Background

In construction, a contract serves as an important legal agreement on the scope of work between Owners and General Contractors. There’s a massive amount of financial data incurred during the entire lifecycle of a construction project that needs to be managed properly. In addition, accountability, communication, and document management are also crucial to the success of a construction project. However, there’s no single platform that allows financial data reconciliation and effective project management between key parties because of the traditional pen and paper processes which create lots of loose ends that could lead to project completion delay and budget overrun.

Challenge

Released in early 2016, Honest Buildings’ Contracting suite was introduced to the Commercial Real Estate financial management market. Pilot projects were implemented in 10 major CRE companies. By the end of 2017, over 50 companies rolled it out to projects with a combined portfolio worth more than 3Billion dollars.  

Such strong adoption has brought good market shares and revenue success. However, HB was struggling to scale it to cope with the company’s exponential growth and customer needs. New features were built upon the unreliable foundation, and high severity usability issues were exposed.  

This cornerstone feature of HB has become a high-risk blocker of its growth.

Understand the Problem

The previous solution was merely a Minimum Viable Product. Key user acquisition and adoption metrics showed that our sales cycle and onboarding and training time had been shortening, which proved that our initial solution solved the right problem for our clients. However, there were also noticeably increased usability and functionality concerns from customers who were about to renew their contracts or expanded our solution to a broader team adoption. We assumed that we were going to face customer retention problems very soon when we moved into the growth stage of this feature’s product lifecycle. A rediscovery was due to understand this unique industry space further and unpack the key problems that yet to be solved.

Our goals were to:

  • Understand the difficulties that our users faced on and off the platform. 
  • Learn about the contracting processes of the construction industry. 
  • Partner with the most influential leaders of commercial real estate companies to reshape the future of this flagship feature. 

Listen and Learn from the Experts

Construction finance and contracting is a complex process. Most of the initial learning came from clients’ executive stakeholders who were not necessarily the actual users who are closely involved in the finance processes. To directly connect with these users and quickly learn about enough insights for the next iteration, we worked with our customer success team to develop a plan to gather more qualitative data. 

We prioritized assessing the overall feature with the CS team via design thinking workshop sessions and Intercom feedback analysis. Most of the problems identified from the assessment were relatively unique to the larger property management clients who had a significant impact on our revenue. We decided to model our learning from prospects and clients with more than x million worth of property portfolios.

Insights

The analysis of users’ qualitative feedback and the study of their workflows indicated that the problems are beyond just usability deficiency. Key problems were identified:

Sluggish Performance

The existing interface becomes less responsive when a large volume of project items are uploaded to the platform.

Incomplete Workflow

When projects progress into the build stage, Owners & GCs shift to invoicing and change events that fall short in the current design. 

 Unclear Project Status and Communication

Hierarchy and clarity between the main contract information and lower-level project details are confusing. And, there is no easy way for teams to communicate on the platform. 

Biased Experience

The current experience overlooks the other important counterpart persona of the workflow, the GCs. They are reluctant to use the platform and deem it as a liability.

Reframing the Problem

It became clear that the shortcoming of the platform structure itself is the root cause of many downstream issues. I worked with product and key stakeholders to re-adjust what is central to our north star vision. 

“How might we build a reliable contracting platform that connects both Owner and General Contractor customers?”

Reshaping the Foundation for the Future

To create a concrete foundation to support HB’s growth for the next 24 months, we anticipated a heavy-lift overhaul. But there were questions we needed to answer in order to inform our design approach: 

How do we contribute to HB’s company OKR “bring consumer-grade UX to our customers?”
Where do we want to position the finance and contracting solution in 24 months?  
What are the specific problems we are NOT trying to solve at this time?

The initial shared understanding between Design and Product was that the existing design and front-end frameworks were immature and costly to maintain. But we also realized any significant change could have a big impact on our customers’ workflows and other connected product areas. So we teamed up with our engineering team to clear the path for our design discovery. We specifically focused on analyzing existing structures and identified feasibility adversaries of possible solutions. Shipping the Contracting Suite 2.0 MVP upon the old code base and design structure would only solve a handful of low-level usability issues where we will eventually hit the bottleneck again very soon. Incremental iterations would not solve platform-level design and tech debts effectively enough to support our growth. This team-wide alignment shredded lights on our design strategy:  

Focus on Quality and Customer Delight

We have to improve usability to deliver great user value to retain existing customers and help onboard prospects.

Create Inclusive Experience for All

Improving the collaborator experience will benefit the proficiency of both Owners & GCs. It will also prime a foundation for HB to penetrate the untapped GC market.

Design for the Future

Optimize flexibility and scalability to support various customer workflows and the expansion of the product.

Establish Benchmark UX for the Entire Platform

Raise the bar and set an example for the entire product.

Honest Buildings Contracting Suite 2.0


Reliable and Trustworthy 

Swift data entry and access are enabled by an easy-to-use interface that requires a low learning curve. A concrete platform that helps project management teams succeed in the complex contracting process with peace of mind and confidence.


Fosters True Partnership and Collaboration  

Same consistent experience now available to GC users for easy data entry and effective communication with Owners. A win-win solution not only helps the Owners centralize their contracting workflows but also helps GCs to get rid of the mundane invoicing process and get paid much quicker.


Clarity is Gold

Accurate and most up-to-date project information and actionable items offer optimal clarity to both Owners and GCs. Key project approval decisions happen in one place that is transparent to all parties.


Access Whenever, Wherever

Optimized responsive mobile experience for the field teams and those who need quick project access on the go.

Result & Impact

Even though we conducted thorough usability testings internally and with a wide range of users, we wanted to continuously identify any shortcomings of the design while getting the new experience to our customers’ hands quickly. We launched our Beta program in August 2018 to selected customers and fully launched the brand new Contracting Suite in late September 2018.

The new contracting experience is regarded as the new standard and baseline of our commitment to drive a “consumer-grade experience” to our CRE industry users. As of Jan 10, 2019, over 1 Billion new capital and projects are conducted through the new Contracting Suite, while over 20 billion accumulated capital and projects are managed under this new flagship product.