Power Virtual Agents vGPT3

April 2023 | Microsoft

Concept work

Sole designer partnered with my manager, a Product Manager, a content designer, and a dev team.
This project was a super high-visibility, high-stakes project used to pitch a whole re-conception of PVA around GPT3.

What's Power Virtual Agents? And what's it gotta do with GPT type tech? ๐Ÿคจ

Power Virtual Agents is a Microsoft Power Platform product that helps users (generally enterprise facing) build chatbots for their business needs. PVA, with its conversational type nature, has been dabbling in AI for the past few years, and when GPT3 blew up, PVA, among the rest of Microsoft, really jumped quickly at the chance to beat the market in GPT and OpenAI integrations.

Problems ๐Ÿคฆ

There was one specific problem that PMs and developers loved to bring up, which was the time it took to create a "custom connector", and eventually to map an action to it. To put it in simple terms, a connector is an API that someone can connect to to do stuff with, like if you were to use the Microsoft Outlook connector to send mail. Custom connectors were connectors you'd have to set up yourself because it wasn't one of the 1000+ native connectors the Power Platform offers.

Another problem to address in general was how can we really bring PVA up and out to the next level of intuitive and rethink the manual creation of "topics", which are conversational files that hold a linear flow of a conversation for the bot to handle with the bot user. Honestly speaking, there are many many ways where this can be improved in addition to this concept we'd explored and presented.

Goals โœจ

To create a proof of concept for a complete re-imagining of PVA with GPT technology that will excite executives and leadership at Microsoft and also streamline tedious creation points for the bot maker.
To show a bot testing experience that gives clarity, visibility, and transparency to the bot maker of what's happening behind the scenes with AI.
To see the structural change of the product if we fully incorporate

... Er, so what's the deal with this project being so high visibility and high-stakes? ๐Ÿ˜ณ

Around early 2023, the tech industry was hit pretty hard with the economic climate due to the pandemic and surrounding issues, including Microsoft. During this time, Microsoft was going around and figuring out that which products should be dissolved, consolidated, or laid off entirely, with a starting goal of 10,000 lay offs.

For the screens shown plus the video above, I was given only a work week and a half in total of time to pull this work together. Sure, the work-life-balance was absolutely non-exisitent during this time, but believed that the concept came out crisp and clean and as good as I could give it with the short amount of time and lack of research given. It was used as a leveraging tool to allow the product team (and design team for PVA) to continue existing as a whole and keep their jobs. A true last effort.

A few final disclosures before we get into the flow of it ๐Ÿ“”

Some notes on research
There was no research study conducted during this initial concept work (you can probably imagine how much this pains me), but existing research was taken into account when thinking about this concept.

Users are generally excited to have GPT integration in Power Virtual Agents, and overall are curious and optimistic about the integration.
Users and admins enjoy the level of disclosure PVA has been giving them on cautions on using AI, and how to best utilize AI responsibly.
Users and admins would still like a way to turn off AI features in general to keep a manual/traditional method of working.
Users like to feel that they're still in control of information being put out by the bot, and they play a large role in the bot creation flow.

Although this proof of concept is about if PVA took a fully futuristic, full dive into GPT integration, during the feature finalization process, our feature crew will be considering how to slowly ease users up to this final destination.

This is just a proof of concept, not a feature... yet.
There are many things I'd like to consider/reconsider when going through the feature finalization process. There'll be some experience loopholes in this proof of concept.

Content design isn't official
There was help from our beloved content designer, but terminology may be different depending how feature finalization goes.

Ironing out the scenario and concept ๐Ÿ‘”

We had to move fast, so we had many discussion meetings to land a concept and a scenario to focus on. Early sketches and diagrams were crucial to keep the crew aligned and on the same page.

We knew that we wanted a flow that starts with the user asking for what they wanted in the bot. From there, there were discussions of "how much should we show? Should we hide functionality and abilities in a black box?".

Personally, I believe in transparency and clarity for the user so we can guarantee that the user is kept in the loop at all times during any process in a product (also reflecting preceding user research we'd gotten before this concept work). I'd created the two following sketches to help communicate our thoughts and final takeaways from discussions. Sketching the flows is, in my opinion, the best most efficient way to communicate where I'm thinking in the "what are we working towards?" phase, without having to burn time on creating mocks. Notes from follow-up reviews with the feature crew are also shown on the sketch image.

In thinking through our discussions, I also found it important to strengthen the story-telling aspect and the concept overall by including a few screens on what it'd look like to test the "ability" after creation. This would bring the story full circle in that not only is it easy to create, but you'd get to see, as the bot maker, the very ability you just made and how it works and how it's wired.

In the future, I'd love to be able to edit the wiring during test mode, and also want to run a research study on potentially having testing during the creation flow so the bot maker can be reassured that the "ability" that they'd asked for is what they get when they go to finalize it.

Finally, we ended up with the approximate flow to present to stakeholders:

Creation (create page)
Add additional connector (to show ability to customize)
Completion (consider testing in creation flow some other time)
Test the experience

Iterations, iterations, iterations ๐ŸŽฑ

The concept morphed slightly between discussions.

Creation changed between starting as a part of a larger artifact (Seen here as "capabilities") and eventually morphed into the conceptualization of an existing pattern of a "create" page, since the flow is able to create any components based on the description. I'd chosen a banner to host the description since we want to grab a lot of attention for this ability.

Version 1:

Version 2:

Configuration simply changed mental models between discussions. With description being the only option for this presentation of this concept, I'd gotten rid of the selective starting pattern and leaned on the high-visibility entry point in the "create" page. I do believe that in the future, there'd need to be additional creation points, like the new components page shown.

Version 1:

Version 2:

Version 3 (final):

Testing initially started as a details page where you can see the "wiring" explicitly written out as settings, but decided to go for a more familiar "GPT" test chat mode to enter, especially for story-telling purposes.

Version 1:

Version 2:

Version 3 (final):

And bonus, a reimagining of the impact of this feature on the existing components in PVA (the IA needed rework to accommodate this mental change).

Before rework:

After rework:

And finally, lets string it all together!

At the last second, we didn't present the creation experience, so I'll include that along with the final video we presented.

Final reflections

Although I didn't favor the pace we went at, I was really happy with the quality of work I was able to turn around in a short amount of time. I was also able to consider all stakeholders and provide input, despite the speed. I was also rather flattered to have been chosen for a project with such high impact and implications.

There's plenty here that needs additional thinking, like how we can get deeper into the details of the wiring, additional creation entry points, and impacts on the authoring canvas. I'd also like to explore seeing a "wiring map", where you can visually see what's connected to what and see if that's something user's would be interested in.

And, as usual, with something so high-stakes, there's always a challenge of balancing conflicting feedback and wants and needs from different stakeholders. In the end, everyone was happy with the result, project delivered, and PVA continued to exist.