Merry Morse is my guest blogger today. I am very pleased that she is writing our our Users First program.
In her June 19 blog entry, Mary Beth asked "Where are the end users?" Several people responded that end users would not be likely to read a blog on DeveloperWorks, as it is geared to the IT audience, and they're right. The Lotus user Experience (UX) team has relied on feedback from the IT community because you are excellent proxies for the end users you support. For Sametime 7.5 and Hannover, with the focus on usability and revamping the UI, we knew we needed to get input directly from end users. As a result, in early 2006 we began a program designed specifically to get end user input. We call it "Users First."
The goal of Users First is to partner with end users to improve the usability and usefulness of our products. We ask them to provide feedback so we can design the right set of features and make them easy to learn and use. Our goal was to get 15 - 20 partners of varying sizes, in different geographies and cultures, and in different industries. We had some qualifications:
- Work with us for a year and participate in some activity on a quarterly basis
- Provide us with access to end users in a variety of roles
- Let us do a site visit to see our products in real business settings and understand the user's environment and work practices
- On site, let us conduct day-in-the-life interviews, roundtable discussions, and usability test sessions
- Let us communicate the feedback to development to influence product decisions
The response has been very positive. Currently we have 18 partners.
Other types of activities would be through phone and web conference and via email or online survey. They include the following:
- Workflow analyses to understand use of software to accomplish objectives
- Collaborative design exercises
- Comparisons of new users with more experienced users
- Prioritization exercises with suggested features or product enhancements
- Brainstorming sessions to capture new ideas or identify functional gaps
Figure: Our Lead User Researcher, Betsy Comstock, showing a user our new threads design
We work with partners on several products. Right now, much of the focus of Users First has been on Notes. We talk to Notes and Outlook users. We've heard about pain points, making tasks simpler and easier to find, updating the UI, and standardizing keystrokes. We've started conducting usability sessions with end users at their work sites with recent versions of Hannover and will continue doing this throughout the Beta period. We bring back results quickly so designers can make changes and developers can get those into builds - so we can go out and test again. When we conduct usability tests, we create a set of tasks that people in particular roles are likely to do and we ask people who are actually in those roles to do those sets of tasks. That way, we get feedback on ease of use, but also if the design or feature will work for them in their real jobs.
Our Users First program is fairly new. (Any comments about it?) The relationships we've started building with end users is invaluable, as is their feedback. We are confident it will make a difference - it already is. In the comments from Mary Beth's June 19 blog entry, some people said they had contact with users or user groups. Other people had very good suggestions about ways to get useful feedback from end users. I'd like to hear about organizations with end user groups - how do they function? are they effective? What kind of contact do you have with end users? Stories to share? Advice?