Applying design to craft a product roadmap

Too long didn’t read

My first month on the customs team. I kicked off a thoughtful, and strategic vision for the future of Flexport customs.

My Role

Research, Strategy, Prototyping, Sprint Facilitator

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About Flexport

Flexport’s mission is to solve the user experience of global trade. On my product team our goal is to decouple headcount with market growth via automation which reduces our cost-to-serve clients. My work is focused on internal power users, and providing the best UX for our customs team. It’s information dense, and a business critical area.

About Customs

Customs is the most deep and edge-case critical vertical at Flexport. It poses the greatest compliance risk to Flexport, and is the most profitable revenue generator for the business. We must file customs documents accurately and on-time to avoid penalties, and provide the best customer experience. 
The focus of our team’s work is on internal power users, our customs brokers.

“Any good broker would verify with the data. I wouldn’t just assume.” - Flexport Broker

The end to end customs experience

Design Sprint Prototypes

This is one part of a client-facing workflow we prototyped in our design sprint.

Data Ops drag and drop data entry

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Our User: Customs Brokers

“Quality control is everyone’s job.”
1. Be compliant with U.S. Customs.
2. Clear Flexport shipments in a timely manner.
3. Help with anti-dumping or other special Customs cases.
4. Onboard new Flexport clients (only done by certain Customs Brokers).

1. Often has to fix information incorrectly entered upstream.
2. HTS research and client communication time consuming & can delay shipment releases.
3. NetCHB is slow & difficult to use yet the Custom Brokers must use it for many key workflows.

Customs Data Journey

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Research and synthesis

Doing some preliminary broker shadowing revealed that brokers had a broken workflow across multiple screens, tabs and apps that decreased accuracy and filing efficiency. There was a lot of room to grow.


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  • The customs broker experience is fragmented

  • The classification process takes a lot of time because clients need to provide more info

  • Upstream data issues creates more work downstream

The customs broker experience is fragmented

“It’s not a logical straight through process. So you almost are tricking core to perform with what you want to happen” - Customs broker

Classification takes a lot of time because clients need to provide more info

“You really have to know what you’re asking, if they dont give us information we have to go back to them [clients] probably more than once.” - Customs broker

Upstream data issues creates more work downstream

Document transaction flow

Where we should focus on automation

A framework for customs


  1. Improve quality data upstream

  2. Increase work efficiency

  3. Scalable product

  4. Contextually aware UI

  5. Improve UX and reduce cognitive load


  1. A Product framework

  2. Role-based workspace

  3. Classification Wizard

  4. Automatic Filing

  5. Product/CI uploader

A proposed roadmap

  1. Capture existing work so we capture the data.

  2. When the data is captured we can then build tools to automate and empower their working process.

  3. When the power tools for brokers are ready we can turn these on for clients, thus enabling a self-service customs experience.

  4. Ultimately, we then unlock automation where the client can do most the customs work with a UI assistant and an option to call in an expert Flexport customs broker.

A broker’s business roles will evolve to focus on customer service with automated processes doing the bulk of broker work.

Thinking Big with a Design Sprint, Prototyping and Testing

With product and business buy-in we decided to do a google ventures style design sprint to get to a foreseeable prototype that could validate our long-term assumption.

Would clients want self-service customs?

Building, testing and validating prototypes

Self Classification Prototype

Classification is one of the most costly and time intensive processes for our business. In this prototype we tested if clients would want to self-classify for us with the affordance of help with an expert if they really needed.

Self Data Entry Prototype

This idea tested if we could improve data entry from the beginning by creating an experience for the client to enter and clarify the data they entered. Gains here would dramatically improve upstream work efficiencies.

More predictable quoting

It’s a mystery how much your customs cost will be as a client until you’ve given us your classification codes. This prototype tested to see if we were providing a wow experience for them.


There’s no user friendly way of searching tariffs, I suck it up and do a find through the US Customs long list. This [prototype] is a million time improvement compared to that.” - Client reacting to prototype

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  1. Clients were willing to enter their product data, but didn’t want to add any information they didn’t see was absolutely necessary.

  2. Self-classification was a tremendous hit with clients. They loved getting to know answers immediately to their classification questions, and knowing their tariff rate up before shipping was game changing in budgeting for their business.

  3. Clients wanted to sign up for freight services in addition to customs, a great up sell for our business to move on later.

  4. Ultimately it was clear that customs as a self-service experience could be incredibly powerful for unlocking a much greater user experience than the industry standard. If Flexport could get there first we could capture a huge portion of the customs and then up sell our customs-service clients with freight.

Planning and conclusions

This was my ramp up project to joining the new customs team. We went from a small scrappy team with a loose vision to a clear product direction and roadmap from the research, and vision which lead into the design sprint where we validated our assumptions for the future. This process gave us a common language and context to align and start planning building out our future customs app experience.


Other Projects

Flexport: Designing the customs app

Thumbtack: Visioning Insights