I helped Accountants collaborate better with their clients
Pierre Roberge
UX Product Designer
Made with

I helped Accountants collaborate better with their clients

Wolters Kluwer : Canada - USA - New Zealand - India

Background Story

Company

From 2011 to 2018, I worked for Wolters Kluwer.  The first year as a Senior User Experience Designer and the last years as past of the Canadian Innovation team responsible for creating new products to help the company increase revenues organically.

As part of the Innovation team, I was responsible for all Voice of the customer activities.  These activities included making partnerships with existing Wolters Kluwer customers and use these partnerships to organize :

  • Customer visits 
  • Hackathons / Code games
  • Idea tournaments

to better get to know our customers to ultimately discover unmet needs we could solve and thus create new products. 

My role

Because of my track record within the Innovation team, I was asked to spearhead a 6-month research & design project to understand the needs of North American and Asia Pacific Accountants and then use this knowledge to create a new Document Management System (DMS) to be integrated in the new Accounting Firm Practice Management Cloud Platform Wolters Kluwer had launched a couple of year prior.

Project Goals

  1. The first goal of the project was to establish a grand vision for a Cloud-based Document Management System (DMS) to be integrated into iFirm, an accounting firm management system.
  2. The second goal was to create the detailed specifications for the development team for the version 1 and 2 of the DMS.

Interviews

Stakeholders Interviews

In order to make sure I understood all the project parameters, I conducted interviews with many stakeholders from Canada, the US and New Zealand to understand the business, technical goals and constraints.

Questions I typically ask during stakeholders interviews are:

  • What is the business motivation for this project?
  • What is the positioning of the competitors?
  • What are their advantages and disadvantages?
  • What will success look like for this project?
  • What are the contraints : time, budget, technical, ...?
  • What are the potential pitfalls I might encounter?

Characteristics of accounting firms visited
Characteristics of accounting firms visited

Interviews

I conducted client interviews with accounting firm partners and their employees both in Canada and in the US.  11 small and medium-sized firms were visited to understand who they were and obviously how they worked with their clients.

My goal was to get to know these people on a personal level to some extent before understanding how they worked.

Also, I did not want to focus only on how people store their paper and digital documents because even though we knew we wanted to create a DMS, it is better to meet with customers with an open mind and act as if we did not already know what type of the solution we wanted to create.  So I focused some questions on understanding the broader aspects of how accountants are working with their customers.  These questions later helped uncover broader needs about pains accountants have with exchanging documents with their customers and not merely the storing of those documents.

Questions I typically asked were:

  • Why did you choose to become an accountant?

  • Where did you work before?
  • What made you decide to start your own firm?

  • Describe a typical day.

  • What do you enjoy most/less in your work?
  • What do you consider is a good day at the office?
  • What are the types of mandates do you typically do?

  • Where are your clients located?
  • How is the relationship with your clients?
  • How do you currently exchanged documents internally and externally?
  • ...

Insights

Example of an insight discovered during client interviews
Example of an insight discovered during client interviews

What are the problems we needed to solve?

As suspected, the interviews made it clear that accountants have a lot of other problems related to documents besides their storage.  Here are some examples, I uncovered:

  •  better manage the collaboration with their clients throughout a mandate
    • help clients bring all documents required, on-time
    • collect documents from clients more frequently throughout the year without getting involved personally
    • make it clear to the client what is the division of responsibilities and bottlenecks between them and the accountants
    • efficiently exchange with clients for missing small pieces of information
  • work with digitized documents as easily as with paper
  •  efficiently act as a secure client storage repository when clients need archived copies of statements or tax returns

These additional needs discovered, if we can solve them, will guarantee that our DMS will be head and shoulders above the competition.

Primary persona I discovered during the interviews
Primary persona I discovered during the interviews

Personas

By speaking with partners and employees, it became clear that there were different types of partners in accounting firms that have a different outlook as to how they like to work.  I distilled those 2 patterns into 2 partner personas:

- Paul, founder of his 5-person firm, who prefers working on paper and only digitizes paper after all his work is done for archival purpose.

- Stephan, sole proprietor of his 1-person shop who loves technology and will use technology even if it makes him less efficient at times.  He digitizes everything before doing any work.

Paul was deemed our primary persona because he has zero tolerance to badly designed technology and will be hardest to win over to the DMS/Collaboration tool.  If we design a solution easy enough for Paul, Stephan our secondary persona, will, by default, also be very happy.

Product Vision

All functions a great DMS / Collaboration needs to have to solve all problems discovered
All functions a great DMS / Collaboration needs to have to solve all problems discovered

Design Imperatives

I came up with the Product Strategy detailing how the DMS / Collaboration system will be able to satisfy all accounting firms needs regarding collaboration with their clients.

One of those needs I will illustrate also further is :

  • help CPAs collaborate with clients while working on a mandate.

Sketching features

Description of the behavior and sketch of one of the features
Description of the behavior and sketch of one of the features

Designing the behavior

Using the power of scenarios, I roled-played each persona to put myself in their day-to-day lives and designed features that would please them.  I described each features functions, behavior, look, and how it satisfied a specific problem or fulfilled a need.

For example, to facilitate the communication and the shared responsibility between Paul and his or her client, I created a shared action-oriented To-do list.  The list is created by Paul and describes what he needs from his client.  Paul works in a "help me help you" type of relationship.  Having a shared To-do list is a great way to describe what each party's responsibilities are and is also a way to indicate when tasks have been accomplished.

The salient design aspect of this To-do list is that it is action oriented.  Every task item starts with a verb (depicted by a clickable button) in order to make it clear to the client what he/she needs to do but also to help the accountant learn about this tool and start thinking in terms of clear specific actions that are required.  Just having free-text list items would have required more training and support to the accountant in order for him/her to reap the benefits of this feature.

To help clients decide what they have time to do now, I show, in parenthesis, the expected time to completion for each action.

As the client performs each tasks, by clicking on the green action button and performing the specific action, the task is automatically marked as completed and Paul receives a notification allowing him to continue working on the mandate right away, if he chooses to do so.

Final screens

High-fidelity screen I sketched for the developers
High-fidelity screen I sketched for the developers

Final Screens to developers

Once all the features have been designed and sketched in terms of behavior and look, validations tests were conducted with all stakeholders and potential clients.  The features were tweaked based on feedback and also prioritized in terms of client value and time required to develop.

Screens were very helpful during the scoping of the project.  It is a lot easier to get people on the same page using screens that to discuss features with only a textual description.

I then wrote the specifications for Phase 1 and 2 of the project and produced the high-fidelity screens using the current system color palette, sometimes working with a graphic designer to make sure things looked pretty and used the same look and feel as the host application.

Version 2 is now available

Releases

Version 1 of the DMS was released in November 2018 and version 2 was released in February 2019.

Below is the marketing video showcasing the DMS.

Remote OK

Project Kick-off with the team in Pune, India - May 2018
Project Kick-off with the team in Pune, India - May 2018

Remote Work

Since this was an international project, team members were located across the world.

I was working in Sherbrooke, Quebec, alongside with a Product Manager. Developers were located in Toronto and Pune, India. A Global Product Manager was located in New Zealand.

With the tools that are available today : Slack, Skype, Invision, Lucidchart, it is very easy to work in different time zones with a little flexibility.  

When I would come in the morning, I would answer all the questions developers in India had had during my night.  I would take the day to solve all issues before they would come back to work as I left for home.  We also arranged skype meetings at the end of my day to discuss more complex issues.

Even though the team was new, we delivered version 1 of the DMS ahead of schedule.

11
Firms visited
138
Screens
19
Iterations
52
Happy customers

"Pierre's detailed screens and specifications allowed us to complete the project ahead of schedule and decreased the amount of questions developers had during development."

IT Manager