617-852-8487 marlene@mpcook.com

G2G Ordering System Design

The Client

G2G is a charity that collects gently-used clothes, books and toys from local families.  A network of 500+ social workers connects them with children living in poverty that need childhood essentials. Once a social worker places an order for a family, a volunteer “shops” their warehouse, carefully selecting exactly what each child needs.

G2G prides itself on tailoring each order to the child’s and family’s unique needs, interests, preferences and size. Good, detailed information from the social wokers is key to making that happen.

The Project & My Role

Unfortunately, G2G found that the re-purposed eCommerce software they were using to take orders did not let them ask for as much info as they needed. Recognizing the need to rethink the current system to better meet their emerging needs, the CEO asked me to step in and lead the design and implementation effort. My task was to research the needs of all users, design a user-friendly system and work with a consultant to build and implement the system.

Research Methods

Knowing that different groups of people have different needs for this kind of system, it was important to talk to each group directly and see their work in person where possible. The CEO and Order Department regularly used the system for different reasons. Their pain points and dreams for a better system would drive the design process. Distribution Partners had their own set of issues. I tried to put myself in their shoes to see issues and identify requirements they might not think to tell us about.

I used several user research methods:

  • Stakeholder interviews with the CEO and 3 employees that process orders.
  • Observation of the order management process from receipt to delivery.
  • Focus group of five Distribution Partners.
  • Examination of order data from the old system.

Stakeholder Interviews

Being a limited group of people, I was able to conduct stakeholder interviews with everyone who used the system internally including the CEO and three Order Department people.  I aimed to identify what worked, their specific frustrations with the system and what they needed an ideal system to do.

Observation of the Order Management Process

I also observed the order management process from beginning to end.

In the Order Department, I asked the three employees how they used the eCommerce system within the fulfillment process. I looked for things that worked well and tried to identify situations where people were working around the system or doing monotonous work that could be done by an automated system.

The CEO showed me how he downloaded raw data from the eCommerce system to create his own reports in Excel. These, along with his wish-list of other reports, informed the output of the system.

Focus Group

We used a Focus Group to gather feedback from 5 of the 500+ Distribution Partners. I asked the order department people to select partners that placed a lot of orders and to select people with a varying levels of comfort with technology.

The focus group participants had a hard time differentiating between the online system and the general order-fulfillment process. Although this was not the point of the focus group, we encouraged them to expand on this line of feedback, knowing it would be very helpful.

The participants seemed somewhat uncomfortable giving feedback on a service they perceived as a gift and frequently expressed gratitude and appreciation for what GiftsToGive was doing for them and the kids in their care. I sensed that they did not want to “bite the hand that feeds them” or appear ungrateful. I assured them that the need to overhaul the system did not come from anything they were doing wrong and that the ultimate goal of the project was to better serve the children in their care.

I could tell from the eCommerce system data most placed orders from their home or office laptops & desktops. Knowing that the old system was not responsive, I suspected they found it difficult to use on a mobile phone or tablet. So I inquired about the appropriateness of starting an order while they were with a family. They confirmed that as an ideal situation and added that they would also like to complete the orders in the office. That resulted in an unforeseen requirement that the system allow the user to have several draft orders in process at the same time. It also confirmed our requirement for a responsive application that would accommodate phones, tablets and laptops.

Examination of Old Order Data

The data stored in the open-ended “Comments” fields of past orders revealed lots of things the Distribution Partners were trying to convey outside the structure of what they were being asked. Comments that came up over and over again, added more info to products ordered or that asked for things that weren’t in the system were a treasure trove of “work-arounds.”

Wireframing and Prototyping

Initially, I created medium-fidelity wireframes in Balsamiq to illustrate my vision for how the system would work. I expected much discussion to follow.

Packing Slip

I started with the packing slip that the system needed to produce for each order because the CEO and Order Department said that this summarized all data needed to pick an order and was the main point of frustration in the current system. I used an iterative process where two people from the Order Department and the CEO gave feedback on several versions.

Distribution Partner Front End

In a parallel process, I was designing the order system as seen by the Distribution Partners. All data fell into three categories: family, child and product info, so I designed a sequential process that first asked questions about the family, then each child and finally allowed the Distribution Partners to add products to a shopping cart as in the eCommerce system. When adding products, the user would be required to indicate which child the item was intended for from a drop down list of kids added on the prior screen. This allowed the flexibility of sorting the selected items on the packing slips by child or category as needed.

Order Management Back End

I laid out key functions and data views necessary to manage order processing. Since our goal was to find an off-the-shelf product that would have some of these features built in and already designed, I focused on what the admin section needed to do, rather than a final layout.


Balsamiq allowed me to easily convert the wireframes to a prototype which I  used to confirm the design with internal stakeholders.

Annotated Wireframes

Seeing a re-imagined process and intuitively laid-out packing slip prompted feedback from everyone. The process did not change much but the layout and content of the packing slip went through several iterations before being finalized. This was expected as everyone had said during the interviews that getting the packing slip right was the key to an effective system. They had more feedback on specific fields in the order process as well. We also ran the front end by a few Distribution Partners to get their feedback.

After many rounds of feedback, the wireframes clearly outlined what we wanted a new system to accomplish.  Once finalized, I marked up the wireframes to include hidden fields, process notes, content of drop downs, etc.

Product Management

In addition to designing the system, I also managed the search for a solution and implementation. The wireframes and prototypes gave me a clear direction for choosing an implementation plan.

Initially, I focused on finding an off-the-shelf ecommerce solution. Several requirements were impossible to find as built-in features and difficult to customize. Ultimately we decided to build our own system.

The end product was built as an Azure Web App with a Microsoft Dynamics backend by a Microsoft Partner. The client was delighted to find out that Dynamics could also be used to manage volunteer and donor data down the line, saving money and bringing their ultimate dream of uniting all of their data on one platform within reach.

Along with the consultant, I conducted user testing with both DP’s and the internal folks. As expected, the testing uncovered some necessary tweaks to both sides of the process.

The final product was rolled out gradually to groups of social workers over the course of several weeks. This allowed the Order Department to master processing the orders in Dynamics and close out orders in the old system.

The product is currently in use and reviews from internal and external users has been very positive.


(Shared with permission.) 

Demo of Final Product