11 July 2008

Project management for usability studies

When I was forming user:number 1, I realised that to be a successful business, the company would have to understand clients' business issues. This is absolutely crucial. There is no point me coming in an making recommendations that are impossible for a client to implement. In business, we are not aiming for perfection: we are aiming to improve. Some clients do have the resources to get perfection, but in my experience, this is rare. Most have a limited amount of resources and within that constraint, they need to get the best that they can.

Communication is probably the biggest hurdle. user:number 1 works around this by offering good communication facilities for our clients.

When a project has begun, we record the details onto our customised webapp. It's quite a simple application but quite powerful. Our projects are divided into milestones which we agree with the client. These can be large ones (one may even cover the entire project if small enough), but most commonly are smaller sub-tasks (such as: gather user requirements or complete user testing). When a milestone is completed, our application goes to work properly.

During the project proposal, each milestone will be identified with a person or group of people within the client company. These are the stakeholders to each milestone - those people who have a working interest in the milestones completion. Perhaps it's a project manager who wishes to know when the user requirements have been gathered so they can use the information for some other purpose: or perhaps it's the entire development team who need to know the latest prototype so they can begin designing its architecture. Either way, it can be an arbitrary number of people.

When a milestone is 100% completed, all of the stakeholders are emailed and informed of the completion. That's good and keeping them informed, but they often need information. All our projects have a project key and a password which they can use to log in to the project management site. Here, all stakeholders will be able to view the entire project, download the proposal and view the milestones. Stakeholders can also query us directly about each milestone.

For completed milestones, reports will be available for download and viewing. There are two types of report: the full report, which contains all the information we have gleaned and goes into much detail; and the summary which is both a Flash presentation or a PowerPoint/OpenOffice Impress document. The summary contains only the most pertinent points of our research as detailed by the stakeholders in the proposal. So the above project manager will get an overview of the user requirements (for example, typical user tasks and their relative frequencies and, if possible, marketing information. If the development group will want to know about the main aspects of a prototype rather than the fine detail so this is what they would get.

To me, this seems like a better system than just sending a final report to a single person at the end of the project. Stakeholders can choose whether they wish to view the information or not; and if so, to the level of detail that suits their job.

So user:number 1 is geared towards being an effective and efficient service that integrates with our clients' practices. We aim to be a totally transparent partner to our clients. As soon as we have the details, we work and they get the information they need as soon as it is available. Our job is to take the burden of usability testing from a company - we have the skills and expertise to do the work and we can do it far more cheaply than it would take for an employee to do it. In some companies, hiring us for a medium-sized evaluation would be far cheaper than just advertising for candidates.

If you are interested in us working for you, you can contact us here.
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