Per Lundholm

Per Lundholm

Everyday Software Development

Usability will cost you money, ignore or score

As a product owner, you should be highly aware that usability will cost you money, regardless if you ignore it or not.

But let us start with the classical observation made by Anna, a product owner. She knows her product well and has observed that users cope with bugs that make the system "unpredictable". When she asks the users what they think, they say it is annoying but "take it for granted". Hum.

I have heard other, similar stories about users coping with ridicolously bad user interfaces. 

My view is that users will stand on their head if they have to, to get their job done. So they cope with it.

This would fine if it were not for another aspect, they make mistakes due to the low usability. Making mistakes, depending on the system, may kill people (e.g. an X-Ray machine, airplane), or just slow users down.

I find it interesting that users not always complain about, or even mention, how awkward the system is. Instead they blame themselves for not remembering that the Return key is different from the Enter key, to take an example.

So, we can’t trust on getting feedback from the users, despite us doing really bad in the usability department. What shall we do, then?

As a product owner, I am responsible for prioritizing the quality attributes of the product.

As an architect,  I am responsible for delivering those qualitites. Well, it is the team that is responsible and their are no architects in Scrum since all they do is sit in ivory towers and philosophise. Not. People have different skills, don’t forget. Oops, a rant.

You have two options,  either ignore or score. If you ignore it, in the worst case people get killed or your product fails to get market acceptance. No business, no money. But if the risks were that high you wouldn’t even consider ignoring it, right?

It is worse when your users belong to the same organisation and there is hardly any comptetion that can kill you. Worst case, people see you as mediocre. Not!

Even then there is money to make. So consider the other option: score.

To score, you have to commit. It will take time, money and focus or you might as well skip it.

However, the bottom line is that if you look, there is money to find from usability. There may be a yearn for more functions but at some point, you have enough functions to satisfy most of your users need. They may have to use paper and pen in some less frequent cases, but most of the time they will do fine with what the system got.

Against that yearn for functions, you should weigh the possibilty of making the users life easier with less mistakes and better flow in their work. They like flow, too, you know.

So start from where you can go. If the mistakes were less than ten percent of today, how much would that increase the value of the product?

To score that value, where do you find the changes that take your product?

I am no expert in the field, but I know that if you could measure how many mistakes users do, that can be great. Also, you could video tape the users in daily action. The third option is to observe a user’s actions when asked to perform a task. Especially good when your homing in on a specific problem area.

So, what will it be – ignore or score?