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Workflows of a 20-year-old Content Pipeline System

  • Employer: Gale (Cengage Learning)
  • | With a mentor
  • | 3 months (06/2017 – 08/2017)

This project identified the root causes of existing problems in a complicated legacy content pipeline system to reduce the cost and help inform future decisions. I interviewed 14 experts across 7 teams and finally developed 7 persona-based task flow diagrams and impacted a 2-year revamp plan.

To be respectful to the employer, further details will not be elaborated.

User Experience Researcher
  • Planned the research and project
  • Conducted stakeholder interviews
  • Coordinated with multiples teams and roles
  • Conducted in-person and remote interviews
  • Analyzed and visualized the results
  • Communicated the results to various roles

Problem: Can't support company's needs

DAMS is part of a 20-year-old content pipeline system used by internal experts who manage the complex content storage and distribution process across different data points. The company struggled with:

  • Its inefficiency and inconsistency throughout the process across 7 teams;
  • its complexity and inability to support the current and future needs because of the legacy system language and constrained supports from only a few senior experts.

This project was done to support the 2-year revamp project.

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Business Decision Problems

  1. How might we bring all of this on-system into a consistent view?
  2. How can future DAMS support users’ workflow for the next 20 years?


  • Unclear expectations for UX team: the team has never worked with a UX researcher before, so they were not sure what could they expect to get from UX team, what kinds of problems can be solved by UX.
  • The uncertainty of future direction: e.g. the platform choice, the roadmap and key decision points. Since the team was currently evaluating the technical feasibility and potential vendors, the team may need different assistance at each phase.
  • Multiple stakeholders and scattered touch points across 3 offices: there were many roles, teams, location of office involved across the company
    Revamp Project
    • Business Owner and Manager
    • Customer-facing Product Stakeholder
    • Project Manager
    • System Analyst
    • UX Researcher/Designer
    • Technical Team
    7 Teams
    • Content Analysis & Management
    • Indexing and Controlled Vocabulary
    • Indexing Term Analysis
    • Operations Manager
    • Content Engineer and Database Administrator (DBA)
    • Technical System Support


  • Identify the root causes of problems: reduce the operational cost.
  • Help inform future decisions: keep future options open so that the system can move forward even if the UX team were not resourced to provide long-term consulting.
  • Advocate the value of UX: it was at the very early stage and was the first time that UX team involved in an “internal” system from the very beginning, so it was an opportunity to show the value of UX in the company.

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What we did in the 3 months
Process: research


How we got the insights

Research Questions

  • What system, components and teams are involved in the process? What are their goals? How are they related to each other?
  • How do they currently work to achieve those goals? What are their pain points?
    • How do they onboard new product and manage the changes?
    • How do they monitor, troubleshoot?


I conducted in-depth interviews with 14 experts across 7 teams for totally over 20 times and diagrammed the workflows on whiteboards.


Challenge #1: Unfamiliar and difficult domain

Have to jump into a new domain that was full of difficult technical jargon and figure out how to have a big impact quickly.

Challenge #2: Inconsistency between the interviewees

It’s like a puzzle game. That is, sometimes it’s really obvious which pieces won’t fit together, and sometimes it will look like it should but it doesn’t.

Challenge #3: Expanded scope than what was expected.

What’s the boundary and time to move forward?

💪 What did I do?

How I organize my notes and findings, such as creating a jargon glossary list and diagrams, really helps! As I got familiar with these shapes, I was able to visualize the negative space and recognized more quickly what will fit together and what won’t.

Surprise: Missed important meetings

The team did persona and user story mapping with the business owner and did not invite UX researcher to involve.

💪 What did I do?

Open an informal conversation with the team and express my interests to learn about their work and got a copy of their artifacts because those were valuable and helpful information for us and hope to get invited in the similar meeting in the future.

The team then set up an updated meeting with me and help me to catch up the key points while reviewing those artifacts.

Key Decision: Be vigilant to adjust plan accordingly

The choice of not working on interface, prototyping, usability testing

Considering the expanded scope and lack of system selection, UI work wasn't as valuable as the additional interviews and analysis conducted in that time frame. The following deliverables would be more valuable to the team:

  • Point out recognized but unsolved problems so that people can discuss or work on it.
  • List down unclear issues and who to follow up. If UX resources are available, mockups would be helpful.
  • Provide personas, current workflow diagrams and UI recommendations (focus on recognized information, users’ needs).

Final Deliverables

Developed 7 persona-based workflow diagrams that disclosed several misalignments in the current process and the flow that could be optimized.


At the beginning, the business owner who has been in company for 20 years was unsure why they had UX team involved in at the early stage. But, he ended up being very impressed by my diagrams because he now was able to see the high-level overview and problems that he didn't notice before.

  • He recommended his technical team to learn about the details.
  • These findings finally impacted on a 2-year revamp plan and were also shared with other teams to onboard new project members.
[Business Owner] recommended that we set sometime w you. ,HE was very impressed. :) He really liked your diagrams and wanted us to take a look at it..... I really like your enthusiasm. I was like that in college as well so I can relate. Hopefully you can come back to work with us.

— System Analyst

Gale, your works are very impressive, show how you can think systematically. You’ll get a very strong recommendation from me.

— UX Director

You are really good at diagramming and those are helpful to get a high level understanding of those complicated process.

— UX Mentor, UX Researcher


What I've Learned

Lessons learned

  • Findings don’t have to be perfect to share: constantly check with stakeholders and involve them in the process to align with their needs and build the sense of ownership.
  • Make research progress visible: used whiteboards to (1) connect the teams, (2) help stakeholders gather quick insights and (3) let passersby take inspiration and add to them.
  • Regularly and consistently working with the team: try to get involved in important meetings, and dynamically and flexibly adjust my plan to ensure my works are valuable and impactful to the team.
  • Mindset transition: transfer from implementor to researcher or consultant

What I would do differently

  • Stop expanding the scope earlier and move forward for final summary.
Contact Gale Like what you see? Gale will graduate in April 2018 and expects to work with an amazing team. 😍

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