Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) deals are usually set up in two phases: due dilligence and integration. For each of those phases, two different tools are used. A data room for due dilligence, and a project management tool for integration (usually excel). DealRoom is a web application that aims to merge those two tools, providing M&A professionals with an all purpose tool.
Research, Wireframing, Prototyping
Client Project for DealRoom
Sketch, Axure, Photoshop, Illustrator
Defining the Challenge
The company came to my design team and I because they were looking to include the integration process in their services. The designer at DealRoom already had a high fidelity mockup ready to be tested. But they needed to test it and see what it lacked and what other features their users needed.
In our kickoff meeting, the CEO of DealRoom expounded more on the challenge that expansion had. He also shared what his assumptions were. He claimed that the integration side needed the information collected in due diligence. He also mentioned what he thought the general problems associated with integration were. First, the ability to track the progress of work streams was lacking in most software. Second, dashboards’ data were incomplete, and Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) professionals were frustrated with that.
Leading With Research
Our client’s assumptions made a lot of sense, but we couldn’t design based off that. We needed qualitative data to guide our solution. Also, we needed to delve deeper into the domain that we were about to design in. DealRoom set us up with 8 SMEs who held senior roles in the M&A sphere. To make the most of those interviews and ask the right questions, we had to become subject matter experts in 2 days. So we conducted our domain research to familiarize ourselves with the M&A process.
The most important takeaway from our domain research was identifying who DealRoom’s direct and indirect competitors were. By analyzing each platform, we determined where the opportunities for our solutions lay:
- Cost tracking should be a key feature of the platform
- GANTT charts that are easy to edit and filter for different views
- Include pre-built integration playbooks & templates
- Auto-suggest docs to move from Diligence to Integration (tag for specific tasks)
- Advanced import/export options with AI functionality
- Facilitate friendly collaboration
Direct and indirect competitors we analyzed to see what the opportunities for DealRoom’s expansion were..
The domain research and competitive analysis we did allowed us to better understand how an M&A worked. We also discovered how intricate of a domain it was. There was a plethora of terminologies and acronyms that was a challenge for us to wrap our heads around. But we felt confident going into our user interviews.
Interviewing a user to understand what M&A professionals needed from a project management tool.
We were interested in learning how professionals operated in the integration process. Although our client gave us his assumptions, we wanted to see which of those were valid. Our domain research taught us what the best practices were, so we wanted to know how much professionals abided by that process. Furthermore, we also wanted to know what tools they used. Did those tools meet their needs, or were they lacking in critical areas? In such a saturated market, we assumed that there had to be tool that dominated. So we talked to our users, and these were the insights that we gleaned.
- Microsoft excel is king, 7/8 of our users told us how their teams relied heavily on Microsoft Excel. Not only was it flexible for their teams, but it was also easy to learn. Some pain points that our users had with it were that it was not able to keep track of who made edits to the work plan, and that it was a mess to send around to different team members.
- Users needed customization so that dashboards looked unique to each role in the merger, stream, and level within the company
- Users needed earlier access to the documents from the due diligence process, which was in the data room.
- Cost tracking is important to show stakeholders how this tool could help them save money
- M&A professionals abandoned project management tools because of the time it took to update and create tasks.
“When you're integrating, you still need the same project management capabilities as the diligence process, the tool should be the same because the diligence and integration process is so intertwined.”
Who We Wanted to Design For
After synthesizing our user research, we proceeded to create our persona, Molly.
Molly is an Integration Project Manager at a small tech company in Chicago. Once her company acquires another company she steps in to create and execute an integration plan to bring the selling organization into the fold. Her job is tedious, manual and overwhelming at times but she loves the impact she makes on her company. She also enjoys working cross-functionally with different departments. Working with people can be the most difficult part of her job, but it’s also the most rewarding. While keeping costs down drives Molly, she is also motivated to bring on the selling organization seamlessly and with as few headaches as possible. She wishes she had more time in her day to work on actually execution her work plans vs. spending a significant amount of her time constantly requesting updating from her function leads and having to update her manager and the steering committee above her.
The next step after creating Molly was to pinpoint the opportunities in a week of her life. Her Journey Map walked us through a week where she covered two projects. These were the opportunities that we noticed.
- Automatically request and receive updates from function leads
- Import existing work plans into Deal Room as a starting point
- Granular and high level views of progress data
- Tracking KPIs along the way
- Strong visuals along with qualitative data
The What and How of Our Solution
From the opportunities in Molly’s journey and our domain research, we had a clear view of what our solution could be. Before we diverged to create that solution, we wrote a statement that aligned our vision.
Now that our team was aligned on creating a tool for a project manager, we decided to write a set of guidelines. These principles forced us to think of how we could make someone like Molly’s job easier. This is what my team and I came up with.
Concept Creation and Testing
With our vision aligned, and a set of principles to guide us, we moved on to ideating our concept. My team and I used the 6-8-5 ideation exercise for this phase. It’s an exercise where you sketch out 6 to 8 screens in 5 minutes. It was a fun exercise that encouraged us to come up with as many concepts as possible. After spending a few hours doing that, we discussed each concept and picked each member’s favorite one. We then opted to create those concepts on sketch to test with our next batch of users.
Through the 6-8-5 exercise, we were able to come up with about 6 different concepts and flows in a matter of 30 minutes.
My Concept focused on letting M&A professionals easily upload their work to speed up their process. Users mentioned that they abandoned project management tools because of how tedious it was to create and update tasks. This concept sped that process by allowing them to upload pre-existing work plans into DealRoom with a simple drag and drop.
I left my concept devoid of content because I wanted to hear from our 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, I hoped that a pattern for how work plans are formulated would arise.
Users mentioned that their major pain point with Microsoft Excel was that they were not able to see who made updates to the work plan. This feature of my concept addressed that issue by showing who made the update, and when it was made.
The first notable feedback we got from testing was how the Select Workstream and Upload Workplan pages should be switched around. Users were confused by not being able to choose a workstream to upload the plan for. Another feedback we got was how users liked the concept because it could potentially speed up their process. Users mentioned how this could be even more valuable if DealRoom suggested the header of each section. Overall, it was well received by users.
“If all those project plans were incorporated in this tool by function, then I could easily go in there and review them. We wouldn’t have to be passing around excel files and consolidating them.”
For concept 2 my teammate came up with a more traditional project management concept. It gave a project manager the ability to view the project in a high level view to see what the dependencies and critical issues were. The PM would also be able to go into a more granular view to see how what the urgent tasks and issues of each work stream were.
She also added a feature that showed how the progress of each task. Users told us that they wanted to know if there were tasks in danger of not being completed. The M&A process was so integrated that a single task could hold up an entire project. So it was critical to know where the bottlenecks were, and address it immediately.
In testing, users mentioned how they needed the ability to filter and sort each workstream and tasks. Customization was also an element of the concept that users noticed was lacking. They wanted to be able to tailor the wording in the tool to fit their needs. Another piece of feedback we got was that there should be an ability to view all the workstreams in a single page. Finally, users stated their need to have both quantitative and qualitative data on the tool. For example, they wanted to see the percentage of completion of a task as well as an explanation of what’s transpiring.
For concept 3 my other teammate designed a concept that featured a weekly update. Similar to concept 2, it allowed team leads and PMs to see how tasks in a project were faring. The concept also let them know of key accomplishments and roadblocks. To encourage communication, she also included team recognition as a feature.
When we tested her concept, users told us something similar to what we heard with concept 2. They needed to include the percentage of achievement for each task to be better aware of what is going on. They also wanted there to be a comment feature to be able to communicate better with their team members. Users were also curious how dependencies were marked along with the progress update.
Final Design and Testing
With our concept testing done, we then decided where to converge. We opted to create concept 2 and 3 because they were the most feasible. My concept needed more research to make it viable. Furthermore, it relied on DealRoom’s AI capabilities, which was still in progress. So based off the feedback we got, I moved forward and created our final design and prototype in Axure. This is what we made, and how our users responded.
After each testing session, I'd create iterations based on our notes and observations.
Project Manager View, based off our principle of No Training Required, I created a simple, intuitive interface. The original dashboard featured a project progress tracker, workstream critical issues, and project milestones.
Progress Tracker Hover, the project progress tracker showed how many tasks had to be completed before that phase was over on hover. Research showed that users preferred to have progress cut into quarter chunks instead of having an array of numbers.
When we presented this to users, they gave us numerous feedback on what we could improve.
- Users told us that the progress tracker was too prominent. The space could be better utilized, and include other vital details of the project.
- The hover state had to go because it would not be seen when users printed the page to show to stakeholders.
Second Iteration of PM View, in this iteration, the previous feedback was addressed. We also added new elements to the interface.
- Import and export buttons were added after hearing that our users needed to print the page for stakeholders.
- Synergy values was included to align the entire team on overall project goals.
- Financial tracking was added to stay true to our principle of maximize the bottom line.
- Add field was created to allow users to customize their dashboards.
Critical Issues Feature, another feature that was added based off research was key issues. We added this to our final design because it fostered more communication in a team. It was well received by our users.
Workstream View, our research showed us that there was a need for PMs to have an overall view of different work streams in one page. They wanted to see urgent tasks and critical issues, as well as a high level view of the progress of each work stream.
Second Iteration of Workstream Overview, after we tested the page, we made these iterations based off feedback.
- Users wanted to be able to add a workstream directly from this page.
- Stakeholder meetings were a frequent occurrence, so they needed to quickly export this page into a .pdf file to print.
- Users needed to see due dates for upcoming tasks and tasks with critical issues.
- The progress tracker had to be properly labeled to be seen once it was printed.
- Users needed to see the financial tracker on this page to be better aware of how each workstream was doing.
Workstream Lead View, the focus of this page was to find a way for team leads to quickly add tasks and subtasks.
Project Timeline, when we tested our concepts this feature was well received by users. It increased the accountability within a team. It also kept them more organized, which sped up their workflow. This feature also directly addressed users’ frustration with Excel
Based off user feedback, these were the iterations we made to the dashboard.
- Like the PM view, we added an export button so that users could quickly print the page for stakeholders.
- We added start and end dates for each task because dependencies.
- To increase transparency within the team, we added an explanation for why team members were stuck in a task.
This is the flow for users adding a task and entering the details. When a user gets stuck, he enters the reason why. It is then forwarded to the PM as a critical issue, which can be seen on his or her dashboard.
We wanted to develop my concept of uploading excel files straight into DealRoom. Research showed us that there was no way to organize the headers of the file once it was uploaded. Each user we interviewed presented their own perspective on how it should be done. So we decided to table it for future considerations until more research could be done. Furthermore, the concept would rely on DealRoom’s AI capabilities to recommend what header to put, or what documents to attach to a work plan or task. The company has robust AI capabilities, but it wasn’t geared for that. For the developers to be able to create the tech needed for my concept, it would take more time and capital.
My team and I heard from users that the ability to import bulk tasks from specific workstreams was valuable. Also, the ability to suggest documents to attach to tasks from the data room was another invaluable feature. It would maximize DealRoom’s value proposition of combining a project management tool and data room.
DealRoom was one of the most difficult projects that I’ve encountered so far. The level of difficulty was on par with ZokuVault. In that project, however, the challenge was difficult. For DealRoom, the difficulty lay in trying to grasp the domain. Mergers and Acquisitions was difficult to grasp because it was elaborate. There was no set process for how a company dealt with integration. Almost nobody abided by the 12 step process that we learned about through our domain research. And even though Microsoft Excel was widely used, the way the work plans were set up varied. It wasn’t only different by company though, because each work stream in a single integration project could set up their work plan differently. It was dependent on the nature of the deal.
My team and I embraced the challenge that DealRoom presented. I was amazed by how much we were able to learn in a matter of days. And by the end of the project, our creative director expressed his astonishment as well. We were using terms that we never existed with ease during our client meetings and user interviews.
I was also ecstatic at how my visual design skills shone in this project. I am an advocate for how beautiful designs can both be aesthetically pleasing, and improve communication. At our final presentation, our client expressed his appreciation for my designs. He even asked me to send him the presentation deck template that I created, so that he could use it for future sales pitches.