectives in your role?
- What are your top priorities?
- How do you measure success?
- How do you know if you’re successful?
- How does your work impact customers?
- Who do you consider to be your primary customers? Can you describe them?
- What are their top priorities and goals?
- Why do they use your products?
- What questions do you have about your users that you don’t currently have answers to?
- Who are your competitors?
- How well are they doing compared to you?
- What do they do well?
- What could be improved?
More UX-focused questions include:
- Business Goals
- What are the business goals for the project?
- What measurable outcomes are we targeting?
- User Goals
- Who are the target users?
- Can you describe the main category of users who will use the product in as much detail as possible?
- Why do they use the product?
- What are their primary motivations, and goals for using the product?
- Strategy Questions
- What is the value proposition of the product?
- Why do they use your product over competitors?
- What does the product stand for?
- What is the product vision?
- Tasks & Scenarios
- What are the primary tasks and scenarios that the product should support?
- Success Measures
- What factors influence whether the product is profitable or not?
- What user behaviors translate to profit?
- What KPIs are tracked?
- Are there any significant red flags you see up front?
Armed with answers to these kind of questions and an initial project brief, the team conducts a customer journey workshop with the entire design team as well as stakeholders to understand the user’s perspective before, during, and after using the product or service.
In the workshop, they focus on gathering data on 4 key categories:
- Is the user satisfied, frustrated, or anxious during the experience?
- When, and how, does the user interact with the company?
- Where do these interactions occur?
- Moments of Truth
- Are there any particular touch points or actions that generate lasting frustration or satisfaction?
They typically map this out onto a large whiteboard and add their thoughts with post-its. This exercise serves to identify constraints, roadblocks, risks, opportunities, and create alignment about the design problem. In conclusion of the workshop, a summary is sent out to both stakeholders and team members prioritizing the project goals and any newly revealed constraints.
Next, the team conducts on-site field research with multiple users at different organizations. The goal of these visits is to validate all the information gained so far and view users in their natural context. Within the organizations they visit, they speak to as many people as possible including product managers, end users, decision makers, and managers. They go in with the goal to understand not only their needs, desires, and pain points, but the why behind their behaviors.
The team stays on site for a few days with hour long group discussions and 1:1 observations of employees at work during their normal day. Upon completion of onsite activities, designers will incorporate their data into a shared template and a lead researcher will sort through all data to remove duplicates and identify patterns, themes, and insights.
Upon synthesis by the lead researcher, personas are created for each distinct user group and shared with the design team and stakeholders. Whether they use proto-personas or more detailed personas depend upon the project timeline.
“Personas represent the goals and behaviors of prospective users; they help guide decisions and align the organization to agree upon a design direction.”
Once personas are created, and initial feature sketches are done, the design brief is updated to reflect the new user groups and requirements identified during onsite visits.
The design brief at 3M is a living, flexible document that is continually refined throughout the project. With the brief, the team seeks to answer 4 questions
- What are the business needs?
- What are the user needs?
- What are the UX principles we should adhere to?
- What is the project timeline?
Having explored business needs and timelines in stakeholder interviews, user needs at onsite visits, and UX principles based on brand and marketing guidelines, the brief takes final shape. It is presented to stakeholders and agreed upon.
The team then begins refining their sketches around initial hypotheses and core features. At this point, developers get involved to prioritize features based on technical feasibility and impact. An excel spreadsheet is put together to reflect an early product roadmap by grouping features by category, owner, and schedule. In conjunction, designers create atomic models to map out taxonomies and task flows in order to visualize requirements.
Once technical and design teams finish their work, another workshop is held to review the following material:
- Prioritization spreadsheet
- Atomic Models
- Primary and secondary research supporting design decisions
- Internal research
- Onsite research
- Customer Journey Map
When design and technical teams reach alignment with stakeholders on all the information gathered thus far, design sprints commence.
Design sprints focus on quick wins and high impact features; features that fall into the top left quadrant of a typical prioritization matrix where implementation is low and business impact is high.
During this time, the team reaches out to 8-12 users they can leverage for ongoing usability testing during sprints. For sprints, they follow a 1-2 week cycle of design and user testing with the goal of validating designs throughout the sprint. Within a 40-80 hr duration, the team builds and tests prototypes with users. Low fidelity prototypes such as wireframes or paper prototypes are used initially, with fidelity increasing as the team gets more and more sure of their designs. Once designs are finalized, the team works with developers to maintain consistency during implementation and find work arounds if additional constraints surface.
In summary, the overall process is best summed up by 3M’s lead designer, “Our basic methodology is always the same: we put the right people in the room, work together to solve problems, and make sure the customer’s voice is heard; the results are increased customer satisfaction and ultimately, a real seat at the table for UX to impact the organization (2).”
- Use workshops to involve stakeholders throughout the project to maintain alignment.
- Continuously validate design decisions by implementing user testing, surveys, and additional research methods at key junctions throughout the project.
- Keep the design brief flexible in the beginning and gradually solidify requirements as more research and insights are gathered.
- Prioritize features based on impact and feasibility.