How to create a new methodology

How to create a new methodology

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UX methods are abundant. They don’t always work in the way they are outlined either. In reality, methods are guidelines for collecting data on users during a point in the development cycle. In other words methods are rarely applied exactly the same way, at the same time. Given this, much leeway exists for when and how to apply the methods.

Recently I had a challenge.

I had to support 9 sprint teams covering 6 scenarios and many, many user stories. I am one researcher. My big tenet for this release was to ensure the teams were able to test their designs early and often. Testing early and often allows designs to converge and expand and converge to a product that is closer to what will be useful and usable for the developers who work everyday with Visual Studio. Making their jobs easier and more fun helps Visual Studio be a better tool. Back to my challenge. Supporting multiple sprint teams is difficult because they work incredibly fast making pieces of working software every three weeks. I had to find a way to jump in early and get user feedback to the teams before they built software that I could only validate and make some smaller changes. I wanted to ensure that they had design direction early from users. I also wanted maximum participation from the teams. I also needed a way to conduct these studies quickly with not much overhead in analysis.

I knew of several methods that could accomplish this. For test early and often, any usability study that tests early concepts or low fidelity prototypes will do. So prototype or concept testing would work. For maximum coverage of the teams, I chose to test concepts and prototypes at the scenario level rather than the user story level to get at the end-to-end experiences that many user stories make up. For participation, I used the philosophical approach of participatory design where stakeholders are empowered to give input into design. For conducting quickly, I used concepts from the RITE (Rapid, Iterative, Testing, and Evaluation) method where decisions about what to change is made right after 1-3 participants have used an early build of a product. Because I was working with early design concepts and low fidelity prototypes I used the ideas from the RITE method, namely uncovering issues and finding their solutions; key decision makers are present; and resources are available to make changes to get early design direction.

I’ve run 3 of these sessions and they all are a little different depending on the fidelity of prototypes, the team members involved, what the teams want to know, and where they are in their sprint. I call the new method Fast Iteration Studies (FIS), and at this point need a better name, so if you can think of one I am open to ideas, especially catchy, marketable ideas. A FIS has the following procedure:

  1. Bring 3 users at a time into a conference room. Have them sit one on one with a team member (PM, dev, or test) (with really, really early design concepts, presenting to the users as a group and discussing along the way works too)
  2. Run the users through the walk through or prototype (if more than one walkthrough, they can switch ‘stations’ or not, depending on the familiarity of the prototype with the person presenting it)
  3. The 1:1 interaction generates discussions about the design, how it might fit into the user’s daily work, what they would click on next, how they would use the information, etc
  4. The most important aspect of the discussion is to get at design rationales by asking why, why, why. This turns out to be rather challenging for some people, but for others not so much
  5. Record each of the design discussions by taking notes on large stickies. Either the presenter can do this, or a designated note taker
  6. The researcher takes the notes and groups them by design and writes summary statements and more questions
  7. After the sessions are over, the entire group has a larger discussion about the summary statements and questions trying to dig a little deeper at some of the comments made during the session
  8. Schedule a redesign session with the dev team an hour or two later to make decisions about how to change the designs for the next session
  9. Repeat the sessions again the next day

With this process you get maximum participation with the team and two iterations on the design, all within a sprint.

I can’t go into much more detail at this point, and once the product is released next year, I’ll post another blog that reflects how early decisions made in these studies helped shape the final product.

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