Notes From a UX Pro Over a Cup of Joe: Talking to a Project Manager About Usability

Louisa Katlubeck


Louisa Katlubeck is a User Experience (UX) Designer at ICS. Louisa is involved with all aspects of user experience design on varied projects, with a specific focus on wire framing new applications and has extensive experience in Usability Testing.

By Louisa Katlubeck | Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I just made it to my daily 10:30am coffee break (the one where I refill my coffee mug, since I already drank my 8am coffee) and wanted to spend a moment to chat about usability/user experience (UX) and project management (PM).

Now, I’ve never met you, so you might be on the usability side, the PM side, or juggling both roles.  Or you might just be someone interested in either the UX or PM worlds.  Nevertheless, I only have a few minutes while the office Keurig works its magic, so let’s assume that you’re a PM who’s ever so slightly skeptical about UX. What do you think are the top three concerns a PM has on any given project? If you believe it is cost, schedule and performance, well you would be right. As a UX professional myself, let’s see how UX relates to each of these.  I should have just enough time to give you the quick  pitch before my coffee is ready.  

Cost

We all know about cost – it relates directly to the bottom line and is often used as an indicator of how well a project was managed overall. If you’re under cost, great, time to celebrate!  Over cost, well, the schedule probably was thrown out the window with either scope creep or lots of rework.  I’ll talk about scope creep next, so let’s stick with rework for now.  Rework can be caused by a variety of challenges, such as not fully defining requirements, misinterpreting what the client is seeking, or working with a client who doesn’t quite know what they want.

The good news is that good design can help you keep your costs down.  Yes, you will need to provide time and money for good design, but the return is greater and you will get a product designed according to the client’s requirements and with user input and feedback throughout the process. Most of the folks working in UX also have a solid understanding of cost-benefit tradeoffs and can make recommendations regarding prioritizing product features.  

Schedule

So, now we arrive at the dreaded scope creep.  We already mentioned that phrase, but let’s break it down for a second.  Scope creep tends to happen gradually - an extra feature here, expanding a feature there, adding a few extra bells and whistles and voila!  You have an extra month’s worth of work and no extra time or money.  Welcome to the world of scope creep.  No one wants to wander into the world of scope creep, but many projects find their way there eventually.   

One of the ways to guard against scope creep is to have a realistic view of requirements from the beginning of any project.  User experience professionals often double as requirements analysts, since they’re trained in talking with people, analyzing and prioritizing requests and have a good feel for which features will be best received by the users.  However, even with solid requirements, scope creep can still happen.  At that point, it can help to keep the “voice of the user” in mind.  What I mean by this is UX always thinks about the end-user and aligns that perspective with any new feature request. The question is, will this feature prove beneficial to the end user and will that new feature be a game changer as it relates to the person purchasing your product in the future, or not? You guessed it - the UX professional often serves as the voice of the user in meetings where an actual user representative is not present.  If you start with the end in mind, often one can avoid scope creep and have a higher likelihood of delivering a great product on time that people want to buy.

Performance

My coffee is almost finished brewing, but let’s take these last moments of our coffee break to chat about product performance.  Most people want to use a product that just works - not one that they have to read the manual for, call up their brother / best friend / cousin (or all three) and then play the “what button should I press now?” game.  Rather, people want products that pleasantly guide them through the steps, with clear and intuitive design, appropriate feedback and a delightful overall experience.  Designing interfaces like this is exactly what UX designers are trained to do.

Well, thanks for the chat, enjoy the rest of your day (and your coffee)!  I hope that I have given you some insight to the benefits of working with a UX professional from the start of any project to balance the cost and performance as well as getting it delivered out the door on time!  Oh, and if you want to learn more about how we can help you with your design challenges, please reach out and contact us, we’re always interested in chatting about new opportunities.



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