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Re: [agile-usability] The simplest thing that could possibly be re-invented?

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  • William Pietri
    ... I think that principle is one people often misunderstand, because they confuse simple with easy . The easy thing to do is often to say, make it just
    Message 1 of 10 , Oct 10, 2004
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      On Fri, 2004-10-08 at 17:45, jeff.grover@... wrote:
      >
      > Intellectually, there is a great temptation to say the "simplest thing
      > that could possibly work" (XP/agile principle) is to do what someone
      > else held in high regard (OS vendor, competing product, open-source
      > project, well-used application) chose to do.

      I think that principle is one people often misunderstand, because they
      confuse "simple" with "easy". The easy thing to do is often to say,
      "make it just like X". But the reason they just point to X rather than
      saying what specifically they want is that X is not simple.

      Figuring out what is really the simplest thing that could possibly work
      often takes a little more thinking, as you have to understand both the
      need and the medium in enough detail so that you can pick out the simple
      solution that addresses the core need.

      > And, more importantly, if I'm trying to be "agile"... how can I argue
      > the need for more rigorous user/interaction design and testing
      > (feedback), when someone else has presumably already paid for that
      > (...or got really lucky and got it right the first time)?

      I think of most moves toward agility as tightening feedback loops. The
      best way to get user feedback is to release early and often while
      listening to your users. When you can't do that, user testing can be an
      adequate substitute. Either way, getting frequent user feedback is very
      much in tune with the agile spirit.

      Personally, I think short iterations and frequent releases make it
      easier to innovate, as you get

      * more data -- prototypes are good, but there's nothing better
      than trying the real interface on real people.
      * more design time -- agile methods allow you to overlap the
      design and construction work.
      * less pressure -- when design is no longer a phase, it stops
      being a bottlneck. That means less pressure, making it easier
      to be creative.
      * less risk -- by taking things one step at a time, your bets are
      smaller, which reduces the incentive to chose the safe,
      well-understood solution.
      * better feedback -- because you can find out how you're doing at
      each step, you have a better environment for learning how to
      make good choices.

      > How can I make it more obvious to feature-driven stakeholders that
      > there is inherent value in re-thinking and innovating even though
      > pre-canned answers to tough usability questions seem there for the
      > taking (however false they may be)?

      I think you need to make this argument in financial terms. In essence,
      you're saying that you want them to spend their money differently, so
      you have to show them how that will result in reduced costs, better
      sales, or something else that improves the bottom line.

      William
    • Joshua Seiden
      Jeff Grover wrote: ... a great deal of the usability input we get whether evolutionary or revolutionary originates from or is relative to products
      Message 2 of 10 , Oct 11, 2004
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        Jeff Grover wrote:

        ... a great deal of the usability input we get whether
        "evolutionary" or "revolutionary" originates from or is
        relative to products competing with ours or performing
        similar functions in some other market space. Here are
        some examples:

        "We need a <Fill in your favorite object here> editor
        that looks like <our competition>"
        "Make the browsing feel like the Windows Explorer".
        "Make the web page look like My Yahoo!, Amazon,...
        <fill in your favorite site here>"


        And:

        How can I more eloquently describe this to people
        driven by "industry standards", "competetive analysis",
        "code reuse", and "feature envy"? And, more
        importantly, if I'm trying to be "agile"... how can I
        argue the need for more rigorous user/interaction
        design and testing (feedback)


        -----------

        I find that when designs and solutions are expressed
        relative to another product, it is often the sign of
        sloppy thinking. If someone has thought through a
        problem, there will be less need for comparison--and a
        good chance that he or she will have some drawings,
        documents, specifications--anything--that will express
        that thinking more completely.

        Your examples above are solution statements--divorced
        from any particular problem statement. Try seeking the
        problem. (We had a good long thread on this a while
        ago.) Ask a simple question: "Why?" This may reveal a
        lack of thought, or it may yield a very good answer.
        Sometimes, when you encounter a lack of thought, you
        will find at it's core a lack of understanding of the
        problem space. This is where you may have a good
        opportunity to employ a more rigorous cycle of user
        research, interaction design and testing.

        The potential upside is not "innovation" for its own
        sake, but rather a solution that better fits the
        *specific* problem you are trying to solve.

        Thanks,
        JS
      • Jeff Patton
        ... I can only agree with what s been posted so far. If there isn t a financial reason for changing the software, it s going to be a hard sell. I m hearing
        Message 3 of 10 , Oct 11, 2004
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          --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Joshua Seiden"
          <joshseiden@y...> wrote:
          >
          >> Jeff Grover wrote:
          >>
          >> ... a great deal of the usability input we get whether
          >> "evolutionary" or "revolutionary" originates from or is
          >> relative to products competing with ours or performing
          >> similar functions in some other market space.

          > The potential upside is not "innovation" for its own
          > sake, but rather a solution that better fits the
          > *specific* problem you are trying to solve.

          I can only agree with what's been posted so far. If there isn't a
          financial reason for changing the software, it's going to be a hard
          sell.

          I'm hearing that you believe a usability person might come up with
          better solutions than the "us-too" choices you see being made. No
          offense to the usability people and designers on the list - but what
          they're doing isn't so innovative - not usually. It's exactly what
          Josh has said in his post: it's correctly identifying the goals of
          the user and determining the simplest way to address those goals.
          It's just remarkable how often people don't choose to identify the
          goals of the user.

          Ok - it's really not quite that simple. You sorta need to know
          something about that user and the context of use as well. A little
          experience with a few proven approaches doesn't hurt either. But
          knowing just a little about user, goals, and context of use can go a
          long way at disqualifying "us-too" solutions. The idea isn't to
          disqualify them because they're not innovative - but to disqualify
          them because they're inapropriate... inapropriate for the goals of
          the user, their experience level and the context of use.

          Start with identifying goals first. Ask what the user's goals are
          until you get a good answer. Try the "popping the why stack"
          or "poking with the why-stick" technique. If you really know the
          goal of the feature, you often find the simplest appropriate solution
          is also the cheapest to build.

          Finally, consider trying to make a case for low cost usability
          testing. By that I mean recording users actually trying to use the
          software - using software that records the screen and the face of the
          user running it. There are inexpensive tools that could connect to a
          laptop and be set up quickly - say on a routine customer site visit.
          I've heard from several people that replays of people struggling to
          use software have at least as much political value as value in
          identifying usability problems.

          I understand that if designers aren't part of your current
          development approach, it's going to be hard to explain to folks what
          there unknown unknowns are. And, I suspect others might have
          diagnosed part of the issue correctly? Do you currently suffer from
          lack of competition and large market share? Those are terrible
          burdens on usability. ;-)

          Thanks Jeff G. for posting!

          -Jeff
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