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CHI-WEB  June 2003, Week 4

CHI-WEB June 2003, Week 4

Subject:

Summary re promoting early phase usability

From:

Peter Rowley <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Peter Rowley <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 24 Jun 2003 23:25:27 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (88 lines)

Hi,

I asked "Given that many business owners enjoy product design a great
deal, have you found good ways to present the relationship between
usability professional and business owner that mitigate reluctance to
hand over ownership of early phase design work?"

I got four responses, all of which were quite different, although all
agreed that some clients really do want to design the product
themselves and that's a problem.  I'll try to do them justice:

#1:
- First hurdle for a usability professional is to actually get invited
into the project early enough to do early phase usability.
- If you can be in the right place at the right time to suggest early
phase usability (e.g. be involved in a multi-project contract), then
you can have an impact if you're sensitive to ego issues.  Hold a
meeting to "make sure everyone is on the same page", identify those who
would normally want to design the product, and conduct subsequent
sessions so that they feel that they have made the most important
design decisions and the usability professional has just been filling
in the menial details.
- It's also good to involve key people in an early high-level persona
workshop.
- When you have to justify the early phase effort, using examples
("proof") from prior projects can help.
- "You MUST do this all early on though.  Not only do business owners
(or more often I find, marketing, BAs and
the software engineers) perceive that THEY should be the ones to design
the products, but unless it's nipped
in the bud, they'll also make a strong emotional attachment to it
(defending EVERY nuance, button, colour,
etc), and large barriers are formed when any change is required."

#2:
- Stress to the client the danger of building something without
understanding client needs -- what if you leave out something they
really must have or include something they really hate?  Use the
language of software development: omissions will cause unplanned and
expensive last-minute changes, which may sink the project.  Early phase
usability will reduce risk.
- Also stress that if the clients get the things they really want, they
will use the product, including the features that the business owners
really thinks they want/need.

#3:
- Attention to early phase usability requires executive support.  A
good example is Steve Jobs at Apple supporting Jonathan Ivy's design
work.  We need more top execs like Steve.
- Other activities compete for mindshare with early phase usability:
market research, meeting strategic business objectives, satisfying the
customer.
- Usability tends to get slotted along with QA as a late phase
activity.  The importance of early phase work should be taught in
business schools.
- Usability professionals should try to get into management to create
better products.
- Two references on usability ROI justifications:
http://www.amanda.com/resources/ROI/AMA_ROIWhitePaper_28Feb02.pdf
http://www.computer.org/software/so2001/pdf/s1031.pdf

#4:
- Like #1, the biggest challenge is to be involved early enough -- by
the time the usability professional has been called, much of the early
work has been done, or the client "just knows" it.
- It's often OK to ask technical questions, i.e. do early phase
technical work, but not to spend time asking users questions.
- It's important to have the people who do sales in your organization
(whether they are actually salespeople, product managers, or ...) know
and promote the process that includes early phase usability, otherwise
they will agree to projects that don't include it.

---

Thanks to people who contributed the above responses and I apologize if
I compressed or distorted the meaning excessively.

Peter Rowley
Toronto
[log in to unmask]

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