Design of a Workflow-Driven Document Management System


PwC Tax

Date Completed

December 2020

Design Team

Christopher Moorehead   Design Director & Information Architect
Matthew Smith   UX Designer
Robert Tu   Project Manager
Soheil Kia   System Architect



The staff of PwC’s Tax practice use a number of tools to carry out their Assurance and Consulting engagements, as well as integrate with the international PwC network. The central element in this collection of tools was the Document Management System (DMS), a proprietary system that was expensive to maintain, difficult to customize, and increasingly ineffective and frustrating to use. It was therefore decided that the DMS would be replaced by a new system built in Microsoft Sharepoint Online (SPO). PwC’s Design team was retained to design a user experience that would meet the needs of various users across the tax practice.

Design Issues

Replacing an entire content management system for thousands of users is no easy task. With these large transformations sometimes the user experience gets overlooked and as a result user adoption, satisfaction and productivity is negatively impacted.

Design Process

The process involved an extensive review of the existing DMS architecture, as well as user interviews with representatives from each of the Tax practice groups to determine workflow and current state “pain points”. The optimal user flow was mapped and validated, and a future-state information architecture was designed to parallel the user flow, provide an intuitive structure for document storage/retrieval, and scale up effectively as engagements were added to the DMS. An intuitive, workflow-based user interface was designed and tested with user representatives, and the design was improved through the insights gained from these feedback sessions, with the final DMS design being implemented in Microsoft SharePoint Online.

Project Scope & Actions

Our approach involved the following iterative stages:


Validate current-state workflows across multiple user groups and align on a future state vision of Sharepoint via workshop sessions.


Focusing on the experience and taking into account business and technology requirements, design an experience for users in Sharepoint that is articulated through user flows, an information architecture and wireframes.


Improve the designs and gain additional insights through feedback sessions with users and stakeholders.


[The new Tax DMS is] leaps-and-bounds better than what we currently have.

Senior Manager, PwC Canada


Five out of five. It’s user friendly. [The new Tax DMS] helps you do things intuitively.

Senior Associate, PwC Canada


When it comes to experience, context is everything. How are users engaging with the tool? At what point do they make critical decisions? Our first step was to understand this context by validating with various groups in Tax on the current workflow. The groups we spoke with included US Corporate Tax, Canadian Corporate Tax, My Solutions, Global Mobility Systems, Immigration Law, PwC Law and the London Acceleration Centre. We identified moments that mattered and current pain points with the existing DMS.

Future State

After understanding the context we then developed a future state vision of what Sharepoint could do to alleviate the pain points and address the moments that matter. These came in the form of user flows, which are diagrams that show the sequence of pages a user could experience and the decision points a user makes when going through the system. We supplemented this with an information architecture which defines how documents, information, and navigation items should be grouped.


The user flows and information architecture served as the skeletal structure of an experience. These were then translated into wireframes and mockups of what potential screens could look like in SharePoint. Since the US Corporate Tax practice was to be the first to adopt SharePoint, we focused on designing their experience. However, we validated with the other groups along the way to identify differences and deviations.


Continuous feedback is critical when it comes to user experience design. Throughout each stage we held numerous validation sessions with potential end users, gaining insights on what they liked and didn’t like and adjusted our design accordingly. The result was an improved, intuitive DMS created not just by the Design team, but by the users themselves.


We’re... jumping around [in the current Tax DMS], having three or four different [programs] open.

Director, PwC US

Mapping the Future

The user flow diagram displays the complete (or scenario-defined) path a user takes when using the system. The user flow lays out the user’s movement through the system, mapping out each and every step the user takes — from the entry point through to the final interaction.

What We Did

With the current state validated — including its pain points and moments of truth — we began to imagine a future state via high and low-level user flows. These were not-quite-interface-level task sequences which we would use to demonstrate what an ideal future state might look like across several groups.

How We Generated Ideas

We conducted validation workshops with users and with the core team where we showcased the future-state flows to ensure the desirability of our ideas for what a harmonized document and workflow management tool might look like.

Through these sessions, we uncovered a few gaps that we would address as we manifested the flow into wireframe screens.

The Art of Organizing

Information architecture (IA) focuses on organizing, structuring, and labeling content in an effective and sustainable way. The goal is to help users find information and complete tasks in a quick and intuitive manner. Scalability is an essential part of effective information architecture — that is, the capability of the system to handle a growing amount of content, or its potential to be enlarged to accommodate that growth.

What We Did

Based on the user flows developed in the workshops, as well as a thorough review of the current DMS structure, we designed a future-state information architecture that would parallel the user flow, provide an intuitive structure for document storage/retrieval, and scale up effectively as engagements were added to the DMS.

How We Generated Ideas

We conducted card-sort sessions with users to determine the categories and document types that would correspond to their work flow. This allowed us to develop a consistent navigation nomenclature and taxonomy. The draft IA was revised following each user interview, and we reviewed the revisions weekly with the core team.

Designing the Future State IA

The information architecture of the DMS needed to address four main types of needs (Morville & Rosenfeld, 1998).

Known-Item Seeking

Users will come to the DMS to search for something desirable and known.

Exploratory Seeking

Users will come to the DMS looking for inspiration. They’re looking for something desirable but not sure what exactly.

Exhaustive Research

Users are in a process of an extensive research. They want to find as much information as possible.


A user needs a desired item again and is trying to find it.

Interfacing with Users

A wireframe is a blueprint for an interface. It provides a guide for how an interface might look, focusing on layout and functionality.

While wireframes can be created at varying levels of fidelity, they are not to be taken as production-ready assets: a wireframe is a starting point; a concept to guide further effort.

What We Did

Using the validated information architecture and user flows as inputs, we began to sketch a concept for the future-state interface. With the technology — Microsoft’s SharePoint Online (SPO) — having been selected prior to our rolling-on, that led us to utilizing Microsoft’s Fluent and SharePoint design kits to ease realization of whichever concepts would be realized in the actual build.

How We Generated Ideas

We engaged the core team — many of whom were tax experts themselves — before validating the designs in 7 usability testing sessions, uncovering insights about how the designs worked best, or where they could work better.

Simultaneously, we drew significant insights from our discovery sessions regarding the current state: learning what didn’t work enabled us to create something that would.

Content Areas

The experience is comprised of 3 main types of content areas, each represented as separate pages in SPO: users’ home pages, client pages, and engagement pages. Each of this content areas hosts information and links relevant to them (for example, on a user’s home page, they see tasks assigned to them).

Engagement Workflows

One of the most resounding points of feedback identified in our current state map is that users wanted “sign-posted” workflows; that is, a step-by-step flow reflecting exactly what was expected of them, and by when it was expected. This was as true of associates as it was for senior managers and directors; and it became one of our core principles when approaching the design of the experience: just show the user what needs to be done, whether it’s preparing engagement letters, updating TEACs, uploading or approving files, etc.


We conducted 7 research sessions. The feedback was consistently positive. The response was positive, with the majority of participants rating it 5/5 in a post-study survey (with the lowest rating being 4/5). One of the key takeaways was how valuable the concept of “sign-posting” was perceived to be, through the engagement work flows (validating pain points from our current state map). Each participant expressed a desire to see a similar system in the re-imagined Tax DMS, where a user’s tasks — that is, what they were expected to do, and when — would be clear at each stage of the engagement.

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