Friday, April 25, 2014

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem as last year. (John Foster Dulles)

Steve Krug and Caroline Jarrett put on an excellent session at UPA 2012 called “’...but the light bulb has to want to change’: Why do the most serious usability problems we uncover often go unfixed?”  

To me, this has always been the proverbial elephant in the room.  Everyone knows usability engineers do great work.  How often, though, is their work actually acted upon?  How often do things fall through the cracks?  How often do project teams pay only lip service to usability?

In a previous life, I once had a little time on my hands … and decided to find out.  I went through a year’s worth of usability reports, then tallied up what percentage of issues our different clients actually fixed.  As it turns out, the client that we seemed to be on the best standing with (they wanted our services constantly, observed sessions religiously, and seemed to “get” usability) fixed the fewest issues.  And a client who we had wrestled with on what seemed like everything actually fixed the most!  I’m really not sure what was behind all this, but it certainly was an eye-opener.

Steve and Caroline (in a survey that they ran on over a hundred usability engineers) found that the major culprits were capacity and politics.  Other issues included changes to business processes, technology, holding the fix for a future redesign, and legal.  Some ideas for mitigating these issues include:

  • Prioritizing (for example, putting easy fixes that have major impacts at the top of the list)
  • Making testing more collaborative (getting team members to observe, debriefing with the team, etc.)
  • Speaking the language of business and focusing on their priorities
  • Focusing on the big problems (i.e., avoiding the temptation to list anything and everything in your  report)
  • Doing the least you can to fix the problem (e.g., not redoing the whole system when adding a help link will suffice)
  • Equating usability bugs with any other kind of bug
  • Putting fixing usability bugs in the schedule
  • Celebrating fixes

I like these ideas.  Heck, anything that would get around reporting the same issue over and over again would be a winner with me.

John Foster Dulles was not a usability engineer, but was Secretary of State during the Eisenhower administration.  Dulles Airport, in DC, is named after him.  As afar as I know, there are no airports named after famous usability engineers.

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