Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Use Cases Are Working

Just in the nick of time, as my boss and I are putting finishing touches on our PowerPoint slides for our presentation for the STC Summit "Moving Documentation Upstream with Use Cases." The theory was that if we used use cases as our Information Development user analysis methodology, we could get involved earlier in the development process and even be able to influence design decisions.

We've had some intermediate successes but it has been hard to insert ourselves at the point in the process where we think the use cases can be the most effective. We recently tried with a project that probably comes as close to the perfect scenario: right team, right changes on the UI, good timing, etc. We had one design meeting last week where we collaborated among product developers, UI developers, information architects, information developers, and QA to understand why a user would view system statistics from the home page of one of our security appliances. The discussion last week was productive and helped form a better team vision of what the user would be doing and why (shifting the team from their normal approach of "What data do we have and how do we want to display it?").

This week the information architect ran a collaborative session where he did a sticky notes on the wall kind of card-sorting exercise that started matching "kinds of data we have" to "things the use wants to do with data" (essentially the use case titles we arrived at in last week's meeting). In a word, it was exciting!

The best part was at the end of the meeting where I asked the developers to accommodate room next to the graphs and tables for embedded user assistance to set the context for the user, based on the insights that had come out of the workshop. The developers agreed that at a minimum we could have fly-over text, pointing out that graph sizes would make real estate hard to come by.

I know this might sound trivial, but to be having discussions about what embedded assistance the designers and developers would accommodate this early in the project was HUGE! The fact that we got a concession of any type was MAJOR!

I hope those of you who are coming to the Summit will come hear our presentation and watch our demo:

Moving Documentation Upstream with Use Cases
Date: Monday, May 04, 2009
Time: 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM EST
Location: Hanover AB

How to apply case methodology and structured writing to get information developers involved earlier in the design process and to produce testable information products earlier in the development cycle.

  • Create UML use case diagrams and write use case descriptions
  • Describe a systematic process for going quickly from use case diagrams to user documentation
  • Describe the benefits of involving information developers early in the design process


Margaret said...

I'm looking forward to it, Mike.

Gil Vinokor said...

Hi Mike,

Interesting and delightful post. :)

Any chance you can post the PPT presentation and the demo you gave?

I'd be interested in hearing (and seeing) your talk.