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Chapter 13. Projects > Managing by Project Importance

Managing by Project Importance

Any site or application worth building is worth making usable, but there are differences in the criticality of usability work. An intranet facility that will be used by a few internal staff to maintain management accounting information is just not as critical, from a usability engineering viewpoint, as an e-commerce application that will be the company's sole channel for sales. Under the pressure of insufficient time and resources, it makes sense to do a bit of triage. You can assign a level to each project—gold, silver, bronze, or tin—and then give the most critical projects the highest level of usability engineering attention.

GoldGive the most usability attention to projects that are mission critical to the company—projects that will make a big difference to the ongoing success of your organization. These gold projects must also have a lot riding on the user experience and performance. Usability may be important because there are many users, the users are hard to serve, or the performance stakes are very high—lives or large amounts of money might well be at stake.
SilverIt is likely that the bulk of your projects will be important but not wholly critical to the organization. These are usually not publicly sold applications or Web sites accessed by customers. They might be extranets used to access vendors or internal systems used to track and manage the work. For each high-profile public Web site operated by a company, there are probably ten supporting applications (ordering, shipping, inventory, and so on). While these are not examples of mission-critical usability, usability issues do matter. Usability may affect the ability of hundreds of users in the organization to perform efficiently; usability improvements can limit the need for training, reduce task time, and control errors. Many projects also have an impact on the company's vendors, such as widely used accounting and management information systems. These projects need serious usability support, but they are less critical than the gold projects.
BronzeMany projects do not really need a major user-centered design process. They are simple facilities: perhaps an informational Web site with only a few users, where user experience and performance are not really in jeopardy. (A very simple site is harder to make incomprehensible then a complex site.) It is not worthwhile doing too much usability work on these projects, even when more resources are available in the future.
TinUsability practitioners should probably do no work at all on some projects. Occasionally, a project has almost no user interactions to worry about because it is entirely focused on internal database processing. Some “disaster” projects are poorly managed, have not had usability applied, and are in trouble. You can decide to intervene and try to save the project, or you can decide to let it go and not complete usability work on it because the chances are high that the project will be scrapped. In any case, on some projects it is a waste of resources to do any usability work.



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