Improve Collaboration and Design Thinking with Charrette

Hack-a-thons, meetings, team outings — companies go to serious lengths to encourage experimentation and bring different personalities together. Sometimes the toughest part of developing a new product is getting teams to collaborate. When we were preparing to launch Adobe Document Cloud, we brought our product managers and designers together in an exercise called a “Charrette.” has come to stand for the intense period of design or planning and it’s used by city planners, advertisers, software designers and anyone, really, who needs to come up with optimal solutions to a design problem within a limited timeframe. A Charrette carries teams on a journey of design and user experience – from interviewing your user to creating a solution. This exercise helped us take a step back and identify with our Document Cloud users.

We focused our Charrette on two key document issues that were identified via user feedback:

  1. Documents must be shared quickly and maintain their original fidelity independent of the device they are viewed on
  2. Documents need to be reviewed, approved, and signed with visibility and control

Taking these two common customer concerns into consideration, we decided to mold our Charrette into our own design experiment. We allotted a day for a boot-camp-style session and participants were grouped into teams. The prompt (problem that must be solved) was document review, approval, visibility and e-signing. The teams were asked to present the problem of document collaboration; identify as the user; come up with a solution to the user’s problem; and present it to a board of judges. While that sounds pretty straightforward, it becomes challenging when you factor in different personalities and perspectives working in a competitive environment to come up with the optimal user experience in a seriously limited amount of time.

By the end of the session, we had learned a lot and saw some fantastic solutions to a commonly held viewpoint: antiquated document sharing is frustrating, unproductive and inefficient. The teams had six minutes each to present their solutions, which covered everything from Jaguar cars to wet dogs. For example, one team identified with car manufacturers and how engine design goes through numerous document approvals, revisions and archives asking, “How could Document Cloud improve their workflow?”

The end-result expanded on basic user feedback and identified several concerns with document collaboration that could be used to enhance user experience. These concerns included:

  1. The disconnected document collaboration network
  2. The evolution of document cloud technology
  3. Inefficiencies in email as a document collaboration tool for signing, approving and feedback
  4. Disjointed tools in antiquated systems
  5. Mobility

The Charrette helped each participant identify with user concerns as well as understand the ways other departments think and approach design. Although each solution was different, the results came together in a cohesive plan that identified user problems and how Document Cloud can solve them. They also, importantly, supported one of Adobe’s key Document Cloud objectives – to reliably access, review and approve the world’s documents.

For those of you trying to overcome collaboration hurdles, a Charrette might offer some relief from meetings that aren’t producing results. Instead of contention between different departments, a Charrette allowed our teams to experience the best collaboration of collaboration. We also walked a mile in our customers’ shoes and the end result was a successful exercise in design thinking.