Rethinking performance management

Performance management is broken. Managers struggle to keep track of individual progress, employees feel like their achievements are overlooked, and annual reviews are widely considered stressful, inefficient and disorganised. Aisling Teiliard and Jim O’Brien had experienced these issues first hand while running a HR consultancy, and wondered if the techniques and learnings they had developed could be applied at scale. They approached Zero-G with a rough idea for a solution, and I led the design team that brought the product from concept to market.

My role

I designed the vast majority of Tandem's mobile app, in partnership with Ali Milne, a talented UX designer. I facilitated workshops to define the core vision and strategy, ran testing sessions to validate ideas, mapped out interactions, designed an attractive, scalable user interface, built interactive prototypes, and crafted key animations to assist the development process. I also designed the broader brand identity under the creative direction of Jason Delahunty, along with pitch decks and marketing materials.

Research and strategy

I kicked off the project with a deep dive into the world of performance management, a process that involved examining talent management techniques, analysing potential competitors, and immersing myself in contemporary thinking around HR. It became apparent very quickly that the industry was in a state of flux—companies are desperate for ways to grow and retain talent, managers are fed up with traditional review structures, and most existing software is clunky and dated.

At the same time, we started thinking about the people involved, and the context of the product: Who were we designing for? What are their workplaces like? What are their concerns, issues and goals? We identified three core user groups that we felt would be central to the product, (team managers, team members and human resources), and ran a workshop with Jim and Aisling to pinpoint the most critical failings in performance management that we wanted to address.

As part of this workshop, I ran an exercise where we articulated a preliminary vision for the product—an overarching goal that would keep us focused on outcomes, rather than getting lost in features.

Finally, we agreed on a number of key indicators for success—a list of concrete changes that we were looking to make in organisations. This list would prove a helpful tool in guiding product decisions and evalutaion going forward:

Prototyping and testing

With a solid foundation of research and some clear goals, our next step was to start figuring out what the actual product would be. Over the course of a day, I ran another workshop where we sketched out the product architecture, identified key requirements and mapped out scenarios of how people would use Tandem in their lives.

At this stage, we arguably had enough infomation to start designing the core UI, but we were cautious of the challenge in front of us. Interpersonal relationships in the workplace can be tricky, and Tandem was going to be planted right in the middle of them. We needed to make sure that the decisions we were making around the product would actually resonate with people.

We proposed that we tackle these concerns by rapidly building a prototype and testing our ideas with real users. A series of collaborative workshops brought Tandem from pencil sketches to a working prototype, which we tested with five different users over the course of a week.

After an intense five days, we came away with some key learnings and feedback. Some notable learnings include:

From prototype to product

Right after testing, we ran into an unexpected challenge. We had developed a brand identity and a pitch deck to showcase Tandem to potential customers, but we had done our job too well. Two major clients had jumped at the opportunity to implement Tandem, and Aisling and Jim were now pushing to build a working product as quickly as possible.

Taking our learnings from the prototype into account, we did a rapid review and worked to address the core issues testing had uncovered. Over the course of month, I mapped out wireframes of the core interactions, built prototypes to communicate user journeys, and created key animations. I developed a clear visual language for the UI, along with a modular design system that could be scaled as Tandem evolved.

The vibrant visual style and personality I created turned out to be one of the key selling points of Tandem, and helped communicate a sense of helpfulness. In the video above, a brief, playful slideshow gives an overview of key features. It's also worth noting that we start users off with a training message that's ready to be rated, providing an immediate introduction to core functionality.

While I didn't have time to detail every transition and interaction, tackling the most important interactions helped establish principles on how the overall interface should move and respond.

Making Tandem intuitive and quick to use was one of the main learnings from testing, and I sweated the details to make sure that core user flows were streamlined as much as possible. In the above example, rating feedback is simplified through use of prefilled tags and sliders, with comments optional. To try and make Tandem 'stickier' in organisations, rating and sending feedback can be incentivised through an internal reward system.

Bespoke quarterly reports are a key feature of Tandem, and provide managers with clear, actionable feedback on their performance. I designed a flexible report template that communicates key statistics to managers, along with a variety of custom tips and content.

The outcome

Tandem is currently used in over a dozen international organisations, with clients including ABN Amro, Alfa Bank, Wrike and Swiss banking group Pictet. Tandem was also recently invited into the NDRC accelerator program and was awarded first place at DisruptHR 2016 in Paris.