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Introduction

This article is part of a series that highlights some of the common challenges that arise in the workplace and affect employees’ experience. It follows the fictional (but reality-inspired) adventures of imaginary company Acme Co.

Acme Co is a company like many others. Its business revolves around software— specifically designing and developing a suite of digital tools for its busy customers. Like many organizations, it relies on the drive and smarts of many human beings and as such is prone to ups and downs. While a newer company, Acme has been profitable for a few years now and continues to grow year over year.

Follow the Acme Co. saga →

The case

Acme has recently become more comfortable with its status as a distributed team and their products are seeing a steady increase in adoption. They’ve seen a demand for customization of their digital tools suite for bigger enterprises and have launched into a few pilot projects that have been doing very well. Their biggest potential customer to date has asked Acme to customize a specific product as a pilot and will sign on for the rest of the suite if all goes well.

An illustration of the cast for this mystery shows a UX Specialist, a Project Coordinator and the Software Team, composed of 3 members with laptops.

After 2 months working on this custom pilot version, the Software Team does a walkthrough of the platform with the client and hands over a final proposal package for the rest of the tools. The walkthrough of the tool goes well, and Client promises to get back to them within the week to confirm if they are moving forward with the rest of the suite customization. After a nervous 4 days, the Software Team receives an email from the Client saying that they won’t be moving forward with a contract for the rest of the tools due to the many collaboration issues that arose during pilot development. The team is stunned.

The question on their mind is “What in the world made it so painful to collaborate?”

The investigation

Acme Co hires expert Employee UX agency Pencil & Paper to investigate. The P&P team begins a discovery process to uncover what challenges lie below the surface at Acme. They carefully observe and sit down with Acme employees to ask meticulous questions.

These were some of their discoveries:

Clue

"I wouldn’t be surprised if Client turned us down because the final invoice we submitted for the pilot work was more than what we had said at the beginning. Kinda had to though...we ended up working longer than what we originally planned on a few of the tasks we set out to do."

- Project Coordinator

Clue

"The project started off a bit slow. We had to diverge from the original brief for the pilot because of some constraints on the client’s side. It took some time to come up with an updated brief because a lot of the changes were exchanged over email and Project Coordinator had to comb through them to make sure we didn’t miss anything."

- Member of Software Team

Clue

"We had the same problem as the brief email right before delivering the proposal for the rest of the suite, except Project Coordinator was away on sick leave that week so we had to go back to the client a few times to confirm things they had asked us to include or remove in the proposal."

- Member of Software Team

Clue

"I had to send the Client a technical documentation in the middle of the project and I sent the wrong version by mistake. I feel like someone had mentioned there was a second, revised version, but when I went to send it there was only one file on the Drive."

- Member of the Software Team

Clue

"We got slowed down a bit on some of the design, because there were so many details to contend with, I ended up having to check in with the team constantly to make sure of the last change we had decided on - and also check in with Project Coordinator about the changes the client had asked for over email."

- UX Specialist
Calendar illustration

The timeline

At the end of their research and discovery period, Pencil & Paper sit down with the Acme leaders and tell them, we think we know what happened and when. Here is what they found out:

The conclusion

When Pencil & Paper spoke to Acme and showed their gathered insights, all of the little problems that had occurred over their collaboration with the client started to line up.

  • Throughout the project, several tasks ended up taking extra time – which cost the client in the end
  • There were lots of back-and-forths on things that should have been quickly resolved

THE REAL PROBLEM
A surprise invoice and a longer-than-planned for delivery are enough for any client to back out. What Pencil & Paper discovered was that these issues for really just symptoms of a bigger problem; Acme didn’t have consistent documentation or an accessible source of truth. Important decisions weren’t saved anywhere and the team too often relied on confusing email threads. The nail in the coffin was probably when Project Coordinator was away, and the team had to scramble to deal without their knowledge keeper.

THE FIX
Pencil & Paper help Acme Co. set up documentation flows to prevent disorganization on future client projects. Their first order of business is to determine how to best get that single source of truth up and running in an accessible place, so that everyone has access to a history of important decisions made throughout projects. They also help Acme implement file versioning and organization in a way that’s clearer and more approachable for everyone – not just project teams.