User Involvement – An Essential Part of Development

User-related information can be a powerful instrument in a product or service development process. Most software and hardware companies have learned that the earlier you involve real users into your assumption validation process, the better, cheaper, and faster the process will be. However, not everyone has figured out how to integrate user feedback into initial concepts.

Sometimes, in order to be more agile, companies overlook gathering user feedback and skip the testing process. They’ll say, “We’ll do the design as soon as we figure out what and how to build” or “Let’s just use the design workshop to shape the concept.” Such stakeholders typically don’t see constant user involvement as a part of the systems development lifecycle (SDLC).

There is always a way to integrate user testing into continuous SDLC as a part of maintenance and evolution.

Besides a tight project timeframe or a low budget, there are a number of potential reasons why user testing can be ditched as a practice. For example:

  • A lack of available researchers and users.
  • A fear of derailing the project from a well-defined direction.
  • Expert opinions feeding confidence that assumptions don’t need to be checked.
  • A poor understanding of the process usage and value.

These reasons are based on uncertainty, seeing user testing as too high-risk. When user testing practices aren’t ingrained in company culture, they can seem to bring more chaos than clarity, and when poorly planned, it’s almost impossible to effectively implement user testing into existing processes. As a result, most of the above-mentioned reasons seem to be more valid than ever.

But let’s create a virtual dialogue based on real-life scenarios that we’ve had with some of our clients. We will debunk the idea that user input isn’t valuable, and explore ways to make user input a powerful tool in your agile development process.

“It’s too expensive”

Initial user research definitely isn’t free, but there is a spectrum of strategies that you can employ depending on your budget. They can range from guerilla testing the people at your local coffee shop in exchange for a free cup of coffee, to several months of meticulously planned research with paid participants that fit your exact domain knowledge.

Most cases don’t even require a large number of users to perform a study. About 5 years ago, Nielsen Norman Group stated that in most cases optimal quality/price ratio would be 5 users per persona. The bottom line is that you can control how expensive it can be and a good experience designer will help you plan the right strategy.

“We are the experts; we know our users so well”

Although it may be absolutely true, you’re still not your users. Being an expert can also mean you already know too much to be able to judge or behave as your users do, leading to results that can’t be objectively measured. They remain purely subjective decisions made by a few stakeholders, and there’s a high risk of feature creep in a year or two.

The best strategy is to have an optimal amount of user research, to focus on flows rather than on features, and to test, test, test. This helps you build an empathy-driven culture across the organization (or at least a project team) so that everyone involved in solving users’ problems understands the value of their work and the impact they can make on real human beings.

“We have a vision; new insights might break it”

It’s not always easy to reach a shared vision between multiple stakeholders. Once you’ve put a lot of time and effort into it, you may feel partial ownership and aim to protect it – that’s understandable. However, if insights about user goals and needs can break this same vision, it’s better to know it sooner rather than later. Knowing more, for the sake of understanding, is always a smarter move. Even if it means taking a risk.

“We’ve done initial research; we know enough”

Use the fundamentals invested in personas, flows, and processes to stay focused and make sure all the decisions go through the funnel of user needs and goals.

Remember that users are people who constantly change their needs and environments.

Your product is a living organism – in order to be successful, it should be as adaptive as possible. That’s why it’s always a good idea to set up passive research sources. You can use statistics to conduct quantitative research, or build communities that nurture ecosystems, helping you gather the qualitative data to grow a product or service organically. Progress is continuous. Products can use chatbots to talk to users, progressive profiling to gather more data without frustrating people, and easily access feedback forms to conduct qualitative research.

“We’re not ready yet”

You are. It doesn’t matter where you are in your process, you can always do low-cost, non-functional rapid prototyping, testing either your own users or using third-party services that recruit users for you. The further you get with design and testing, the easier it’ll be to prioritize and plan the work with little to no stress.

Conclusion

Whether based on qualitative or quantitative research, user involvement is paramount to creating a good product or service and important concept for experience design.

From B2C services that rely on customer loyalty, to internal complex enterprise products that rely on usability, user involvement ensures efficiency. While this focus may shift depending on the product development phase, you can always leverage available user research techniques to make sure you’re building the right thing.

If you want to get more practical advice on how to tailor technology design to fit user needs, read “How Design Thinking Can Transform Dying Organizations,” a new whitepaper from Matt McBride, SoftServe’s vice president of global experience design.