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Chapter 13. Projects > Working Smart

Working Smart

When the lack of usability practitioners is acute, a number of strategies can help. While it is easy to get frightened by the magnitude of the problem and frantically try to do everything at once, this is the time to get organized and plan carefully. Staying up late on the project just makes you inefficient; you will have to fix all the fatigue-induced errors in addition to the onslaught of new work. Instead of panicking and working late nights, work smart.

  • Trim unnecessary functions. Usability practitioners can often identify functions that are not needed at all or are at least secondary. It is often possible to trim the size of the deliverable and still end up with a useful offering. In fact, many projects benefit from this trimming of excess features.

  • Focus the usability work on the important modules of the interface. You can apply the same triage principles discussed earlier for projects to the modules of an application, rating them gold, silver, bronze, or tin. For example, you might find that the product display and checkout pages are gold, but there are a whole set of administrative screens that will be seen only by a few highly trained and motivated internal systems administrators, so you can rate the administrative module bronze and not worry too much about it. You can use the same schemes within the project as suggested for whole projects. So, a systems analyst might design the administrative module, with a review by a usability practitioner. Otherwise, the usability practitioner is busy perfecting the checkout process that is essential to the project's success.

  • Use an effective but scaled-back usability testing strategy. For example, it is not desirable to eliminate the data gathering and testing early in the process because they are very important and relatively inexpensive. However, you might be able to test fewer participants or test in fewer locations. If pressed, you could eliminate the final usability testing. This test is expensive and tends to only fine-tune the design.

  • Consider using remote testing. Being face-to-face with users during data gathering offers much value. The nuances of facial expressions can give good usability specialists important insights into directions of inquiry. But remote testing is becoming a viable alternative: Remote testing techniques are improving, and technologies are being developed quickly for the use of remote video. For simple tests, you may be able to cut the time required by using remote testing methods. For example, sometimes you can just send an image or questionnaire to the participants and then talk to them by phone.

  • Consider the possibility of sharing testing sessions between projects. If more than one project is targeted at a given user population, it may be possible to test both projects at once. The main cost of a data gathering or usability test is getting the participants in the room, so extending a test session from an hour to 90 minutes may let you get data to support two programs from the single session.

  • Scale back the number of participants in studies and the number of different geographies tested. You can get some pretty good usability testing data from a dozen people. Testing in lots of different regions of the United States, for example, often yields few new insights. These are reasonable ways to scale back. But do not scale back by using internal staff members as stand-ins for actual users in data gathering and testing. Internal staff members are almost always different from typical users, and their input can lead you astray. It is also ill advised to reduce the number of participants to less then a dozen; it is too easy to be overly influenced by an unusual person who just happens to show up in a small study. You'll also know there's a problem when you encounter the same problems repeatedly.

  • Have a single practitioner work on a number of different projects. This can be a great way to stretch your scarce usability resources. However, remember that this is quite challenging, and not all practitioners can juggle projects well. If you are going to have one person work on many projects, he or she will need to work in a guidance/advice role only.



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