Unleash the power of mentoring

Cultivating great people is critical to the long-term success of any organization. Pairing less experienced employees with senior mentors is an effective solution to engage, train junior employees and help them discover their true potential. Building a successful mentoring relationship takes effort from both sides. Mentornet provides solutions to effectively match mentees with potential mentors, and support continuous connection and education throughout their relationship.

What hinders the success of the mentoring program?

My Solution

Build the bridge between participants

Mentornet's smart matching algorithm recommends the best matches for you. Open the lines of conversation and get to know each other now!

Bring mentees onboard

Before we set mentees up for team matching, we'll bring them through an initializing phase to help them articulate their goals, and establish right expectations. The results are going to contribute to mentor matching.

A path you can follow

Mentornet builds a guided experience to keep the participants productive and on track to meet learning objectives and goals. Don't forget to collect the energy for your achievements!

Meet face to face - for free

Face to face meeting is the best way to establish a relationship. While acknowledging the difficulty of coordinating schedules, we encourage you to meet, with free food and drinks!

Your mentor has invited you to an activity!

Mentornet has the features to support continuous connection and education for its participants. There are many ways mentors can pass knowledge to their mentees. Keep yourself engaged in the process.


Understanding

To get started, I set up some hypothetical context to help me focus on a defined case.

The Scenario

Megga is a global IT service provider. It is Headquartered in San Francisco, CA, and has offices in Austin, TX, Boston, MA, Washington, DC, London. Over the years, Megga has been using a mentoring program where a new hire is paired with a senior employee to guide her/him through the first period of the new job. However, this program has received very mixed feedback. In order to improve the experience and outcome of their program, Megga has been putting in efforts this year to implement a new mentoring program across all the organizations.

Emily and Noah both joined Megga only 2 weeks ago. During the first week of orientation, they heard about the new mentoring program and were curious about how this would prepare them for their career. Emily talked Noah into signing up for the program together with her. They are now looking forward to their journeys as mentees.

Why did I choose to work in that scene?

I choose to focus on the problems in a professional setting because

  • Many organizations utilize mentoring programs to cultivate their talents. I can see this being a concern of many people. A good solution for this will bring real value.
  • I myself used to benefit from the mentoring program as a mentee. I was attracted by the idea of how we can improve the experience for the companies and their employees.
Define the scope (constraints)
  • This project focus on mentoring in the professional career environment
  • The mentor program is designed for companies, that aims to help its new hires kick start their career in the organization.
  • Each mentee can have only one mentor and join one mentoring program at a time.
My Assumptions
  • Mentors and mentees are voluntarily participating in the mentoring program.
  • It’s part of the mentors’ job as seniors in the company to advice younger professionals.
  • Mentors and mentees can be matched throughout the organization. It’s not required for mentees to be directly managed by their mentors
  • Employees have access to the internet and their mobile phones at work.

Research

Research Methods

Secondary research, 7 semi-structured interviews, competitive analysis

Secondary Research

Shortly after I receive the design challenge, I went online searching about relevant cases in order to gain an initial understanding of the general challenge. After reading a lot of articles, case studies and tutorials, I identified a few common challenges in the mentoring program

Challenges of effective matching

Sometimes what the mentor has to offer doesn’t match what the mentee wants to learn. Other aspects like learning style, personality, background all affect the compatibility between mentors and mentees.

Mentors’ lack of commitment

Mentors are usually very busy, making it hard for them to commit regular hours to the mentoring program. Mentors often feel like “I won’t be able to work it in my schedule!”.

Goal setting for the mentees

When the mentees didn’t have a clear expectation of the mentoring program, it's hard for them to articulate a set of (realistic) goals.

Provide open feedback

Mentees may be worried about making a good impression and can't be completely open about how the mentoring relationship is going.

Provide support and continuous communication

User Research

In order to gain a deeper understanding of the problems users face in the real-life context, I reached out to some people who had experience being a mentor or mentee. Due to the time constraint, I wasn’t able to carry out a full research plan. A lot of my designs were inspired by the interviews with 5 mentees and 2 mentors. To inform future endeavors, I have added the research plan to the next steps.

I chose to conduct semi-structured interviews so that I could gather data on the same topics, while being able to probe into interesting topics along the way. Below is an interview draft that I used to guide the interviews.

Research Data Analysis

From the user interviews, I captured a lot of interesting quotes. To help me analyze, I wrote down the user quotes and my insights on sticker notes and utilized affinity mapping to capture insights.

Persona Development

I quickly coded the data, then the users’ goals, needs, and pain points started to reveal to me. I then developed the following user personas to help me establish empathy with my users and focus on designing for them throughout the process.

Key Problems

After synthesizing the insights from desktop research and the first-hand research, I identified the key problems as follows. My strategy was to focus on solving these key problems through my design solution.

Challenges of effective matching between mentors and mentees

How do we make sure what the mentors have to offer matches with what the mentees want? People with different learning style, background and experience don't speak the same language. Different personality and communication style can make it even harder. Additionally, how can we help them open the line of conversation to discuss their compatibility?

Participant lack the understanding of what’s entailed in the mentoring program

Although many organizations train their mentors, it's still vague what mentoring relationship means. Different people have different takes, and sometimes they can't reach an agreement. It's hard for mentees to articulate their goals without setting the expectations right. "I still don’t know what mentors really do!"

The difficulty of supporting continuous communication

It's a problem caused by two sides, mentors’ lack of commitment (because they are too busy), and mentees not knowing what to ask and what not to ask. Especially in the beginning, mentees are shy and they don't know how to ask for favors.

Competitive Analysis

How did others solve these problems? I went on searching for existing solutions in the same problem area (employee mentoring). I explored those apps and noted down what was working and what was not working. By looking at the existing solutions I gained a better understanding of the state-of-the-art.

After researching the existing solutions, I gained inspiration for my design solution.

Proposed Features
Build participant profiles

Help participants build their profiles where both parties can share their experience, skills, availability, and interests. This organizational employee network can help mentees look for the ideal mentor, while making it easier for the mentors to assess mentees’ background, knowledge and evaluate compatibility.

Help mentees articulate their goals and set the expectation right

Include an initializing process to help mentees discover and articulate their goals upon start. We can then match them with mentors who can help them achieve their goals.

Provide opportunities for mentors and mentees to meet and connect

Face to face communication is the best way to establish a relationship. Sometimes mentees feel it difficult to ask for favors, especially in the beginning. On the other side, mentors may feel less motivated without establishing empathy with their mentees. If we can provide them opportunities to meet using prompts such as “coffee tickets”, it may help them connect initially and get things rolling.

Generate activities, milestones to support continuous communication

It’s very common that mentors are too busy that they can't commit to regular meetings. Sometimes the mentees are not asking questions, either, making progress tracking difficult. How do we prevent the mentoring relationship from dying quietly? By structuring “connecting points” to link the path, I hope to get mentors and mentees both engaged in the program at their own pace.

Stimulus and progress tracking

Many of the existing applications already implemented tools for progress tracking. However, a lot of them are only visible to Human Resource for evaluation purpose. In order to encourage participants actively take part in the program, I’m going to introduce an achievement system that also helps with progress tracking.


Design

Information Architecture

With the core features defined, I quickly designed the information architecture of Mentornet.

User Flow

I then created the following diagrams to express the user flow of the core tasks. These users flows encode the most important user interactions. I will focus on creating user interfaces to enable the interactions identified.

Sketch

I started using pen and paper to flesh out my design ideas.

Wireframe

Next, I executed my design strategy through wireframing. I organized my wireframes by groups, focusing on connecting flows for the 3 identified design goals:

  • Enable effective matching
  • Help participants understand the mentoring program and set the expectation right
  • Support continuous communication and education throughout the process
Hi-fidelity Design
Effective mentor matching
Discover the program – a path you can follow
Continuous connection – mentors can invite mentees to activities
Complete tasks and view achievements
Help mentees set goals up front
Other design considerations
Color Choice

I chose orange as the theme color because orange is one of the commonly used colors for educational products. The warm tone can motivate people emotionally, and thus I hope to encourage more engagement through the color choice.

Accessibility

a. In order to design for universal access, I used Material Design Sketch plugin to check the accessibility of my color choice and contrast

The Stimulus

When designing the stimulus, I was inspired by a traditional Chines saying “It takes ten years to grow trees, but a hundred to rear people”, which means it takes a long time to cultivate talents. I borrowed this concept and use the trees as symbols of “achievement”. Mentees will see their trees growing up when “collecting energy” from completing tasks. And mentors will have records of how many trees they have cultivated, as a credit to their generous sharing of knowledge and intelligence.


Evaluation&Iteration

Throughout the process, I’ve been evaluating my design using my instincts as a designer and user. But I was extremely biased due to the amount of time I spent on this project. In order to gain a good understanding of what users think of the product, I revisited my users and conducted usability tests with them.

My Evaluation Plan

Goal of testing

The goal of this usability test was to measure the success of this project on these following metrics:

  • How does my design solve users' problems?
  • Is the product easy to learn, understand and use?
  • Do users enjoy using the product?
How did I carry out the test

I presented the prototype to users, asking them to complete a series of tasks with it. During the process, I encouraged users to think aloud while taking notes of their comments, confusions, and questions.

Tasks and questions

I prepared 7 tasks in total. For each task, I will ask questions to prompt users to give their thoughts.

Iteration

Iteration 1: "Invitation" and "Invite"

The problem discovered was that users were confused about the "invitation" they can accept and the features to "invite" others to an activity, mainly because they were located at the same place.

Iteration 2 : Make the coupons easier to use

In order to make sure the free coupons are only used for mentor meetings, I designed a "verification" flow for coupons' use. But the test revealed users weren't comfortable with the "invite" interaction on coupons, and the 3 different status of coupons were too complex.


Reflection

Potential Next Steps
Talk to more users and read discussions on the relevant topic.

Because of the limited time, I couldn’t carry out a full plan of user research. I crafted my design around 3 key problems identified from the desktop research and user interviews. The sample I had was small. Ideally, I would aim to carry out 12 – 20 interview with mentees and mentors respectively. Reading articles and discussions would also help me gain a thorough understanding of the topic.

Conduct surveys on specific needs

One of the strategies I had was to help mentees articulate their goals and help mentors specify their interests to promote effective matching. To further refine the product, I want to understand what are all the possible areas mentees like to receive support in, what are the most desired goals, and what are mentors and mentees looking for in their potential pair. The options I provided in the app were collected from the user research and may not be representative of the majority. A survey would be a good way to collect quantitative data about those questions.

Design for the desktop

I chose to design on the mobile platform because I wanted to encourage participants to use this product more often and become more actively engaged. The mobile device is more accessible in term of daily use. But in the office setting, a lot of tasks are desktop-centered. Designing the desktop app can make it better integrate with the work scenario.

Share the prototype with more people

Lastly, any feedback is welcome! I had very little connection with people who used to mentor others. Throughout the design process, I often felt a lack of insights from mentors. For a product like this, mentors’ experience is as important as the mentees’. I would love to hear more about what people think, especially from the mentors' point of view.

Lessons Learned

"I thought I knew the problems"

This is one of the many mistakes UX designers can make. At the beginning of the design challenge, I received the design prompts in a way the problems have been briefly described. I tried to suppress the instinct of immediately brainstorming solutions, and only focus on understanding the problem and user research in the first phase. It was the right thing to do. I learned so much more from my users after talking to them. I gained a deeper understanding of the problems area and discovered another crucial problem for this case, which was “the lack of understanding of what mentoring entails”. This problem was the root of many other difficulties in the mentoring case and was very important for problem-solving. The next time I’m facing a design problem where I think I knew the problems, I would tell myself “think again”.

Learn from the predecessor and competitors

Because the mentoring problem isn’t one of those I encounter in my daily life (I have not used any relevant products, either), it was hard for me to imagine the best solution in the first place. Luckily I was able to find many competitive products online. They were very helpful in terms of setting the baseline. There aren’t many problems in the world where no attempts of a solution have been made. It’s always useful to learn how others solve the problem, and to go from there.