Context Inquiry/Project Management at Menlo Innovations
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    Context Inquiry and Project Management
Partner: Andrea Alexander, Menga Collins, Eden Rassette, Peter Timmons
Tools: Paper(Sketchbook), Whiteboard, Adobe Illustrator

Our project with Menlo Innovations, an Ann Arbor boutique software firm, revolved around the company’s pre-sales process. Menlo's flexible and adaptive culture has some drawbacks: the lack of organization and record-keeping sometimes leads to before a contract is signed, because they are simply forgotten or because no one is sure who is responsible for contacting the prospective client.

Our recommendations were calculated to maximize the opportunities for communication within Menlo Innovations, first by and creating a in place of the old record keeping system; then by slightly of the desks in their work site to maximize interaction among the key players in the pre-sales process.

Menlo is designed to be an organizational antithesis to what the founders see as the majority of software development companies. Their mission is to “end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology,” and its vision is to create joy at every level of software development for all parties involved.

In all things, the general strategy is laissez-faire. Menlo appears to prefer this strategy because it keeps the organization small and nimble while also allowing flexibility and adaptability, enabling the company to respond to changes in the environment, desired clientele, or clients’ needs. Being agile and unique is the crux of Menlo’s company culture, which pervades every aspect of the organization.

However, there are times and processes in which adherence to the company culture and style has become a hindrance,like in the presales process when clients are “dropped” before a contract is signed simply because they forget who is responsible for contacting the prospective client.

Our team was eager to take Menlo on as our client so that we could provide perspective and insight to this vaguely defined process.

We began collecting data about Menlo Innovations as a whole well before our first encounter with our interviewees. The company’ s provided insightful previews to its style and history, and we based some of our first interview questions of the information we found in these resources.

Our primary method of collecting data was with the key players in pre-sales. Our interviews were conducted at or near Menlo’s business location. This decision was apt, as many of Menlo’s pre-sales client interactions occur in the same spaces. Context inquiry also requires us to immerse ourselves in the environment where the interactions really happen to obtain more convincing and worthy information.  

I am one of the interviewers and participated 2 interviews (5 in total). During the interview period, I paid special attention to the physical setting of their work site because it was different from what I expected. I drew down the layout of the physical space in my sketchbook. This special attention paid off later in the whole project when we created physical models. Given that one of our final findings/recommendations was directly relevant to physical adjustment, I was glad to see my effort was acknowledged by all team members.
Sketch on whiteboard

We created according to the interviews notes by group gathering and collecting and then reorganize them in a wall, which is called .

We spent 7 hours in one team member's house on the affinity wall.
Affinity wall
As we compiled our data, we organized the information into categories matching the variables we focused on as we saw fit. The data was then used to construct appropriate models, such as communication diagrams, sequence models, and physical space diagrams. The documents and other artifacts our client made use of in pre-sales were also examined.

Finally, the data from the interviews, artifacts, and observations was synthesized with the insights provided by our various models and diagrams to provide a full picture of Menlo’s pre-sales. Ultimately, this picture of the pre-sales process revealed the actual roles and responsibilities of the individuals involved and how their own perceptions of involvement differed from our observations. Furthermore, our data focusing on the methods of communication indicated that there are opportunities to make the process more efficient and effective by making minor adjustments.
Sketch on blackboard
Communication Flow Model
Physical Model

Original recording keeping system: multi-color stickers, which are confusing.
Improved record keeping board: different color corresponds to different meaning.

By recognizing the evolution of its sales process from a “one-man band” to a full “orchestra” with many participants, Menlo can empower employees with the knowledge that their role in the sales process is significant, which will in turn generate more effective client interactions and more thorough record-keeping.