Simplifying space reservations at HKS
How user journey mapping can guide improvements to service delivery
This blog post is a submission to an assignment for the course DPI-662 Digital Government: Technology, Policy, and Public Service Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School. The fictional scenario and prompt are as follows:
Your client is the head of Student Services at the Harvard Kennedy School. Choose a digital service of your choice at HKS and do a tear-down of that service describing what is good and bad about it from a design thinking perspective. Also suggest any hypotheses you have on how it could be improved and make a case for those improvements. Write your response in the form of a blog post.
I recently used SpaceBook, Harvard Kennedy School’s online space reservation service, to reserve a room for weekly office hours. This should have been a straightforward task. However, I was denied one day after submitting the request. Why? I requested a room that could not be used for holding office hours! The denial notification email included a guide on how to reserve office hours space at HKS. Knowing which rooms I could request, I was ultimately able to reserve a room for office hours.
The sections below map my journey using SpaceBook, identify issues with the current process, and hypothesize an alternative process that can simplify space reservations at HKS.
Welcome page is not very welcoming
Help contact information occupies a large and central portion of the homepage. Is the process that difficult that I’m expected to contact the helpdesk? On the other hand, Create A Reservation, the primary purpose of SpaceBook, is hidden in the top left corner of the page. (Figure 1)
Clicking Create A Reservation opens a page called My Reservation Templates. What does a template for room request mean? Additionally, why the various types of templates and which one should I choose for office hours? Choice overload! (Figure 2)
Perhaps clicking about will help me decide which template I should book now. This opens up a dialogue box with over 300 words of description that mentions everything other than whether this room template is applicable for office hours. Information overload! (Figure 3)
Room selection involves a mix of helpful and confusing features
I assume Request a Room — Student is the relevant template and proceed to Book Now With This Template. I enter the New Booking page where I can search for rooms available at a given date and time. Interestingly, I can proceed to the Next Step i.e. Reservation Details without completing the Rooms step. (Figure 4)
I stay on the current step and run Search to get a list of available rooms. How do I select a particular room? Should I click the + button, name of the room, or the unlabeled green button?
Apparently, clicking the green button does nothing, clicking the room name provides room details, while clicking the + button adds the room. A dialogue box pops up to confirm the number of attendees and generates an error if this number exceeds room capacity. (Figure 6)
When I Add Room, I have to scroll up the page to notice what has changed — the room I added is now listed under Selected Rooms. Can I proceed to the Next Step now? (Figure 7)
I click Next Step and reach the Reservation Details page. Here I can enter information on the event and department affiliation. Finally, I Create Reservation. (Figure 8)
Confirmation page is useful but subsequent emails are frustrating
Upon clicking Create Reservation, a confirmation page appears where I can edit the reservation or add it to my calendar. I am also alerted that a confirmation email has been sent. (Figure 9)
The confirmation email mentions that the room request is pending approval. The next day I get a Cancellation Report email saying that the room I requested was “not approved for use as office hours” and including the attachment How to Book Office Hours Space at HKS! (Figure 10)
Way Forward: Redesign process around user needs
The user journey above identifies several issues with the space reservation service at HKS. These issues and suggested improvements include:
- Clarifying a problem helps process design
SpaceBook assumes that users are interested in just reserving a room. Reformulating the problem definition to reserving a room for office hours, meetings, or other events provides more specificity. Data on the purpose HKS affiliates use rooms can help design an initial question that guides the subsequent reservation process.
- Excessive choices and information deter users
Forcing users to make a decision after reviewing a sea of choices and information results in sub-optimal outcomes and frustration as illustrated above. The room reservation process could be redesigned such that responses to a minimum set of questions help narrow the options using decision trees and branching logic.
- Inefficient processes overburden scarce resources
An overly complicated process compels users to seek help. Staff members waste precious time addressing issues that could easily be avoided through a user-centered design in the first place.
The following metrics can help benchmark the performance of the redesigned service with that of SpaceBook:
- Time users take to complete reservation process
- Time staff spends on reviews and providing help
- Number of cancellations
The underlying hypothesis is that the redesigned service improves efficiency by reducing all 3 metrics.
It is fascinating to observe differences among services offered by different companies. The two ride share companies in Pakistan, Uber and Careem (the Dubai-based ride-hailing service recently acquired by Uber), accept cash payments in addition to card payments. This is because many customers in Pakistan prefer cash. Consider the following scenario that many users, myself included, have encountered with Uber: user pays the driver Pakistani Rupees (PKR) 300 for a fare of PKR 270 but doesn’t get PKR 30 back since the driver does not have change. Careem, on the other hand, introduced a virtual wallet so that any amount over the actual fare paid to the driver is credited and applied to the next ride. I won’t be surprised if Careem’s virtual wallet was inspired by findings from user journey maps for Uber!