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RE: [agile-usability] Role of UCD in agile processes

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  • Hugh Beyer
    Oops-I think you re misunderstanding me. Contextual Design certainly doesn t expect a completed design-it s often used to generate the product concept. And I
    Message 1 of 17 , Jan 26, 2005
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      Oops—I think you’re misunderstanding me. Contextual Design certainly doesn’t expect a completed design—it’s often used to generate the product concept.

       

      And I know that usability people have understood for years that they must be involved up-front in order for their work to have much impact—otherwise you’re just changing the icing on the cake.

       

      What got me was realizing that as soon as you become part of an agile customer team, you’re really not a usability person at all anymore. Your training may well give you a powerful mindset, but your role is to be the customer voice. And that requires a deep understanding of the user’s work practice, of rational design, and also of usability issues. Usability folks who walk into this role without realizing this are likely to be surprised.

       

                  Hugh

       

       


      From: Gary F [mailto:gfyho@...]
      Sent: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 10:47 AM
      To: agile-usability@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: Re: [agile-usability] Role of UCD in agile processes

       


      --- Hugh Beyer < beyer@... > wrote:

      ...
      > require that you behave not as a usability person, looking at a completed
      > design and searching for holes but that you operate as a
      > designer--conceptualizing the work of the users, thinking about a design
      > response and organizing that response into screens and interfaces.

      I'm really surprised to see you putting it that way, but perhaps I'm missing something.  I never
      perceived contextual design as requiring one start with a completed design.  It often works that
      way because so many projects wait until after they've done an amateur design before bringing in
      professional usability people.  Is it just that so many of your clients operate in that mode that
      you've started taking it for granted?  Or am I misunderstanding you?

      Gary

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    • Ron Vutpakdi
      ... be the ... Possibly being a little nitpicky here, but I don t agree that a usability person should have the role of being the customer s voice. The
      Message 2 of 17 , Jan 26, 2005
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        --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, Hugh Beyer <beyer@i...> wrote:
        >
        > What got me was realizing that as soon as you become part of an agile
        > customer team, you're really not a usability person at all anymore. Your
        > training may well give you a powerful mindset, but your role is to
        be the
        > customer voice.

        Possibly being a little nitpicky here, but I don't agree that a
        "usability person" should have the role of being the "customer's
        voice." The customer and the user aren't the same thing. The
        customer is the fellow buying the system, but the user is the poor
        sucker who has to use it, and the two often aren't the same person.
        The "usability person" has to know about the customer and her
        needs/position/motivation, but the user is the one the "usability
        person" represents.

        Even if the customer and the user are the same person, being the
        "user's voice" is a rather risky proposition. I see usability people
        as user *advocates* who have a deep understanding of the users and
        push for things on their behalf but also know that, in the end, the
        only person who can speak for the user properly is the user himself.
        Thus, the importance of having real users involved in the process if
        possible.

        >And that requires a deep understanding of the user's work
        > practice, of rational design, and also of usability issues.
        Usability folks
        > who walk into this role without realizing this are likely to be
        surprised.

        I believe that most usability folks who are really involved throughout
        the entire process (rather than tacked on at the end), *will* know
        that the need to understand the user's work practice and usability
        issues.

        Whether or not they also need to be good interaction designers depends
        on the person and team make up (more usability and design mature
        organizations usually separate the interaction design and
        usability/human factors roles (and then pair two+ people on the same
        team). Whether or not a "usability person" can be a good interaction
        designer is also in considerable doubt by some very vocal interaction
        designers.

        Ron
      • Gary F
        ... Now I get you. The same is often true for QA people, whether or not the team is agile. I guess I m so used it that I take it for granted. This may seem
        Message 3 of 17 , Jan 27, 2005
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          --- Hugh Beyer <beyer@...> wrote:
          >
          > What got me was realizing that as soon as you become part of an agile
          > customer team, you're really not a usability person at all anymore. Your
          > training may well give you a powerful mindset, but your role is to be the
          > customer voice. And that requires a deep understanding of the user's work

          Now I get you. The same is often true for QA people, whether or not the team is agile. I guess
          I'm so used it that I take it for granted.

          This may seem anomalous to some, but it's not that usability and QA people are usurping the users'
          role. Rather, in the ideal situation, all of the team members should be able to expess the voice
          of the customer. Since few teams are there yet, it is those who are closest to the users who fill
          it most.

          Gary


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        • Gary F
          ... What you re saying it perfectly true, but not withstanding the horror stories that get all the attention, in reality the goals are in alignment. No
          Message 4 of 17 , Jan 27, 2005
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            --- Ron Vutpakdi <vutpakdi@...> wrote:

            > Possibly being a little nitpicky here, but I don't agree that a
            > "usability person" should have the role of being the "customer's
            > voice." The customer and the user aren't the same thing. The
            > customer is the fellow buying the system, but the user is the poor
            > sucker who has to use it, and the two often aren't the same person.

            What you're saying it perfectly true, but not withstanding the horror stories that get all the
            attention, in reality the goals are in alignment. No manager wants to be told that his employees
            have become less productive because they can't use the new software. Also, the division is often
            even more complex. A database system has to satisfy the manager funding it, the sysadmin
            installing it, the DBA managing it, the security person auditing it, the developers building
            systems that use it, and the ISVs building tools to help those developers.

            So rather than trying to be totally precise all the time, it's just easier to use whichever of the
            two terms feels right at the time, and only raise this distinction when necessary. I'm not sure
            whether it's necessary on a public forum; I think the concept is well known and doesn't need
            frequent repetition, but I can't back that up.

            >
            > Even if the customer and the user are the same person, being the
            > "user's voice" is a rather risky proposition. I see usability people
            > as user *advocates* who have a deep understanding of the users and

            "User advocate" and "voice of the user" mean the same thing. The term "voice of the user" is
            jargon; a real user on the team is called the user, not the voice of the user.

            > push for things on their behalf but also know that, in the end, the
            > only person who can speak for the user properly is the user himself.
            > Thus, the importance of having real users involved in the process if
            > possible.

            The conclusion is certainly correct, but I don't agree with the premise. Indeed, much of the
            motivation for contextual inquiry is that users aren't very good at observing their own behavior,
            they lack a certain objectivity, and they often lack the vocabulary to express all of their needs
            effectively.

            As far as usability is concerned, both are necessary to get a proper understanding.

            >
            > Whether or not they also need to be good interaction designers depends
            > on the person and team make up (more usability and design mature
            > organizations usually separate the interaction design and
            > usability/human factors roles (and then pair two+ people on the same
            > team). Whether or not a "usability person" can be a good interaction
            > designer is also in considerable doubt by some very vocal interaction
            > designers.

            This may be just semantics, but while many people make this distinction, many others don't.
            Another way of looking at it is that someone who can only do one or the other is a specialist in a
            particular aspect of usability, while someone who can do both is a usability expert. The
            usability team, whether one person or many, does best when both skills are present.

            The important points here are that one needs to be alert to the different usages of the terms when
            communicating with people outside your group, and in particular, one needs to examine specific
            skills when hiring a usability person. "Interaction designer" usually isn't ambiguous, but
            "usability person" usually is.

            Gary



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          • Jeff Patton
            ... news flash ... realized is ... require a ... I regret creating this list with the name agile-usability... I d just came back from the UPA conference last
            Message 5 of 17 , Jan 27, 2005
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              --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Hugh Beyer" <beyer@i...>
              wrote:
              > Hey guys -- I was reading old notes to this list and had a sudden
              news flash
              > which is maybe obvious to everyone else, but maybe not -- what I
              realized is
              > that being a usability person on an agile product is going to
              require a
              > total change in your thinking.
              ...
              > Now it's out
              > front--you aren't a usability person anymore, you're something else.
              >
              > Or am I out to lunch?

              I regret creating this list with the name agile-usability... I'd just
              came back from the UPA conference last year, and it seemed like most
              folks there were comfortable referring to themselves as usability
              people. I'm now seeing design - specifically user centered design,
              interaction design, and user interface design as the big hole to be
              plugged, and the activity that the usability people[?] are busy doing
              on agile projects.

              A few weeks ago I put out links to the stuff I'm working on. One big
              point I'm trying to make is the /when/ you do things on agile
              projects matters alot. Early discussions about UCD stuff on agile
              projects dealt with the concern that doing design work took too much
              time. That sort of thinking is wrong IMHO. I believe it operates
              under the assumption that /all or most of/ the work is done up front -
              so therefore our biggest challenge is figuring out how to do it
              faster. [I kinda bristled at the title "Rapid Contextual Design" for
              that reason.]

              It's my experience that UCD /stuff/ by stuff I mean researching,
              modeling, prototyping, testing, doesn't generally take too much
              time. The agile projects I've been on really do have the time...
              it's the _timing_ that's an issue. Some research and modeling needs
              to be done ahead of release planning. Some decisions about workflow
              and navigation structure should be made ahead of iteration planning.
              UI prototyping should be ahead of storywriting. UI prototyping
              doesn't need to be all completed before any code is written.
              Navigation and workflow can change a bit at each iteration as we
              learn more and functionality is added or changed. Models and
              features can change periodically during and after releases as we get
              feedback from using and testing the software we're building.

              Basically, do all the same UCD stuff - just synchronize it with your
              agile lifecycle.

              And, Hugh - to where your original comments were going, I see UCD
              people as designers working in step with development, coaching
              customers, developers, and business people. The usability thing is a
              part of that that usually comes a bit later. And as to your change
              in thinking comment - I find that whole projects become user
              centered. This sort of thinking permeates every activity. Does that
              square with your observations on your current projects?

              Thanks for your post!

              -Jeff
            • Ron Vutpakdi
              ... horror stories that get all the ... I disgree. The goals may be in alignment, but, there are often enough times ( which aren t edge case horror stories)
              Message 6 of 17 , Jan 27, 2005
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                --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, Gary F <gfyho@y...> wrote:
                > > The customer and the user aren't the same thing. The
                > > customer is the fellow buying the system, but the user is the poor
                > > sucker who has to use it, and the two often aren't the same person.
                >
                > What you're saying it perfectly true, but not withstanding the
                horror stories that get all the
                > attention, in reality the goals are in alignment.

                I disgree. The goals may be in alignment, but, there are often enough
                times ( which aren't edge case horror stories) when the two groups'
                goals aren't in alignment that there are benefits to being precise
                about the terms (if only internally within the team).

                For example, one of our "customers" at one of our biggest clients is
                an expert user who has a marked tendency to demand lots of knobs to
                tweak algorithmic parameters and the inclusion of his
                algorithms/models in spite of the fact that those knobs and algorithms
                would only be of likely interest to him and the other 2-5% of the
                eventual users. The remaining 95-97% would be quite happy without the
                knobs if it meant a simpler, cleaner interface (since they wouldn't
                use the knobs anyway).

                Yes, there are times when the terms can be interchangeable, but also
                often enough times when doing so without consideration is unwise.

                >
                > The important points here are that one needs to be alert to the
                different usages of the terms when
                > communicating with people outside your group, and in particular, one
                needs to examine specific
                > skills when hiring a usability person. "Interaction designer"
                usually isn't ambiguous, but
                > "usability person" usually is.

                I agree that term usage has to take into consideration the audience
                (language usability? ;-). Tell a group of developers or typical
                management that you're bringing in a usability specialist and a
                usability person, no problem and quite appropriate. Address a meeting
                of visual designers or interaction designers as "usability
                specialists," and you've just started on the wrong foot.

                Part of the reason that I bring up this point is that I'm on an
                interaction design list where threads concerning usability folks come
                up every few months which quickly degenerate into "usability folks
                don't know design and shouldn't be allowed to do design" at best and
                "usability folks are completely useless idiots" at worst.

                Ron
              • Gary Macomber
                Hi, Was just reflecting on this after the past week. For the first time in my career I had to convince folks to let me do more than just design. It took me 2
                Message 7 of 17 , Jan 29, 2005
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                  Hi,

                  Was just reflecting on this after the past week. For
                  the first time in my career I had to convince folks to
                  let me do more than just design. It took me 2 days to
                  get everyone to agree that usability testing was
                  important! My prior experience is more like what Hugh
                  describes though...

                  gary

                  --- Hugh Beyer <beyer@...> wrote:


                  ---------------------------------
                  Hey guys -- I was reading old notes to this list and
                  had a sudden news flash
                  which is maybe obvious to everyone else, but maybe not
                  -- what I realized is
                  that being a usability person on an agile product is
                  going to require a
                  total change in your thinking. Presumably, you're
                  there to help implement
                  the customer role--be the customer voice on the team.
                  But that's going to
                  require that you behave not as a usability person,
                  looking at a completed
                  design and searching for holes but that you operate as
                  a
                  designer--conceptualizing the work of the users,
                  thinking about a design
                  response and organizing that response into screens and
                  interfaces.

                  Usability people have known from just about day one
                  that they had to do such
                  things, of course. But the placement of usability
                  after development produces
                  something to test meant that the problem was somewhat
                  hidden. Now it's out
                  front--you aren't a usability person anymore, you're
                  something else.

                  Or am I out to lunch?

                  Hugh



                  Hugh R. Beyer
                  CTO, InContext
                  2352 Main St., suite 302
                  Concord, MA 01742

                  978-823-0105 x122
                  beyer@...






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                • Hugh Beyer
                  _____ From: Ron Vutpakdi [mailto:vutpakdi@acm.org] Sent: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 3:54 PM To: agile-usability@yahoogroups.com Subject: [agile-usability] Re:
                  Message 8 of 17 , Jan 30, 2005
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                    From: Ron Vutpakdi [mailto:vutpakdi@...]
                    Sent: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 3:54 PM
                    To: agile-usability@yahoogroups.com
                    Subject: [agile-usability] Re: Role of UCD in agile processes

                     


                    --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, Hugh Beyer <beyer@i...> wrote:
                    >
                    > What got me was realizing that as soon as you become part of an agile
                    > customer team, you're really not a usability person at all anymore. Your
                    > training may well give you a powerful mindset, but your role is to
                    be the
                    > customer voice.

                    Possibly being a little nitpicky here, but I don't agree that a
                    "usability person" should have the role of being the "customer's
                    voice."  The customer and the user aren't the same thing.  The
                    customer is the fellow buying the system, but the user is the poor
                    sucker who has to use it, and the two often aren't the same person.
                    The "usability person" has to know about the customer and her
                    needs/position/motivation, but the user is the one the "usability
                    person" represents.

                     

                    No argument on content. I’m using “customer” in the Total Quality sense of everyone who depends on the system—direct and indirect users, buyers, etc.

                     

                    Hugh

                     

                  • Hugh Beyer
                    _____ From: Jeff Patton [mailto:jpatton@acm.org] Sent: Thursday, January 27, 2005 2:57 PM To: agile-usability@yahoogroups.com Subject: [agile-usability] Re:
                    Message 9 of 17 , Jan 30, 2005
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                      From: Jeff Patton [mailto:jpatton@...]
                      Sent: Thursday, January 27, 2005 2:57 PM
                      To: agile-usability@yahoogroups.com
                      Subject: [agile-usability] Re: Role of UCD in agile processes

                       

                      ·        
                      --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Hugh Beyer" <beyer@i...>
                      wrote:
                      > Hey guys -- I was reading old notes to this list and had a sudden
                      news flash
                      > which is maybe obvious to everyone else, but maybe not -- what I
                      realized is
                      > that being a usability person on an agile product is going to
                      require a
                      > total change in your thinking.
                      ...
                      > Now it's out
                      > front--you aren't a usability person anymore, you're something else.
                      >
                      > Or am I out to lunch?

                      I regret creating this list with the name agile-usability... I'd just
                      came back from the UPA conference last year, and it seemed like most
                      folks there were comfortable referring to themselves as usability
                      people.  I'm now seeing design - specifically user centered design,
                      interaction design, and user interface design as the big hole to be
                      plugged, and the activity that the usability people[?] are busy doing
                      on agile projects.

                      A few weeks ago I put out links to the stuff I'm working on.  One big
                      point I'm trying to make is the /when/ you do things on agile
                      projects matters alot.  Early discussions about UCD stuff on agile
                      projects dealt with the concern that doing design work took too much
                      time.  That sort of thinking is wrong IMHO.  I believe it operates
                      under the assumption that /all or most of/ the work is done up front -
                      so therefore our biggest challenge is figuring out how to do it
                      faster.  [I kinda bristled at the title "Rapid Contextual Design" for
                      that reason.] 

                      It's my experience that UCD /stuff/ by stuff I mean researching,
                      modeling, prototyping, testing, doesn't generally take too much
                      time.  The agile projects I've been on really do have the time...
                      it's the _timing_ that's an issue.  Some research and modeling needs
                      to be done ahead of release planning.  Some decisions about workflow
                      and navigation structure should be made ahead of iteration planning. 
                      UI prototyping should be ahead of storywriting.  UI prototyping
                      doesn't need to be all completed before any code is written. 
                      Navigation and workflow can change a bit at each iteration as we
                      learn more and functionality is added or changed.  Models and
                      features can change periodically during and after releases as we get
                      feedback from using and testing the software we're building. 

                      Basically, do all the same UCD stuff - just synchronize it with your
                      agile lifecycle.

                      And, Hugh - to where your original comments were going, I see UCD
                      people as designers working in step with development, coaching
                      customers, developers, and business people.  The usability thing is a
                      part of that that usually comes a bit later.  And as to your change
                      in thinking comment - I find that whole projects become user
                      centered.  This sort of thinking permeates every activity.  Does that
                      square with your observations on your current projects?

                      My favorite story about this... on a project some years ago, we were working with a customer/UI design/user experience design team that interfaced with a development team in a very XP-ish kind of way, though it was not an XP project. After some time—enough time for everyone to get comfortable with the new roles—one of the developers on the user team came to us and said he was planning to go back to development. We were all worried and asked what was wrong and why he wasn’t happy. His response was, “I’m very happy but I like developing. Now that I’ve seen what you’re doing I know I can trust your process. So if you come and tell me to paint it purple, I’ll paint it purple because I’ll know you have a good reason for it.”

                      Moral being that the whole team may become user-centered in attitude—but part of that is knowing when to listen to the parts of the team that are more in contact with the user than you are. This is being duplicated in teams we’re working with now—the developers are getting to the point where they prefer to come to our folks rather than make off-the-cuff design decisions because they know we’ve got the closer user contact. Which—to bring the conversation back to XP—is as it should be.

                                  Hugh

                    • Jeff Patton
                      ... were working ... interfaced with a ... XP ... comfortable with ... said he ... asked what ... happy but I ... trust ... paint it ... attitude-but ... that
                      Message 10 of 17 , Feb 1, 2005
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                        --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Hugh Beyer" <beyer@i...>
                        wrote:
                        > My favorite story about this... on a project some years ago, we
                        were working
                        > with a customer/UI design/user experience design team that
                        interfaced with a
                        > development team in a very XP-ish kind of way, though it was not an
                        XP
                        > project. After some time-enough time for everyone to get
                        comfortable with
                        > the new roles-one of the developers on the user team came to us and
                        said he
                        > was planning to go back to development. We were all worried and
                        asked what
                        > was wrong and why he wasn't happy. His response was, "I'm very
                        happy but I
                        > like developing. Now that I've seen what you're doing I know I can
                        trust
                        > your process. So if you come and tell me to paint it purple, I'll
                        paint it
                        > purple because I'll know you have a good reason for it."
                        >
                        > Moral being that the whole team may become user-centered in
                        attitude-but
                        > part of that is knowing when to listen to the parts of the team
                        that are
                        > more in contact with the user than you are. This is being
                        duplicated in
                        > teams we're working with now-the developers are getting to the
                        point where
                        > they prefer to come to our folks rather than make off-the-cuff
                        design
                        > decisions because they know we've got the closer user contact.
                        Which-to
                        > bring the conversation back to XP-is as it should be.
                        >

                        I've seen that play out as well - sort of. By injecting teams with
                        user profiles and task models - UCD artifacts and thinking, and
                        publicly using those to make design decisions developers [and
                        analysts and users] learn that design decisions aren't really made
                        off the cuff. They're informed decisions. I observe two resulting
                        behaviors: as you describe, developers and others trust the design
                        process more and seek out designers for specific advice; or,
                        alternatively, developers and others use the models to start making
                        some informed decisions on their own.

                        I've always been pushing for developers and others to gain that
                        understanding so they can make day to day decisions on their own -
                        and indeed some do. But more of them choose to defer to designers.
                        Possibly my hopes at everyone becoming a designer to some degree are
                        unrealistic.

                        Have you observed others learning UCD thinking and successfully
                        making decisions on their own? Has this helped or hindered things?

                        thanks,

                        -Jeff
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