A service design project developed the usability of Ahjo based on user research.
Ahjo decision-making system developed with design methods
The City of Helsinki´s electronic decision-making system Ahjo makes it possible to view administrative City decisions on one platform. Ahjo has unified and accelerated the processing of cases, and it has boosted transparency in decision-making. It has also saved paper and cut costs. But it has also frustrated users.
Too little attention paid to usability
Head of Shared ICT Application Services, Pekka Nurmiranta, started receiving negative feedback on Ahjo as soon as he joined the City of Helsinki in the autumn of 2018.
Negative feedback on Ahjo had reached the ears of the other team members responsible for the development of Ahjo. The team discussed what to do.
Team manager Susanna Mäkelä recognizes the challenges: “Ahjo is hard to use because the user interface development has been process-based, and not enough attention has been paid to the user. The user interface doesn’t guide the user adequately, so users learn by experience – through trial and error.”
The importance of usability is underscored by Ahjo’s role at the heart of City decision-making: the cases of the highest decision-making bodies and office holders are prepared and the decisions made in Ahjo, and the entire life cycle of each case is stored in Ahjo.
“Without Ahjo, the decision-making processes of the City’s highest decision-making bodies would be considerably more complicated,” states Heidi Lindblom of ICT Management at the City Executive Office. Thus, the functionality of Ahjo is a major productivity issue in the City administration.
Help from service designers
An answer to the problems of the Ahjo team came from service design. A service design project was launched to improve Ahjo. The project was to be led by Futurice, a company specializing in the development of digital services, and Suvi Numminen was named as project manager at Futurice.
“We first charted the goals of the project, the context and user groups,” Numminen says.
“Next we studied user needs, user experience and feedback. We generated ideas for improvements in recognized challenges together with users. Proposals for improvements were prioritized and compiled on a roadmap.”
Users were gathered together in workshops to ideate and prioritize solutions.
From survey to solutions
The improvement of the usability of Ahjo was launched with a survey intended to recognize the root causes of problems. Ahjo users were sent a questionnaire. The responses numbered 500 and represented all divisions and user groups. In addition, there were 18 user interviews, which were also occasions to observe the use of Ahjo.
The survey was more successful than expected. “The high response rate and eager participation by users show that the project was considered important,” Mäkelä says.
Next, Ahjo users were gathered together in a workshop to brainstorm ideas for solutions. The software company Tieto was invited to join the work.
“The workshops helped us to sharpen the analysis results. Thus we ensured that our ideas corresponded to those of users,” Lindblom explains.
There were a wide variety of proposals for improvements. The proposals placed on the roadmap to be implemented first were the most effective ones, that is, the ones with a reasonable cost but a big impact.
Agile development of Ahjo
The final report of the service design project was completed in March 2019. The report contains the vision for the further development of Ahjo, the roadmap and evaluation tools. The usability of the system was improved during the rest of 2019, and a new agile operating model was developed.
“We have come a long way in a year,” Mäkelä affirms.
A key benefit of the service design process was that the voices of infrequent users of Ahjo became better heard.
Another benefit was the large amount of feedback from users. All ideas have been saved in the Ahjo control system and will be utilized in the further development of Ahjo.
Nurmiranta assures that the work will continue:
“Over the last few months, we’ve moved from a traditional project management method to an agile method. Our goal is to implement new improvements in the usability of Ahjo in faster development cycles.”
“We will continue to conduct surveys among Ahjo users to monitor how well we’ve managed to improve usability and how usability should be improved further.”
Text by Johanna Lemola