Friday, January 15, 2010

Usability Risk

Granted, I'm still in the honeymoon phase on my new team, but what a honeymoon! This week we had some great meetings with key players to define the role of the UX Architects and add that to the existing team roles. There's a double gasp here. First, this team already has a well-defined Scrum process that identifies all of the roles, and which documents what their activities are before, during, and after a project and a Sprint. Second gasp is that they are including the UX Architect role in that documentation to ensure that we all understand how we support the development of new services.

As we discussed the different things we could do and could produce, we noted that not every feature (or story) would need the full rigor of every UX activity and every UX artifact. So one of our important activities at the beginning of each project and each Sprint is to determine the level of usability risk each feature or story could have and to plan the appropriate level of UX involvement.

Usability risk is a concept that I first learned while working for my Usability Hero/Mentor Loren Burke. Loren had started his usability career at IBM as a project manager in charge of saving programs that had landed in the ditch. He developed a keen sense of the need to identify user acceptance issues that could kill a product or web app and then focus on those items. Shout out to Loren!

The other UX Architect and I now need to codify what criteria we will use to assess usability risk for our kinds of products. My own brainstorming would start with these considerations:
  • Is there a UI? (No UI equates to low risk.)
  • How complex is the UI? (Greater complexity means greater usability risk.)
  • How much interactivity is in the UI? (The more ways there are to interact, the greater the risk.)
  • How tied in is the UI to a critical business driver? (Don't spend resources on features that represent minor impact on the business success of the product or service.)
  • How new are the interactions and content in the UI to the development team? (New stuff carries risk.)
  • How new are the interactions and content in the UI to the user? (New tricks for old dogs are risky.)
  • Where in the user task flow would the UI occur? (Earlier equates to higher risk--users are more judgmental during first impressions. Loren's greatest contribution to usability was creating the concept of "judgment window," the early user experience with a product or service that flavored their ongoing acceptance of the product or service.
What other risk criteria do you use? What would you add to this list?

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