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Apply design thinking methods to solve a challenge brought forward by a global company.

Our team's challenge was to explore the future of project management in large international firms.


Designed a digital workplace concept based on extensive needfinding and prototyping with end users. Final prototype available here.


The team consisted of 5 students and I contributed to user research, prototyping, product design and implementation.
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Challenge context

This project was carried out for the ME310 course at Aalto University. ME310 is an intensive 6-month master's level course taught in collaboration with Stanford University which follows the IDEO design thinking process for new product development.

Students from mixed educational backgrounds at universities around the world join forces to tackle highly ambiguous design challenges. Our team consisted of students in Finland and Portugal with Nokia Networks as our corporate sponsor.

The brief given by our sponsor was to explore the next generation of project management.

Research and discovery

As no one in our team had much previous project management experience, we started off by immersing ourselves in the field to answer questions such as:
  • What do project managers actually do?
  • What are their goals and what tools or methods are used to achieve these goals?
  • How does project management differ between companies?
  • What are the challenges of project management today?

Background reading

First, to wrap our heads around the theory and key terminology of the field, we consulted resources such as PMI's "bible" of project management PMBOK to understand key terminology.


We identified and evaluated various project management tools such as Basecamp, Slack, Jira, Asana, Trello and Microsoft Project.

At this point, we had an understanding of the theoretical advantages and disadvantages of different project management philosophies and solutions. Next, we had to figure out how these are applied in real life.


We used various qualitative research methods to learn from people, including:
  • Semi-structured interviews with project managers from different organisations and Nokia employees.
  • Shadowing and observation of project managers to see their actual behaviour.
  • Contextual inquiry by visiting project teams at work to learn how they collaborate.

Examples of insights

  • Project planning is a slow process due to fragmented data where estimates are often inaccurate.
  • Many project managers perceive that people management is the most important and challenging part of their work, yet spend a lot of time on repetitive information sharing and tracking tasks.
  • Employees in large multi-national corporations feel out of touch with their companies both culturally and professionally.

Trend analysis

A key aspect of our challenge was that the solution should be relevant for the next 10 years, so we analysed relevant mega-trends that will impact project management. Out of the many trends we explored, the two most relevant were automation and the evolving workforce.


We wanted to find out what the opportunities and threats of automation are and how it can be used to empower people rather than replace them.

In project management there are many tedious tasks that could be automated to save time, reduce errors and make predictions.

We also identified the challenges of implementing automation:
  • Lack of historical data or lack of access to it due to fragmented systems.
  • Trust by users takes a long time to build.
  • Lack of explainability and transparency of automation algorithms.

An evolving workforce

The workplace is continuously changing and will soon be dominated by millennials and the "generation Z" who grew up with the internet.

  • This group has much higher demands of technology, expecting a consumer-grade experience in the tools they use at work.
  • Meaningful and impactful work is valued more than extrinsic rewards such as money.
  • Increased freedom in what projects to work on is linked to their motivation.
  • Work is increasingly becoming globalised, done remotely and with less human interaction.

Defining the scope

Guided by our user insights and trend analysis, we asked ourselves questions like:
  • "How might we enable people to share an identity, culture or mindset, wherever they are in the world?"
  • "How might we use automation to handle repetitive manual tasks and let people focus on people?"

From our discovery research, we knew that companies often attempt to use intranet tools to connect their employees with each other. However, these services usually have low engagement due to a lack of incentives.

On the other hand, tools that help employees carry out their work are used more consistently. Projects are often managed with digital tools that are not connected to the company as a whole and this fragmentation creates a disconnect between teams.

Altogether, this led to our vision of designing an all-in-one digital workplace.


Starting with paper sketches and flowcharts, we began by mapping out the key value we wanted to give our users and what features of the application would relate to them.

This exercise helped us develop a system-level understand and how the bigger picture might look.
Next, we prototyped collaboratively between Finland and Portugal using Realtimeboard.

We started with low-fidelity wireframes to get an idea of what information was required for different features and what kind of interactions would be suitable. Then we used Figma to create interative clickable prototypes.
We tested with users to quickly learn whether the features were valuable and understandable followed by iteration using the feedback.

Finally, we translated our validated design into a semi-functional version implemented as a web application for final testing.

Final concept

"Selkä is the digital home for people and projects in global companies. It lets employees express who they are and what they want to do, offering a personalized experience based on their data. Automation reduces the work about work, letting people focus on people."


Selkä is designed to be used daily. Employees have easy access to all the relevant updates for their current projects and can track their own progress.

Additionally, they can browse upcoming projects and apply to those that fit their personal goals.
Selkä also contains profiles and a directory of all employees in the company with both self-provided and peer data on skills and performance.

Unlike other intranet tools, these profiles are linked to everyday work and used when applying for new projects. This creates an incentive to keep your profile up to date.
Overall, these features support our goals for employees by:
  • Supporting career and personal development.
  • Improving motivation by giving freedom to apply for interesting projects.
  • Increasing engagement and loyalty with the company by creating a feeling of being connected.

Project managers

When starting a new project, Selkä helps with creating an initial plan and team by suggesting people who might be relevant based on data points such as skills, past performance and future goals.

All of the recommendations have an explanation to help the user understand and trust them.
While running a project, the tool helps the project manager make better decisions and manage expectations by calculating estimates and risks more accurately and in real time.

It also provides instant and transparent reports to customers to build trust.
Overall, these features support our goals for project managers by:
  • Reducing human errors, saving time and helping with decision making.
  • Allowing them to focus on creative work rather than doing repetitive "work about work".
  • Build trust within the company and with external clients with transparent and up-to-date reports.

Results & Reflection

Our prototype is available here (note: the first load time may be up to 10 seconds).

Personally, this was my most intense and ambiguous design challenge yet with many ups and downs.

  • A major challenge for us was deciding on what features to focus on given our limited resources. The main learning of the project was not to try to solve all problems at once.
  • Intensive teamwork with a remote team is difficult, but this project gave us a chance to learn how to cope with it better as we gained more experience.
  • Finally, I gained a lot of hands-on experience from using various exploratory and evaluative research methods that will definitely come in handy in the future.

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