Shell had a contractual obligation with a global key account to deliver end to end (E2E) traceability on all lubricants for bottles, cartons and pallets via lubricant oil blending plants in Hong Kong, Germany and Spain — in 120 days.
I was part of a team hand-picked to bring this system to life. As the user interface designer, I worked with a user experience designer to define the experience and workflow for using the app.
In short, we didn’t have the time. On this project, time was money. As a workaround, we worked directly with subject matter experts (SME) to understand the technical and business requirements of the solution. As it’s a legal obligation, our priority was to get the solution live. We could work with our users—Shell staff in warehouses—to improve the app later on.
Designing internal tools can at times be a little less polished, a little less considered, and very much hidden in this situation. Around 30 people around the world would be using our traceability platform at any one time. We were here to translate business requirements into a reality.
That means an iOS app for an iPhone 8. This was the only phone that was supported by the barcode scanners used in the warehouses. In summary: our systems would scan barcodes on the packaging; then, during every movement of that package, the warehouse staff scanned the barcodes again. These movements were all logged. If something went wrong, for example, counterfeit sales or problems with production, we could trace them back to a particular warehouse.
One of my favourite products to have worked on from a testing point of view. And not only because we were flown out to Spain twice and Hong Kong. This product really took me out of my comfort zone in many ways. Testing on-site in a Shell lubricant oil blending plant was really not like an environment I’d considered when designing the prototype. The air-conditioned office seemed forever away from the noisy, bright, and safety-conscious warehouse.
To make things more fun? We translated our prototype into Spanish for our colleagues in Tarragona (just outside Barcelona).
I worked almost hand-in-hand with an iOS developer. We also had 2.5 backend developers on the product, but they were shared resources—I didn’t have the chance to work with them often. Our iOS developer is a great friend of mine (always helps), and we worked together, wrote tickets together, reviewed builds together. Even hung out in the lounge in Hong Kong together. Our workflow during usability testing trips, in particular, was to work through the day with users and smash bugs in the evenings.
The speed alone was one of the biggest challenges in the project. Working within such a tight deadline, as one of the final teams in Shell that would consider picking up such a project so late in the timeline, we took it in our stride. Lean is an understatement.
We worked in Agile using 2-week sprints and running ceremonies asynchronously whenever possible. A few times, I block-booked ‘war room’ style meeting areas in WeWork offices around the Shell office to focus longer sessions with the UX designer. UX design and research was a shared workload as there was a big service design component. A skill I’m yet to learn.
To overcome our lack of time, we employed ‘just enough research’ and ran a few quick and dirty research methods: phone interviews, guerrilla usability testing and desk research. We also worked after hours a couple of days in Spain and made up for it in a day off where we could explore the Tarragona area of Spain and hang out with some Shell colleagues.
Today the project is on hold. While we met the January 1 deadline (success!), a third-party and the global key account agreed the project would go on pause. Unlucky because this was just before COVID-19 struck.