Gale Cengage Contextual Inquiry Project: Streamline the Concept Development Process

Through contextual inquiries, data analysis and modeling of the process, we as a professional consulting team "FarWestSide", proposed recommendations that focus on streamlining and improving the product concept development processes for their emerging digital products.

Because of the Non-Disclosure Agreement signed with our client, I am not in a position to present any detailed information, including but not limiting to the organizational structure, artifacts, working environment and products.


Gale Cengage Learning is a large and leading digital and print publication company with a major office in Farmington Hills, Michigan. They specialize in products for clients in the academic and educational markets. Some time ago, Gale adopted a new project management process targeted at their growing digital products team. However, the implementation of this process is not ideal.

The focus of our project was to examine ways in which Gale could streamline and improve processes in the concept phase (everything prior to development of a product). While our focus was the official concept process, many of our findings and subsequent recommendations came out of our examination of the actual process that evolved from the mandated process.

Project Management

My role in the team was Project Coordinator. Specifically, I created an accurate project plan based on course syllabus and followed through with members on open tasks and due dates, assigned detailed tasks to members in consideration of balanced workloads and skill sets, and made sure that we stayed on track by providing on-time notifications, communicating with group members and working as administrators of the online management tool and Google digital repository.

FarWestSide Team and Client Contact
Team Meeting

Contextual Inquiry / User Research

Our team, FarWestSide, successfully conducted interviews with 13 employees at Gale who were all working on one emerging product but came from many different departments. We took interview notes taken during the interviews and consolidated them together through onto a single wall-sized Affinity Diagram, a useful tool for demonstrating large-scale ethnographic data.

I participated in half of the interviews, with roles of note-taker and interviewer. I collaborated with my members for approximate two days to gather all affinity notes and organize them into a well-cohered diagram.

Affinity Notes
Affinity Notes
Affinity Wall
A Small Part of the Affinity Wall

Data Analysis and Modeling

We took our interviews and made about 100 individuals models of the organization from workflow, physical, cultural, sequential and artifact standpoints. We then consolidated these models together, which looked at the process and individual users roles from a macro-cosmic scale.

One of my responsibilities was to create 30 individual models, including cultural assessment, flow model, artifact model, sequential mode and fishbone diagram, which covered different aspect of the organization. Then we created consolidated cultural influence model collaboratively. My another responsibility was to create the consolidated physical model, which revealed important physical constraints and breakdowns of Gale Cengage workplace. Two recommendations that derived from my findings in model creation will be implemented soon.

Individual Model Sample
Individual Model Sample
Consolidated Models
Consolidated Models (3 Pics)


We together came up with six sets of different themes made up of 12 recommendations. This set of recommendations will help refine its working environment and concept to development process to a consistent and coherent state, enabling efficient and profitable development of future products.

Our recommendations were crafted with the intention to maximize the existing strengths within Gale. Most of the recommendations are highly appreciated by our client and some are going to be implemented immediately.