At Home Depot we tend to work on processes and systems that have been in place for upwards of 5–10 years. They are old, crusty, redundant and often times a real pain for everyone involved. But what are you going to do? You can’t change all of it and sometimes the technical infrastructure just isn’t flexible enough to fit something new. This being the case I have found a method that allows for innovations to be made while fitting into constraints of start and end points. I call it mapping and pruning.
The premise is similar to the practice of bonsai in that you take raw, messy stock then identify the main structure and lastly prune and shape it into a desirable attractive state.
In UX terms, you collect information on a process, map the structure and its inefficiencies, and lastly identify how bad pieces can be removed or replaced to streamline the process.
In short: Map the details then design around the bad ones.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes there are a few prerequisites that you should have in your pocket before you get started.
- A process that needs improvement
- A selected group of targeted users. You should be able to talk with these users easily and on a basis.
That’s it. Fairly simple. So lets get to it.
Step 1 — Collect Data
The first step of this process is to identify the scope of your project and begin to gather information. In bonsai,the practitioner will take some time and look all around the selected tree. Identifying the front, the primary viewing angle, and shaping an idea for what this could become.
In our process we begin by collecting and documenting information about the process. The research method is only a means to an end and that end is a flow chart that accurately represents the experience of your user or customer.
While you work on this map always be validating with users and stakeholders. Keep them involved at least in reviewing the iterations as they change. It may take a few sessions going back and forth with and that’s okay. I’ve had maps that took 20+ iterations before we got consensus on what the truth was. Keep at it. You will know you have hit critical map when there is little more that can be added or taken away. Once you have a solid map its time to start digging in and understanding that structure.
Step 2 — Identify Structure
Once you have your raw material scoped out, its time to begin identifying the underlying structure. What are the clumps of tasks ? Depending on the process and the scope you may have a lot or you may have only a few. Try and aim for at least 4–5 chunks. If you have too few you either have too little data and need to expand or too little context and need to zoom-out. There is innovation everywhere so just keep at it with that beautiful brain of yours.
Step 3 — Prune and Shape
The last step is to begin pruning our little UX bonsai map.
For each section or branch that was outlined in step two begin to think what it could look like if you pruned out that step or designed an alternative. Go wide with the ideas here.
If it takes 2 hours for a query to run what the ROI be on automating it? If it takes an analyst 12 hours to build a dashboard what else could they be doing by using templates?
Brainstorm around these ideas and the value that could be provided
In part 2 we’ll be taking a look at how this framework can be applied to a realistic design scenario.