MROLife for Collins Aerospace
Senior User Experience Architect
2018 – 2019
To ensure confidentiality, I have omitted and obfuscated information in this case study.
The information here is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of Collins Aerospace.
Collins Aerospace Aftermarket division consists of 60+ facilities spread across the globe. Together, they account for approx. 40% of annual company sales, $9.2 billion in 2017.
These facilities are known by the industry standard term MRO sites, standing for Maintenance, Repair, & Overhaul.
After a series of acquisitions in which new companies were incorporated simply as new business units and not required to fully integrate with each other, many MRO facilities were operating quite differently from each other, causing monumental problems, including data and process incompatibility as well as impacting customer experience.
In 2016 & 2017, Collins — then UTC Aerospace — noticed the accumulated affect of these disparate practices when the annual Airbus and Boeing customer experience survey results were released: UTC Aerospace had dropped alarmingly in customer rankings. As a result, leadership initiated a two year customer experience research and strategy endeavor that later led to the funding and mission of the digital product I was tasked with designing: MROLife.
Below: you can still see evidence of these issues directly on the Collins Aftermarket website, where customers are directed to track down the status of a current claim by first being forced to identify which business unit to contact. This particular problem — the difficulty of knowing who to contact about what — was quickly identified as a key customer frustration.
The strategy: to transition all MRO facilities to a common digital management platform. Leverage the advantages of a robust digital application and enforce common processes and data storage that are essential to relieve customer frustrations.
While SAP is used across most (not all) Collins MRO facilities, it only provides the most basic functionality for the many needs of facilities. By 2016, most facilities had developed their own detailed processes, complex spreadsheets, and involved paperwork to keep things running as smoothly as possible. In some cases, the facilities actually hired outside consultants to create robust web applications customized to the management of their particular facility and business unit. MROLife was intended to replace all of these, learning from and incorporating the best of them as much as possible. As a result, this project was as much change management as creating a new digital platform.
Get organized & go fully digital. Save time to save money and improve customer satisfaction.
While some facilities had prioritized digital tools and processes, many facilities were still quite dependent on physical paperwork. A folder landing on a person's desk was the de facto method for asking another person to complete a task, which meant that running around the facility to see who currently possessed a specific piece of paper was a common activity that bogged down employees' time.
Spreadsheets and paperwork: both limited in capability and difficult to maintain. One key objective was to replace both with a robust digital application: MROLife.
Collins research calculated MRO employees wasted 1.5 million hours annually on low value tasks with high potential for automation, including:
These became the primary focus for the initial capabilities of MROLife.
Research & Design Approach
As the solo designer, research and design an effective work management platform for all MRO facilities.
When I joined the MROLife product team in 2018, the initiative had already been underway for over a year and had changed ownership from the parent company, UTC, to a new department in the Digital Technology unit inside Collins. I was the only product designer assigned to continue the work of the previous designer. Tensions were high and there was pressure to demonstrate progress. Working closely with the Product Manager and key Business Stakeholders, I got up to speed quickly on the domain knowledge and project history as well as the research and design work already completed.
I quickly saw that a key success factor would be to demonstrate good partnership by leveraging the work already done, rather than asserting that I personally needed to repeat the same fundamental activities, such as diary studies, journey-mapping, creating user personas, etc. As a result, I focus this case study on the research and design work I conducted to take MROLife to its next phase focused on work management.
Aerospace: understanding the work of users in order to identify their needs.
One of the most interesting challenges presented by this situation was the need to have an in depth understanding of the aerospace repair domain. This was essential in order to understand user's work, goals, problems, and needs. I relish such opportunities; it's part of the reason I tend to specialize in designing for complex industries.
Steel-toe shoe covers: essential for any facility visit.
From Datapoints to User Stories
Affinity-mapping workshop: reverse-engineer domain jargon into shared user stories.
One of the first things I noticed when talking both to users and stakeholders was the tendency to speak in terms of datapoints, such as average days in house or workability percentage, rather than the needs those datapoints would serve. Furthermore, the specific datapoints were frequently inconsistent from one facility to another, sometimes reflecting just different terminology for the same thing, but other times reflecting a fundamentally different process.
To eliminate the unnecessary confusion, and to identify the common needs across facilities, I held a 3 day affinity-mapping workshop with several subject matter experts, power users, and stakeholders. I came prepared with a proposed hypothesis of the primary high-level user stories based on the research I had already done. Then, together we reviewed the tools currently used at several facilities, taking note of the specific datapoints utilized and defining how they were calculated and used.
Finally, after reviewing these tools, we mapped the datapoints to the user stories they would help fulfill, which successfully refocused our thinking on the goals of the user stories, not the datapoints for their own sake. The Product team then aligned priorities around these user stories, keeping us focused on our top priorities and not allowing extraneaous ideas to veer us off course in the coming months.
One of the dashboards we reviewed that was currently in use at an MRO facility.
One of the hypothesized user stories we examined during the affinity mapping workshop.
Participants mapped datapoints to the user stories they would help fulfill. This helped us refocus on the user objectives, rather than data for the sake of data.
After the workshop, I captured the datapoints and user story mapping in digital form. We referred back to the document whenever we began work into a new user story area.
Together, the Product Team prioritized user stories from the affinity mapping workshop as our focus for the coming months.
Establishing process consistency via information architecture
After the affinity mapping workshop, it became clear that the organization of data would be critical to the value of MROLife. In the first phase of the product, prior to my joining, data organization was effectively "outsourced" to the user themselves: the web app was primarily a hyper customizable spreadsheet that allowed users to save their sort and filter settings. It also asserted a common algorithm for prioritizing orders. This was feat by itself, but was also starting to exacerbate process consistency problems.
The next phase was to identify the common ways to organize information for facilities. This was a critical step in the change management process: common information to establish common thinking and common processes.
This illustrates the basic organization of facilities and starts to incorporate the new capabilities for work management: creating and assigning tasks.
This captures the variety of ways that facilities need to group high level analytics and lists of orders.
This working artifact helped us decide on the prioritization of orders and tasks. From a master list of prioritized orders, units are delegated into sub-areas and tasks are assigned to users.
A sitemap as a guide for the future-state of MROLife.
Content-mapping documented the myriad data users wanted and also captured the organization of facilities. The next step was to create an information architecture defining the structure of the application that would encompass all this information and functionality. Using the prioritized user stories and content-mapping work, I created a sitemap that aligned the team on a general vision for the future state of MROLife. It also had the helpful side effect of illustrating the vast scope of the project.
Design Feedback Workshop
Key User Need
In our research, specific work management capabilities were identified as a high priority need across most MRO facilities.
The MROLife product team adopted a strategy of working in two streams: short-term and long-term. As the sole UX practitioner at the time, I executed many short-term UI-focused projects in the form of sketches and wireframes as well high fidelity mockups and prototypes. Because of their tactical nature, I choose not to focus on them in this case study. Instead, I'm highlighting the strategic effort of designing work management capabilities for MRO facilities.
I need commitments from my employees on when tasks will be done, so I can calculate if we'll make our commitments and assist proactively we won't.
Customer Service Reps
I need a single, personalized, prioritized to-do list, so I know what tasks to accomplish next and how long I have to complete them.
I need to be aware of the part shortages for all child parts on a unit so that I can ensure no shortages cause an order to miss commitments.
Above: a sampling of the user stories included in the concept of Work Management.
Design Feedback Workshop
We took advantage of the annual Collins MRO internal conference to conduct a design feedback workshop with more than 100 leaders from several different countries.
I crafted a round-robin design feedback workshop that both encouraged change-management thinking while also obtaining direct feedback on design concepts from a wide variety of users and facilities.
From our previous research efforts we knew that our participants would need some convincing that these "futuristic" concepts were even worth considering. Many of them were naturally tactical thinkers: focused on how to solve immediate problems with the tools currently at their disposal. They were unaccustomed to thinking about how new technology could change their processes fundamentally. So, to start the workshop, we gave the managers a challenge statement to guide their thinking: How can MRO employees organize and coordinate their work without emails or meetings.
Participants critiqued problem statements and design concepts we had prepared ahead of time.
Because Work Management is such a large area, encompassing many user stories, we broke each workshop into 5 groups of ~5 participants each. Then, participants reviewed a specific problem statement as well as a design intended to solve that problem. To collect some quantitative data, and to document their feedback, we asked them to complete a customized feedback form.
Next, participants passed their feedback forms to their neighbor, who was asked to come up with an idea that resolved the critique and thus improved the design.
Participants were surprised to be asked to come up with solution ideas, but this is where the magic of the workshop really started to take hold. After an initial 3 minute period to come up with ideas on their own, we encouraged participants to discuss their ideas with each other. Managers started to realize on their own how differently their facilities operate and how these discrepancies were creating challenges for the overall organization. Several groups expressed interest in adapting their processes to be more alike and planned to follow up after the conference.
To ascertain which concepts were most valuable to users, we had participants "buy" their favorite concepts.
Participants first voted on which iteration from their group to present to entire workshop. Then, all participants were given a set number of voting, or feature-buying, stickers: one 20, one 10, and one 5. This system forced users to decide which concepts were most valuable to them: they could put all their votes on one concept, but they could not split them equally.
Analysis & Next Steps
Analysis of the workshop guided our next steps in designing Work Management.
After the marathon six 1-hour workshop sessions, I I debriefed with the other facilitators, compiled our notes, crunched the numbers, and analyzed all the feedback forms. In doing so, I distilled what we had learned into actionable recommendations for our next steps in tackling the most important areas of Work Management.
The Next Phase of MROLife
Over the next few months, we iterated and elaborated on work management concepts until we had a visionary prototype for the next major phase of MROLife.
This work incorporated our earlier information architecture work as well as everything we learned from the work management design feedback workshop. We continued to involve users as we iterated on designs, traveling to facilities as far apart as Germany and Arizona to ensure we were designing a tool that would be effective for all of our targeted users.
I hope you enjoyed reading this case study. You can also check out the designs below.
This case study was focused on research and process. If you'd like to see some of the design highlights, check out the sketches and mockups below.