Client: Microsoft – Microsoft Partner Network

Product summary: Solution Workspace is a web app exclusively for Microsoft Partners that guides them through building, publishing and selling their Microsoft apps or services in the marketplace as well as manage any benefits or rewards along the way.

Microsoft team: One Commercial Partner – Partner Digital Experiences & Programs

Duration: 2.3 years (April 2018 – June 2020)

My roles: UX Lead

The Keys to the Kingdom

The Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) has a lot of valuable resources to offer to partners, but the volume and variety can be overwhelming to partners and potential partners. Starting in 2018, our team started to define a new way for them to interact with all of that content, making it easier to do business with Microsoft.

Objective
The UX objective for the Solution Workspace product is to provide partners with the right resources at the right time, based on what they tell us about their solution. The business objectives are to get more quality apps in the marketplace and help partners utilize their benefits and marketplace rewards.
Strategy
The strategy to designing this product was to start out lightweight, only using components from the existing library. We did this to be agile, and to get early feedback without investing too much on new development until we learned more. In addition, I also created an Experience Brief, an exploratory deck with conceptual wireframes to help teams get inspired about the product vision.
Outcome
Our team helped shape and define the overall experience, working closely with the product owner, head of engineering and other key roles. The product has gone through a few major releases and multiple iterations and continues to evolve to help partners successfully do business with Microsoft.

Microsoft has always had a robust set of resources. The challenge has been to find them, particularly if you’re working on applications that cross over Microsoft products. Solution Workspace has really gone a long way to create a central area that bridges that gap.

— A Microsoft Partner

Experience Brief

The 40-page experience brief deck was the culmination of the discovery and research phase and acted as the introduction to the vision for the new experience on the Partner Network website. I worked closely with Microsoft stakeholders during this process to develop key personas and a 4-chapter user story. Executive leadership used the brief as a walking deck to evangelize the product vision and gather feedback.

Beta Launch

To start, we reused components from the existing library whenever possible, focusing only on the essential pages: Home, Workspace Detail and the “Create” experience.

First Major Release

Based on the feedback we received from the beta launch, the design was upgraded to an app-like experience, focusing on tasks and productivity. The design better aligns with Partner Center (a partner dashboard for admins), using the gradient blue/green progress bar, grey background, white cards, etc. as well as other sites across the ecosystem, like Docs. I did upfront UX research on task-based paradigms and experiences, starting with a mobile-first approach. We used Figma prototypes to help show off the new experience.

Next Evolution

The emphasis on the next evolution was on two main business priorities: 1. get more quality apps published in the marketplace and 2. increase awareness of benefits (both company-level and marketplace rewards) and make them easy to utilize. The following are screenshots from a prototype so some features may not yet be in production.

One of my entire missions of coming to Inspire was to find the ‘magic key to the kingdom’ of help with Microsoft. So I went to the Solution Workspace session today and I found the keys to the kingdom! It was the best session I did at Inspire, and in my mind, it completely paid for the trip to Las Vegas!

— A Microsoft Partner at Inspire 2019

The “Create New” Redesign

The existing experience (shown directly below) was designed using existing patterns – specifically, the “Assessment” component. The reporting told us that the page had a high drop-off rate. Unfortunately with the Assessment component, we had no way to do accurate reporting as to where in the steps they dropped off. To learn more, we wanted to redesign the experience but first hear feedback from partners.

In the redesign, we moved toward a step-by-step wizard approach for each section of the form. Having each section on its own page is helpful for two reasons: 1. We can smartly filter out recommendations based on prior screen’s selections and 2. this would help with tracking details about where people drop off. Additionally, the concept of creating a new workspace (vs creating a new solution) is being explored. The term “workspace” helps reinforce the intended use and purpose of the app. Other wording was being explored, for example using “Technology scenarios” instead of “Technologies.”

Partner Feedback Workshop

To learn more about the satisfaction level of the experience, we asked some partners for their feedback on both the current and proposed updates for the Create experience as well as the experience as a whole.

Before the workshop, we asked the partner group to complete a Forms survey. During the workshop, we got feedback on a reimagined experience as a Figma prototype. Based on that feedback along with the survey results, we refined the design further and landed on what’s shown below. (As of September 2020, the experience is not yet live).

Landing screen

The landing screen addresses the top questions partners had when first coming here. How long will it take? Can I edit this later? What kind of commitment am I making? Is this customer-facing? Can I invite my team?

Step 1: Solution Type

Depending on which type the partner chooses, the next questions vary within the steps. If a user isn’t sure what the difference is between the two choices, a tooltip appears on-hover with a description.

Step 2: Technology Scenarios

The scenarios selected in this step determine the customer areas shown in the next step, and if there are any recommended or best-matched areas. On-hover over the selection options shows a short description.

Step 3: Customer Areas

In this example, the Azure and Business Applications customer area sections are best matches. The other scenario of showing recommended content is when a specific customer area item can be recommended (denoted with a star icon) – not shown here.

Step 4: Solution Basics

This is where the partner can enter the basic information about their solution, like the working title and description. Keywords entered in the description influence the content that appears in the workspace checklists.

Workspace is ready!

After the basics are filled in, the workspace is created. The partner can then click through to their new workspace to start building, publishing and selling their solution.

The Solution Workspace Squad

Microsoft has recently transitioned to an agile squad model for products and projects workstreams, where team members from various disciplines represent the “inner ring”. As an agency vendor, I had the honor of representing the UX role, acting as the UX subject matter expert and educator. I worked most closely with the head of engineering and the product owner to balance partner needs with technical feasibility. Da-na-na-na-nan-aaaa … Go SW Squad!

“Solution Workspace gives me a roadmap to what to expect next when I’m working on a project. That gives me a lot of advantage in the market, because there aren’t any surprises. Plus, all the information is fully updated. I can rely on it and build my plan perfectly.”

— A Microsoft Partner

Watch the demo

This video is current as of September 2020.

Results

Recruiting and nurturing the partners who build solutions using their platforms is critical to the growth of Microsoft’s business. The Microsoft One Commercial Partner team needed to scale a traditionally person-to-person process by creating new self-service tools that take advantage of their marketing automation. Our team was there to help. We designed Solution Workspace, where partners are automatically guided through the development process from idea to marketplace. As a result, the number of new partners is growing year over year and the number of apps and services in the marketplace is also growing exponentially.

Key Learnings / Challenges

The key learning from working on the Solution Workspace product was how to work and iterate on a single product. Prior to Solution Workspace we, as the agency vendor over the course of five years, were tasked with designing concepts or updating existing experiences across various Microsoft teams in the One Commercial Partner organization. I learned how to nurture and evolve the experience, working closely with key roles on the Squad. It proved to me just how fulfilling working on a single product and honing it can be! I hope to do more product design in the future.