DealRoom is a data science company that develops tools helping companies to manage the due diligence process during mergers & acquisitions. My team was asked to design an integration tool used during and after due diligence. Integration happens after due diligence as companies merge into one. This means integrating HR, technology, assets, it could be a number of workstreams. For example, getting all the employees of that company that was bought set up with the new email address. Our client assumed that integration professionals needed the information collected during due diligence. At our first meeting the client told us the most common tool used for integration was Excel.
An integration specific project management tool. The tool allows users to track the progress of multiple workstreams, communicate blockers and attach due diligence files. Users can also export multiple views of progress, a necessary feature for reporting to a steering committee.
How did we get there
We started our research by understanding M&A and integration. Once we felt prepared to talk about this topic in an informed manner we started to write up questions for interviewees. Our client set up interviews with some major players in the integration industry. We talked with folks from Blue Shield, Accenture, even Google. It was imperative that we entered those conversations educated on the topic so we could get the information we needed. Another team member and I took the lead on developing questions and writing up interview scripts.
Customization is important. Different users need different views of the integration process. The buyer needs a view and so does the seller. But this views show slightly different content.
Integration managers needed access to due diligence files during most of the integration process. Users wanted earlier access to the data room because it allowed for flagging items which creates a smoother integration process.
Cost tracking is important. Stakeholders wanted the ability clearly calculate how this tool will save them money during integration
People are the BIGGEST frustration. Interviewees said working with people who are from two different perspectives was very challenging. The change process puts a lot of stress on people.
These insights helped my team identify an opportunity. We concluded we needed to design a tool that allowed a project manager an easy way to collaborate with stakeholders, track progress and synergy values and create tailored updates for senior leadership to effectively complete an integration and reduce the overall cost of the process. But before getting further along in the process we wanted to create further empathy for our user. So, I developed a persona named Molly.
Creating a persona helped focus our team. When it came time to think up design principles we kept Molly in mind. We asked ourselves what would make her job easier? This is what we came up with.
During concept ideating our team diverged in two different directions. My colleague and I had similar ideas on designing an integration specific project management tool. Our third teammate designed a tool that would help users identify the best work plan for the integration. An integration is like a fingerprint, they’re all different. They take a lot of time and resources to plan and organize.
Concept one – Work plan tool
A concept focused on letting M&A professionals upload their work to speed up their process. They upload pre-existing work plans into DealRoom with a simple drag and drop.
The concept had no content because the designer wanted to hear from the users what they wanted to see. Our research was not able to clarify this for us because each user had their own process. By having it blank maybe a pattern for how work plans are formulated would arise.
The feedback from users was very positive, they thought having a “smart” tool that build the work plans was really valuable. It helped them work effectively during one of the time intensive parts of integration. This concept required a lot more research and AI technology. That was out of scope for us and the client. As a team, we identified this to be an interesting idea that should be further researched and developed. We opted to shared it with our client as a future consideration.
Concept two – Integration project management tool
My design is a more traditional project management concept. It gave our project manager the ability to view the project at high-level view as well as dependencies and critical issues. The project manager would also be able to go into a more granular view by clicking to see all the workstreams, urgent tasks and issues associated with those.
This was a granular view into the project. This view allowed an integration project manager, to see how each workstream is progressing. The user can also see urgent tasks pending as well as any flagged issues. Again, progress is being shown by the pie chart to allow quick interpretation of how far along each work stream is.
The screen below shows the view of what a workstream lead would see. In this example, Kyle is the HR workstream lead and he would report to Molly the project manager.
Communication abilities within the tool
Color denoted the progression of each task: yellow for pending, green for complete and red for stop.
HR lead can see who on his team owns each task
Ability to sort tasks
Our colleague had a similar take on an integration project management tool, but there was one important difference. She included a feature that allowed project managers to add tasks. Users saw potential in this feature and we concluded we needed to continue refining this feature.
For our next round of iterations we took all of this feedback into account. As a team we identified the parts of our concepts we needed to continue iterating and testing.
Ability to upload & customize pre-existing work plans
Different views of the progress of the project
Qualitative and quantitative information is include Ex: tracking % complete and a space for explanation
Visual displays of information
Ability for user customization
Addition of KPI’s
Testing Round 2
We changed the pie-chart view to a bar. Bars would be more familiar to the user.
Feedback: The biggest point of feedback on this screen was that the progress bar took up too much room.
Users also wanted to see financial metrics.
User testing validated our assumption that there needs to be the ability to sort and filter. (What we didn’t realize is the user needs to the option of sorting and filtering by task, date, and status of the project.)
Users needed to see dates and always have the ability to connect back to dates of tasks assigned
Users wanted a financial tracker view
The ability for customization was important to users. They even wanted to customize words and phrases within the tool. For example, one company might call a problem someone notes as an “issue” while another company might use the word “concern”. Users said the adoption of this type of tool would go more smoothly if employees saw language they were familiar with. Users also noted having communication in-tool to be very helpful. Users wanted both qualitative data and quantitative data. For example, a task that’s 30% complete is a great an explanation of why it's 30% complete is even better.
Updated workstream view
Again, we iterated on the pie-chart view and opted for bars to show progress. We also incorporated the ability to add tasks and subtasks. During an integration, there are usually several sub-tasks or dependencies that need to happen before a task is complete. We wanted to include a feature that addressed this. Several folks, suggested knowing the exact project percentage is not helpful. Users want to know the progress in chunks, not exact numbers. We updated the progress bar to show 25% increments.
Final Design and testing
This latest round of testing gave us even more insights and details we needed further iterate on design. Again, we kept our persona Molly as well as design principles top of mind even during this iteration.
A consistent piece of feedback we received is that this tool was exactly what they expected. It was functional and addressed all their biggest working needs.
Final design highlights
Work plan tool. In a future state, of this tool would benefit from continued iterations on functionality. Users would greatly benefit from the ability to import bulk tasks for specific workstreams. Also, we suggest there be continued research and build out of the import tool mentioned at the top of this case study. Creating this type of tool may also help for further adoption of the integration project management tool Interviews revealed that users were less likely to adopt a project management tool because of how much time it took to create tasks and to keep it updated.
Data room Integration As AI technology continues to develop we suggest adding the ability for the tool to suggest documents from data room. These documents would be attached to tasks.
KPI Tracking. The biggest differentiator we identified for this tool is it’s ability to track Key Performance Indicators specifically financial. Users wanted the ability to track the performance of synergy values and allow users to customize & add other KPIs valuable to their business.
At the beginning of this project there was a A LOT of reading and Googling of acronyms (truth: I had to google KPI). I felt very out of touch with the M&A industry and knew research was going to be imperative for this projects success. This type of client proves just how important research is to identifying the right problem. I had just ended my work on Culinary Care, a social impact project that I felt very passionate about. Developing empathy for those users was natural. At first, DealRoom felt very sterile. To my surprise I really enjoyed working on this tool, it was fun understanding and working on a complex problem. I enjoyed getting to interview several people I would have otherwise never had the opportunity to speak with and understand what they like and find frustrating about their jobs. I was able to empathize with them just as easily I had done with previous clients.
Once our team entered the usability testing phase it was truly understanding specifics in the usability of the tool. In addition, to the tasks, we identified goals for our team as well as goals for the tool. This helped us to measure the overall success of the tool and different features we had designed.
Goals of the Tool
How easily can users complete the task?
The tool allows for a high view of progress?
The user can take a “deeper diver” into specific workstreams
The tool allows the user to filter and sort depending on what they want to see
The tool gives both qualitative and quantitative data
Users can communicate with tool. ex: requesting an update
Do users understand the service time-lines
Understanding and seeing where users are having difficulty using the tool
Noting all pain points and points of “delight”
Asking questions both before the test, during (when appropriate) and at the end
Understanding what features and information are missing for the different views.
Validate if tool would require no training to use
Our client was very happy with the work we did on DealRoom. Within weeks of sharing our ideas DealRoom implemented several of our suggestions into the DealRoom online workspace. They've added the feature of requesting tasks, a shared space and in-tool communication and the ability to import request form Excel.
Seeing our work in the real world was a great day! Our team took the steps to research, identify a problem, test out ideas, change those ideas, test again and now it's a tool that will make the lives of hard-working people a little easier.