Construction & Collaboration
Millions of dollars are managed by clients through Entrata’s Job Costing product. As a solution to property management companies’ construction jobs, Job Costing offers users a way to track bids from vendors and organize project finances.
As the new lead designer for Entrata’s Job Costing product, I was tasked with researching users and improving the workflows for creating and managing construction projects. 
Uh-oh Updates
Before I joined the team, Job Costing had just experienced a major overhaul, which included redesigns and reworking the back-end architecture. Client and user responses to the updates were overwhelmingly negative.

New Team, No Idea
The former UX Designer and Product Manager had left the company around the same time as the new release, leaving the new team with little context around the changes.

Wrong Users
Accountants were thought to be the primary users of Job Costing, yet we discovered there were others that weren’t being considered. 
Project managers, superintendents, and other day-to-day operations personnel coordinated most of the construction projects and were the ones responsible for spending the money.
They needed to manage their projects and were trying to utilize a system built for accountants to do this.
Understanding Our Users
In order to better understand the problem, we set out to make some discovery. Through visits to our clients’ offices and video conference interviews, we met with multiple users to identify the gaps in our product.

Early Insights
Contracts were handled by multiple users
Operations users coordinated bids and secured contracts with vendors. Managing contract finances was done by the accountants.

Scheduling labor required contracts
Securing contracts happened pre-budgeting. Planning, scheduling and coordinating projects with contractors happened post-budgeting.

Budgets & schedules don't always align
Contracts can be executed before the budget is planned, requiring scheduling to be independent of budgeting.

Forming Direction
To ensure we were headed in the right direction, we reviewed our research before diving into goal setting. We wanted to get on the same page.

Using sticky notes, we sat down as a team and each answered the following questions:
  • Why are we doing this project?
  • Where do we want to be in 6 months/1 year/5 years?
After reviewing our responses, we identified the following trends:
  • Create a complete product
  • Support the work cycle between operations and accounting users
  • Automate as many processes as possible

Setting Goals
It was clear that before this project, Job Costing didn't have a clear purpose. Our users felt like it was a "half-hearted attempt" at solving their dilemma.
In order to solidify our direction, we set a goal for the product:
Create an end-to-end solution for property management companies to create and execute all jobs

Maps n' Gaps 
For us to successfully create an end-to-end solution, we needed to see where our current offer fell short. We mapped out the entire construction project process, from identifying where to build to leasing the new units.
During the mapping session, we each wrote down questions on sticky notes. After collecting, analyzing and categorizing the questions, we voted on the most important questions to answer and listed them where they aligned on the map.

Staying Focused
I knew our users were frustrated and I wanted our team to maintain focus on this product. To help facilitate this, I digitized the map and our goals, printed them out and handed them out to each team member to hang up at their desk. 

...And It Worked
By having the road-map consistently in front of her, our Product Manager changed her approach to product strategy.

Previously, many feature requests were pushed into the project timeline, without critical thinking or attempting to validate the problem. When she had the map, she began to place feature requests and feedback to where they fit on the map. This created a heat-map of feedback which allowed our team to identify the key problems and strategize accordingly.
Don’t Mind the Gap, Fix It
We identified where Entrata’s Job Costing product fit in this process and realized there was a huge gap in our solution. It accomplished parts A and C but we hadn’t considered part B. This was the opportunity Job Costing needed.

We figured out why our users were so frustrated. While accountants could manage project budgets, there was no way to schedule and track vendors as they completed their contracts. 
Creating a Road-map
Looking at gaps, we determined 4 projects we needed to work on and identified where to start.
To kick off the project for Job Schedule & Progress, we split the team up into 3 groups, looking to find solutions to three key questions:
  1. How might we communicate the schedule with vendors?
  2. How might we ensure the execution of the contracts?
  3. How might we accurately schedule & track job progress?

Yes, the Chipotle was delicious

Looking Outside the Box 
After reviewing insights from our research, we got together as a team and started sketching out some of our ideas. We looked at solutions to similar issues in different industries to get us thinking outside the box.

The Good Ideas 
After multiple design exercises and collaboration, we each prepared our final sketches and voted on the ideas that stood out to us from each sketch.
If you look closely, you can see the reflection of Hulk Hogan in the background. All of Entrata's conference rooms are named after celebrities who had mullets in the 80s. 

The Winning Proposals
Coordinate with a calendar
Create a calendar to easily schedule projects with vendors and track their progress.

Use existing communication tools
Utilize text messages and Entrata’s VendorAccess product to communicate the schedule with vendors.

Organize by Cost Codes
Organize the job calendar by job cost codes, an industry system for categorizing types of labor.

Taking the best ideas from our sketches, we outlined and storyboarded our solution, focusing on the coordination of the schedule with vendors.
While working on the storyboard, we were photographed by the local news and featured in this article.
Another UX designer and I spent a day in Entrata’s UX Lab solidifying the designs. As we dove into the designs, we realized there were gaps in our storyboard, specifically around the vendor scheduling process.
We joined forces with the Product Manager to review research, map out the missing pieces and update the designs. 
After filling in the missing pieces in the wireframes, another designer and I assembled a low-fidelity prototype to do usability testing with. We took this time to experiment with Adobe XD's new collaborative design feature (which we found very useful).

We built the prototype around validating the following tasks:
  • Creating a new event on the schedule
  • Associating events to contracts and phases
  • Sharing the schedule with vendors
  • Updating the status of events
  • General response to the workflow

To respect the confidentiality of the designs, other images have been omitted.

The UX Lab
In Entrata’s UX Lab, there is an interview room with a one-way mirror where users come to do usability testing.
With eye-tracking and multiple cameras live-streaming video feed into the observation room on the other side of the mirror, usability testing can be really exciting. 

"I Didn't Know Designers Did This!"
While we were going to be with users, I wanted to expose them to our stakeholders. Putting stakeholders in front of users gave them the opportunity to develop empathy, and in-turn, lead to better products. 
During our usability testing, I invited multiple product managers and developers across the company to observe our testing process and participate in note-taking.
Every individual who attended was surprised at the effort we took to understand the user. One developer even said "I didn't know designers did this!"
These conversations gave me opportunities to discuss user-centered design, which ultimately improved our ability to problem-solve as a team.

Testing While Testing
We used this opportunity to test Google Forms as a way to synthesize results from usability testing. The other designer mediated the usability tests while I remained in the observation room taking notes and filling out the Google Form. 

We can’t stop documenting usability tests with Google Forms. It’s too much fun.

Quotes & Insights
We performed 6 usability tests on the low-fidelity prototypes. We identified a few interesting insights:

"The gray piece has not started"
Although 80% passed the related task, users did not know if an event had started.

"Did they complete it on time?"
When updating the start and end dates for an event, users wanted to make sure the original dates were still in the system so they could hold vendors accountable.

"Where is the schedule going?"
Users wanted to be able to select the method that they communicate with a vendor and see specific contact information. 

"What does that number mean?"
Users wanted to be able to name events in order to reference individual time slots instead of using contract names as the event title. 

Our Next Steps
Due to travel schedules, followed by COVID-19, this project lost traction and is delayed until we are back in the office. Our next steps: 
  • Prototypes are being iterated based on initial usability testing
  • More usability tests will be scheduled
  • When in development, we plan on adding analytics to track for our success metrics

The Real Success
Starting off as a new team trying to fix a broken product was intimidating. Although the project has not been completed, it served as a foundation for us moving forward and solidified more user-centered processes.
The real successes were demonstrated by the following results: 

New processes influenced other teams
Interrupting the routine processes with design-thinking exercises caused a domino effect on other teams and led to innovation company-wide.

More empathy from stakeholders
Stakeholders developed more empathy for users through qualitative research and meaningful exposure to users.

Outcome quality > output quantity 
Slowing down and taking a step back changed stakeholders focus from output to outcome. They now care more about the quality of the product and are willing to take the necessary steps to get it right. 

Wrapping Up
What started as a project to complete the Job Costing product ended up doing more than that—it changed the dynamic of the team.
While still moving forward towards improving the product, our team now has the resources, relationships and drive to fulfill other projects with a user-centered approach. We're also looking forward to more Chipotle.