U-M Center of Japanese Studies

Improving the workflow of Japanese Internship Initiative

The Long Story

Problem Statement 

The University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies (CJS) has a long history of promoting research relating to Japan and Japanese culture. Recently the CJS has created the Japanese Internship Initiative Program (JII), which aims to provide
students with the opportunity complete internships in Japan with Japanese employers.

The main issue of JII is the lack of a standard, automated process for managing information and contacting students, companies and other on-campus institutions. Currently, CJS uses emails and PDFs to share internship information and application materials; however, the work is mostly done manually and thereby causes a heavy burden due to its limited resources and number of faculty.

Overview of Contextual Inquiry


The main method adopted in this project is Contextual Inquiry, which aims to gain insight on how a system operates by conducting interview and field observation where the client works. The approach involves four phases : background research, interviews, root cause analysis and finalizing recommendations. The first three phases lets us find out the underlying problems, while the last phase help us generate, evaluate and finalize our recommendations.


The Process 

Background Research

In order to understand what our client does and the nature of the problem, the team conducted background research on four topics:

  • CJS’s organization operation and history

  • Competitive analysis of internship application systems

  • Literature review on email overload

  • Multiple system integration issue

I was responsible to conduct a literature review of email overload in workplaces.


Every interview was conducted by a pair of team members, one acting as the interviewer and other as a note taker, to get a richer perspective and enable keen observation during the interview. We conducted 5 interviews with various stakeholders of the JII - students, internship coordinators and a Japanese firm representative to understand the workflow and discover where the problem existed. An audio recording and any relevant images were also captured during the interview.










Interpretation Sessions

Within 48 hours of the interview, the entire team would gather and interpret the interview. Members would look at the notes taken, listen to the audio record, and deduce key insights. Each key insight was converted to a succinct standalone sentence and written down on a post-it note called an affinity note. We also sent out emails to our interviewees to clarify questions that came up during the interpretation and jotted down points we wanted to  cover in future interviews.


Affinity Wall 
The affinity notes were collected, iteratively arranged and classified into several clusters. After rounds of classifying, notes with events of similar characteristics were merged together and illuminated common issues experienced across different interviewees.

At the end of the process, the nearly 200 affinity notes were converged into four major clusters considered to be the four root-cause problems. These were as follows :

  • Reliance of email for internship workflow causes inefficiencies.

  • The milestone of JII timeline is not well defined.

  • Students and internship coordinators lack adequate information regarding internships

  • CJS uses multiple application systems and does not have control over how they receive the application.



















We brainstormed solutions to solve each root-cause problem first individually and then as a group to explore existing solutions in the market and come up with new ones. The solutions were finally narrowed down through a rubric of feasibility, ease of use, cost, sustainability, time commitment, scalability and creativity. These were classified into short and long term recommendations and presented as a report to our client. The report is available on request.


Overview of recommendations

 Our observations mapped onto the whole JII timeline.


A set of recommendations to reduce manual

processes based on the results of contextual





Work Setting

Team of 4 


UX Research Consultant

Long Story Short


The workflow of Japanese Internship Initiative program hosted by the Center of Japanese Studies suffers from lack of standard, automated process for managing information and contacting students, companies and other on-campus institutions. . 

Skills developed

Contextual Inquiry, Affinity Wall Mapping, User Interviews and Interview Interpretation.


September 2017 - December 2017

San Francisco Bay Area