Industrial engineers, operations consultants, business system analysts, process data collectors tend to spend days or even months visiting factories, service touchpoints, business centers,etc., to visually monitor the process and collect quantitative or qualitative data. This currently common ordeal consumes resources, time, money and sometimes, in the case of developing countries like India, puts the professional under substantial risk to their personal safety.
More than 60% of the cost of an operations study
project is consumed in travel, data collection etc.
Any value engineer who is worth his salt will identify that the majority of activities involved in an operations study/design project is rich with non-value adding and avoidable value-enabling tasks.
The idea for a web-based video analyzer may have its roots from the seemingly boring repetitive work study experiments in the Ergonomics lab from my Industrial Engineering days in 2004, in IIT Kharagpur. But the impulse to act on it arose within few minutes of watching the video of a coal loading operation at a private port whose operations we were asked to study and improve.
Coal loading ops in India - An unsafe place for a field-deployed operations analyst
Despite having previously worked in Naxalite infested regions, highly polluted process plants, steel factories that have no sense of safety neither on road nor under roofs etc., I did not have the nerve to take up this project without some software that would make me stay away from these unsafe grounds.
Ironically, when I started with the concept sketch (Read why I always start with a concept sketch instead of strategy), it came out as a mobile application. I was probably then too much focused on the mobility as it would enable professionals to work on it on the go with more ease. But soon after the requirements phase, the form factor of mobile itself proved a limitation (coupled with my novice app design skills at that time) to the functionality required of the application to carry out operations analysis.
Providanz concept sketch
The concept had the following features.
Note: At this point I had no idea how amazing value proposition out software would provide. According to me, it was just a structured timestamp recorder for operations videos.
From the beginning I did not want it to be a desktop application, which was then, and even now a standard way of delivering software for professionals. I knew that with the then quality of technology talent (read: me), it will not take even a day to crack my software for full access. Also, the same time I had gone to a TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) meeting where I came across this word 'SaaS' (Software-as-a-Service) and was smitten by the concept, and how I have been using a few (GMail, Office 365) all along without knowing what they are. The concept of making web-based, difficult to pirate, quick to deploy changes, and portable software was too enticing.
And it was decided to be named Providanz (an acronym for PROcess VIDeo ANalyZer, which is what it was exactly going to be). And then, the million dollar question arose, how exactly are we going to do it? Enter the SWOT (yeah, we consultants loved to SWOT!).
Providanz SWOT for product development strategy
USER RESEARCH & PERSONA
The target users were an odd mixture for this project. Because the target group of industrial engineers, operations analysis, improvement consultants, data collection operators would be so diverse within themselves that I didn't want to create a point statistic like persona. Instead, I created a range for better imagination and empathy creation.
Generic User Persona Range
Gender - Mostly male
Age - 30 to 45 years
Education - Bachelors in Engineering (Mechanical, Industrial, Production, Electrical, Control etc.,) and may have a Masters in Engineering or Management
Country - India, US, UK
Languages Known - English etc.
Sociological Status - Mostly married and has kids
Employer - Medium to Large sized manufacturing company or a small consulting form (of not more than 20+ people)
Position - Senior Engineer/ Dy. Manager (Quality, Industrial Engineering, R&D department)
Technology Familiarity - Familiar with business applications on computer, not so versatile or comfortable using a smartphone for carrying professional tasks
Traits - Average guy, proud, boring on the surface, not much into active social media, may have interest in automobiles etc.
From the beginning, it appeared that our product thinking was being constantly aligned towards an inevitable future of ‘feature-creep’ and ending up bloated and unusable. So, in order to set boundaries and prioritization to the features, a Kano's model for the UX of the application was drawn up, with our target user in the mind.
Kano's Model for Providanz UX
Also, in order to create a high quality overall experience for the customer, a simplified customer journey map was crafted to compartmentalize various stages of the user's journey, its requirements against various touchpoints etc.
A simple customer journey map
Following the requirements in the customer journey map and considering resource and time constraints, a crude scope for the list of features was drawn up.
Based on the features set by the scope of the application, a hierarchical model was crafted. Instead of trying out standard UX techniques like card sorting, for determining the structure of the application, a simple straightforward clustering based tree structure was decided to dictate the application's information architecture.
Providanz App Information Architecture Diagram
Keeping the focus that is required when carrying out a professional work analysis project, the navigation model was designed for the user to follow the process without being distracted or facilitated by the option to jump to another project or any step of it.
Providanz Projects - Navigation Model
Inspired from practical work design projects, a straightforward step based workflow was adopted for the project workflow. Consistent inter-stage navigation, combined with a varied but familiar intra-stage navigations could facilitate a simple step-based project workflow.
Providanz App - Project Workflow
The core value proposition of the product was undoubtedly the video analyzer. Almost 80-90% of the usage time would be spent at the analyzer phase. Hence the changeover in the experience between industry practices for work study and using the product had to be made as seamless as possible. The conceptual model of the interaction is based on work study carried out using a video player for captured footages.
The Providanz Video Analyzer
A partially flat style of visual design was incorporated in designing the application so as to keep up with the evolving design trend away from gradient and physicality rich component design.
Providanz - New Project Setup
Providanz - Video Analyzer (Timestamping)
Providanz - Video Analyzer (Task Details)
Providanz - Data Table
Providanz - Analysis Reports
Providanz - Login
Providanz - Projects
The development of the application was carried out using the following technologies.
The experience of making a product that changes century old professional practices was very profound and life altering. A few key learnings from making Providanz were
Providanz would not have been possible at all if not for the guidance and support given by my mentor-and-partner, T Gourishankar, who introduced me to best practices of world-class operations analysis. He was the one who turned my spark of idea of a video analyzer into an industry quality tool for operations analysis and design.
Thank you, sir.
Note: PROVIDANZ was discontinued on July 2014 due to business circumstances. Design and development of a more professional and modular version is under works. Design of a RESTful API and development of diverse products based on it are planned for the next two years.
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