The challenge – fit in user experience at all stages of your agile project. I looked at the “IDEO way“.
It starts with observation. Observation should start with shadowing people, taking notes, taking photographs, and taking videos. This stage will establish the overall context for the problem solving exercise. The context will establish the end user as a human being instead of a faceless “user”. The problem has to be framed in the terms of the overall context. Instead of simply focusing on specific tasks, start with end user goals – broad and ambitious goals. These goals should guide the development of the applications throughout its lifecycle. What you shouldn’t start with is interviewing users on what they want. In my opinion, the interviews tend to focus on specific pains within the context of the existing applications. Interviews tend to generate ideas that solely focus on fixing the pains that exist right now. Instead, start by interviewing people who may provide the organizational perspective, and the departmental perspective. Once a broad view is established, dive into observation mode by shadowing the users in their day to day activities. Connecting the dots that emerge through this activities provide invaluable insights into what the users are trying to accomplish. Armed with still and video cameras – even something as simple as a phone camera or Flip recorder, you can start to piece together a picture of the user environment, their goals, their usage patterns, and how they interact with their computers, phones and other teammates.
Once you have had a chance to assimilate all the input, go back and interview with more specific questions to help guide the vision for the new application. However, don’t put the users in charge of the innovation. Solicit opinions on their pain points, but use these points as another source of input, not the sole guide for new features.
Part of observing includes picking a diverse group of users to bring in as many ideas as possible. There is nothing wrong in copying ideas from other sources that have inspired you. However, encourage diverse and outlandish ideas. At this stage, the mission is to generate as many ideas as possible. Don’t underestimate how hard it is to go through a brainstorming exercise without overt criticism. Team may have the tendencies to start debating ideas as soon as they are generated. The art is to simply log these ideas to come back to them at a separate time. By separating the sessions for generating ideas and judging ideas, you can encourage lateral thinking in the first session.
Mocking up everything is the key. Ideas can come to life when mocked up and it helps in the narrowing of the choices.
Narrowing down the ideas
In this session, the objective is to focus on those ideas that are executable and the best ideas out of all the ideas generated in the previous session. This session is where the team can debate pros and cons of each idea and get a collective buy-in on what needs to be done. Involve end-users in helping narrow down the choices. Get the buy-in from the project sponsors and executives at this stage. Instead of just focusing on the screens, branch in role-playing the end-users and how “a day in the life of” scenario might work with the new solution.
Implement in an iterative way and make it a point to involve the users at frequent checkpoints. Simplicity is hard to achieve. Keep focus on the end user goals and demonstrate the partial product on a frequent basis. Solicit additional user experience feedback and plug it into the enhancement queue.