User Experience for the Common Man – Making a Case for User-led Requirements

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So, how does the requirement gathering run in your design process? More often than not, the design team begins working on the list of requirements curated by the company’s IT department. But, what happens when these requirements stem from inaccurate assumptions? What if the product or IT team themselves have a skewed view of the system? The result is a product that fulfills the mandated requirements but still ends up doing very little to benefit the end-users.

It is often seen that product requirements are poorly sourced or mistranslated. What this implies is that the ways businesses are currently sourcing these requirements are neither up to the mark nor happening iteratively on a regular basis.

If there’s one outstanding aspect of a design-led organization, it is that everyone plays the role of a user advocate. Everyone — from the senior managers to the executives across departments — are in sync to make decisions that benefit the user. How can businesses reach this stage of design maturity?

4 Ways to Create User-led Product Requirements

The first and foremost UX skill for businesses to learn is to align their thinking from system-mandated requirements to user-mandated requirements and sensitizing themselves to what it’s like to use the product they are creating. Here’s how to go about creating user-centric product requirements.

By creating awareness about user experience:

User experience has to permeate through the enterprise; it cannot work in part. There are various ways to infuse the user-centric ideology through the business — training sessions, for example, where UX professionals educate the rest of the team about the design process. A UX workshop is another handy medium. UX workshops are different from training sessions or meetings, in that they’re more in-depth sessions focused on solving a specific design challenge. Workshops include hands-on idea generation activities that allow participants to achieve an actionable goal. They’re perfect for resolving design challenges that call for input and consensus from diverse groups or that would benefit from a greater sense of shared ownership.

While meetings are for smaller conversations among team members, workshops are a tool used to solve a problem, devise a plan, or come to a decision. For example, discovery workshops are useful to help understand the existing state of a project and build consensus for the next steps to be taken; empathy workshops are used best to help stakeholders better understand user mindsets and devise solutions; design workshops are held to generate a wide range of ideas with an as diverse as possible group of participants.

Creating awareness about user experience is a long-term cause that should be championed by the management. With the management taking the lead, the rest of the organization is sure to recognize and revel in the value brought in by a user-led mindset.

As you continue to take efforts towards permeating UX skills into the company, the odds of good user experiences reflecting in the team’s work processes too will increase. As always, that is a great situation for any business to be in.

By having conversations with actual users:

To ensure thoroughness in business requirements, it is important to seek those stakeholders who truly understand the business, the products and services they offer, and the nature of their customers. To zero in on these stakeholders, you have to cover a cross-section of the organization to ensure you’re talking to a wide range of people across departments and designations. This will help in gaining that much-coveted rounded perspective necessary to obtain clarity on both business problems and opportunities — both, now, and in the future. Here are a few questions to pose to them –

How will you describe your role in this project?

What is the one most important thing that has to be achieved to make this project worth undertaking?

How would you define success for this project?

What role does this project play in achieving that success?

What are the goals you aspire to accomplish from this project?

Who are your biggest competitors and what worries you about them?

How would you define the differentiating factors of this product?

By involving diverse teams to better understand business requirements:

This includes conversations with Product Management, Marketing, Technology, Finance, and others. Moreover, each department must analyze its own functions and how they intersect with the functions of other departments, only then can there be a cohesive and unified work environment. The realization that all departments, though functioning in silos, are still working towards common business goals must be understood by all. This enhances opportunities for gaining clarity and focusing on what the business is offering to customers and why.

Therefore, it is important to interview product stakeholders across departments and capture what they believe matters most for the product. This not only gives the stakeholders the opportunity to define the product direction but also ensures that the resultant product fulfills user needs in a more cohesive manner; this is especially crucial at a large, rigid company with cross-departmental functions. Once these stakeholders are interviewed, conduct a task analysis to better understand their needs and how the product’s user experience can support the way people would use the product.

By seeking information from Subject Matter Experts:

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) bring insider information about the way the users actually work and what matters to them. how users work and what designs would be best for them. Most SMEs, having performed roles in the users’ positions themselves, possess first-hand knowledge and experience about how the job gets done and how best to accomplish it. This is what makes them experts — they can provide inputs that may not be obtained from interviewing the users. In most companies, team leaders or senior executives who have climbed up positions often become SMEs, having held jobs as the current users previously in their careers.

However, it must be noted that while SMEs are highly regarded for their expertise, that itself might be an issue. Though they come from a place of deep knowledge, they cannot be expected to know everything the user needs. Remember, their expertise simply stems from their own experience with the job — and that may have undergone changes.

A great way to tap into the SMEs’ expertise is to have them observe current users in action. They can then compare their own experience with what they’re seeing and help in gathering improved insights from the research exercises. Often you will find that SMEs pinpoint essential tasks and contextual details that may be overlooked by researchers. Additionally, they also provide assistance in simplifying insider jargon and semantics for the UX team to understand.

Discovering and defining the right requirements is the first step towards designing the right product. Gone are the days when the higher-ups used to define the requirements without considering the ground realities of actual users. A user-centric approach is key to creating a product that not only fulfills user needs but also ensures that they are aligned with the goals of the business.

User Experience for the Common Man – Making a Case for User-led Requirements was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.