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CHI-WEB  July 2004, Week 3

CHI-WEB July 2004, Week 3

Subject:

Re: DISCUSSION Relationship of 'use cases' to 'scenarios', and the role of usability in an IT project

From:

Scott Berkun <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scott Berkun <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 17 Jul 2004 13:00:50 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (95 lines)

Good questions. I see 2 separate things here: 1) What's the right way to
integrate these processes and perspectives  2) How to go about doing it.

1)  The goals of use-cases are in the same ball park as most user-centered
design processes. Despite the differences in effectiveness or in how your IT
group happens to use them, the goals are similar: clarify requirements and
improve the probability that what gets built will solve the right problems.
The fact that they are using use-cases is good: they're already bought into
the idea that they have to do extra work up front to get better results.
You're task is effectively to convince them why they need to do even more
work up front, to get even better results. They probably feel they're doing
quite enough already.

As far as whether it's too late or not: it all depends on how well designed
what's being built is, and how good the customers or the business needs it
to be.  If the design and usability quality need to be higher, than yes,
you're right and design and usability activities need to take place sooner.
But if the customers and the business are happy with the current level of
results, and improving usability isn't an explicit goal of the project, then
no - it might be fine how it is. It all depends on the goals of the project.
If it's not a project goal, then the team's time is best spent working on
whatever those explicit goals are. (If there are no explicit goals, there
are deeper problems).

2) It's worth asking how the IT group came around to start using use-cases.
Somewhere, somehow, someone made a big process change and forced everyone to
do more work upfront than they had before. Everyone probably gave the same
arguments against that they are giving you now; but somehow that change
happened anyway. Every group is different and has different ways to make
change happen - pay attention to yours and know who the catalysts for change
were, and are. Sometimes the support of 2 or 3 key people is all you need.
Sometimes it's one powerful executive. Sometimes it needs to be a grass
roots thing.

Without knowing more details about your situation: the simplest and best
approach is to pilot your changes: pick an isolated part of a current
project and get everyone to agree to try your new approaches on it. Include
a commitment from key people to evaluate the value of these new changes at a
set date (preferably set in stone), with true consideration for rolling
those changes out broadly next time. This gives you the chance to focus your
energy and make the process changes successful (easier to do in isolation
than en masse), and builds momentum towards what you want to have happen.

On vocabulary:

I'd also avoid fighting vocabulary battles. Get them to see the similarities
between use-cases and personas, and the differences/tradeoffs of each. Don't
just talk about usability stuff: include the pros and cons of whatever
methods they're using. Make it a comparison, and not an either/or, right or
wrong thing. Comparisons afford discussions, and discussions afford change.
In this context most people welcome new vocabulary since it comes to them as
part of a broader understanding of something they wish to feel knowledgeable
about (making better things), instead of new vocabulary being used to tell
them they're doing something wrong.

And be very careful with the words "test" and "testing". These words have a
very strong meaning to any engineer or manager - it means verification. You
test things after they've been designed and built. However a "usability
study", or "design research", is what you do early on to help explore and
understand a given proposed design. Usability often starts out as a test
process, a downstream verification process, since that's the cheapest and
least involved way for a functioning team to start involving usability
research (and it fits nicely into all of the other QA information the team
already knows how to process (or ignore :)  - but sadly few usability
engineers recognize that's where they're starting, or have the skills/desire
to move further upstream than where they currently are.  But it sounds like
you do, which is fantastic. I wish you well.

-Scott

Scott Berkun
www.uiweb.com

----- Original Message -----
From: "Nick Gassman" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Saturday, July 17, 2004 4:00 AM
Subject: DISCUSSION Relationship of 'use cases' to 'scenarios', and the role
of usability in an IT project

<snip>

There is debate as to when end-customer testing should be done. Some
think it's during the functional model stage - but to my view this is
too late.

What I'm trying to do is to get us to agree on common language, what
needs to be done when, and to make sure that commercial (including
usability) and IT stuff is integrated into a single project.

I realise that in many cases the way to address such issues involves
'it depends', and that proper comment might involve a more detailed
description of our methodology and culture. However, I'd appreciate
any observations that people may have on these issues.

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