Agile Development, Behavior Modeling & Design, Business Analysis, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User-centered Design

It is beyond doubt that the current times of digital, mobile and social age demand professionals who are versatile, agile, sociable and dynamic. Business Analysts and product specialists are no exception to this. Whether its due to the industry demands, peer pressure, market needs or pure evolutionary tactics, BAs today are far more leading-edge, competitive, assertive and visionary contributors to the products, processes and businesses, at large. From an also-ran team player role, new-age analysts have come a long way as the multi-disciplinary, multi-skilled and multi-dimensional professionals. In this post, I will touch upon the many facets of the new-age Business Analyst and how they are adapting to the continual changes happening in the spheres of business, technology, professional and personal lives.

Emergence of the new-age BA/PO

As we discussed in the previous posts, there have been several factors that led to the emergence and evolution of the Business Analyst. The BA today moved on from just a requirements owner and a document expert and is now addressing several facets around products, processes, business and technology. Their focus still remains pretty much around the problem space, compared to the facilitation role in the solution space. The analysts identify problems, dependencies, needs and opportunities. However,  products, processes and business domains. The BAs today have been involved in scoping, release management, continuous engagement with customers and users, strategising, laying out roadmap, and working with multiple teams.  In a nutshell, the Business Analyst of the modern age is much like a leader, architect, soldier, team player…all rolled into one.

NBA_Leader.Architect.Soldier.Team Player_Texavi

Leader, architect, soldier, team player & more – the new-age BA

From being an analyst, the BA needs to transform into a leader, architect, soldier, team player and perhaps many more such roles, all rolled into one. Of course, they need not be all of these roles at the same time. The analyst today has to don one, few or all of these various roles based on the context, time, stage of implementation as befits the occasion. During the initial stages, the emphasis could be on being an architect, while during the scoping it could be that of a soldier. However, throughout the project, or initiative analysts have to keep their hat of leader and team player, no matter what stage the work is in. I touch upon the four primary facets of the new-age Business Analyst in the following paragraphs.

1. Sensible leader, not just an also-ran

You can’t talk enough about the all-imperative skill and art of analysts to work with people. They must have their hands firmly on the pulse of the different categories of people. These include the various stakeholders – direct and indirectly responsible for the product and process, from senior management all the way through to people working on the factory floor. As an able leader, the analysts must not only lead the way, but also set an example by following and working along with the team members. They should  listen actively, take steps pro-actively and be able to put in their efforts with sustainable passion, drive and commitment to achieve this shared vision and common goals.

2. Architect and a builder, not just another player

New-age business analysts must be able to look beyond the near term goals and benefits. They must have a really good and long term vision to not only lead themselves but also the team members and the organisation, at large. They must think far and beyond, using their rich experience, in-depth and specialised domain expertise. The added advantage is that these help the analysts with a “peripheral vision” around the markets, business domains, products, processes and technologies.  Besides, the new-age analyst adds great value by laying a robust roadmap that is flexible, scalable, high-performing.

3. A soldier, well-equipped and prepared

Like a soldier, who is well-equipped and well-prepared to face any kind of challenges, the new-age analyst must be prepared with all the right tools, methods and a positive attitude. The very nature and aptitude of business analysts help them to stay on the top of their game, be it at home or outside their turf. Their ability to adapt easily and quickly depending on the situation helps build on to the agility of the new-age analysts.  Analysts’ skills of being sensitive, scrupulous and open-minded, help them usable insights from ideas and actionable intelligence from information. In addition to these, the BAs try to keep ahead by addressing all possible scenarios, potential challenges and constraints, internal and external dependencies and assumptions – stated and implicit.

4. Team player, not just a one-person show

Business analysts over the ages had been looked at more as specialised consultants who come in, do their work and get out. The contribution of analysts is considered from the prism of a “support” role who comes in early in the project, find problems, specify scope and requirements and exits the scenario. However, with the advent of agile practices such as Scrum, user stories, XP, BDD and TDD being put in place, organisations are increasingly looking for analysts to be well-integrated into the development teams. The analysts today are very much an integral part of the teams and by being  participative, they contribute to the collective value delivered by the team. So, new-age analysts are equally adept at being followers and team members themselves as much as they excel at leading the teams.

I hope this post helped you understand the many dimensions, skills and demands of the new-age business analyst. We will cover more specific details on the tools, and methods for the business analyst/product owner in the upcoming posts, until then, ciao!

Agile Development, Business Analysis, Information Technology, Product Development, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User Stories

Gone are the days when you had professionals relying on the accumulation of knowledge alone. In this day and age of continual changes in technology, business, career and life styles,  there is an increasing emphasis not just on acquiring knowledge, but also on applying the experience and rich expertise. The focus has shifted from knowing to doing and sharing, from information gathering to using the right tools and methods and from just quantitative measures to insightful analytics. Like all other professions, this paradigm shift is quite apparent to a large extent in business analysis and product management areas too. In this post, I will touch upon the many facets that make up the emerging avatar of the new-age business analyst/product owner.

Many facets of the modern BA/ProductOwner

The traditional business analyst’s focus pretty much hovered on the requirements, documentation, functionality of the product. Also, the key lookout for the traditional BA has been one centred around the problem space, whether it has to do with the product, process, domain or business. The new-age business analyst’s core competencies are still based on the problem space and functional areas, their scope of influence has expanded further and beyond. This is thanks partly due to the continual changes in business, technology, ways of work and life. It could also be attributed to the “survival-of-the-fittest” theory and that the business analysts have to consistently re-invent themselves to keep them relevant to the changing and demanding times. New age_BUSINESS_ANALYSIS_Texavi_NBA

Realm and reach of the new-age BA

So what makes the new-age business analyst different from that of the traditional role? Interestingly, one school of thought identifies the BA as just another team player, there is quite another emergent thinking that is pitching the BA as a more responsible, leadership-oriented professional. From a mere documentation specialist, the realm and reach of the Business Analyst of today scaled up to that of the product owner and/or product manager. While functionality and features, problems and opportunities remain relevant and current to the new-age BA, the additional roles of release management, process improvement, increased customer and user engagement added a new dimension.

What make up a new-age BA/PO

Now let us try and assess the factors that make up a class act new-age Business Analyst. On the one hand, you need to be on the top of the product, process, business or domain, on the other hand you must also be able to connect well with “people”. A new age business analyst works her way very well through not just the product or process team members, but also key stakeholders, customers and users. Yes, it is true that the BA must be versatile and equipped with generic skills, it is beyond doubt that specialism and in-depth expertise add to the winning factors. In a nut shell, the new-age Business Analyst/Product Owner is versatile, agile, tech-savvy, responsive, responsible, and a leading-edge visionary.

In the next posts, we will look in detail the approach, tools and methods that shape up the new-age Business Analyst. Hope this post gives you enough food for thought till then. Until next, ciao!

Agile Development, Behavior Modeling & Design, Business Analysis, Innovation, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User-centered Design

Innovation, as you all know, is a very powerful concept and tool. It could be used to understand the problems and create improvements in the existing products. Innovation also helps us to create completely new solution(s) to solve the otherwise unimaginable problems. Innovation is not just restricted to the products space, but is equally effective in the improvement of services, processes or solutions.  Just a week ago, I participated in a very interesting workshop on collaboration through Innovation Games. This workshop is based on the concepts and exercises proposed by Luke Hohmann and also the GameStorming techniques by Dave Gray et al. In this post, I will touch upon the key takeaways and useful tips from the workshop. Also in this post, I will make a business case for Innovation Games and how they could be used to boost the productivity and bring about value to businesses and individuals alike.

Let’s talk innovation

Innovation would never lose the sheen and shine, despite the numerous changes in work, education, lifestyles and thinking over the last few decades.  This could be partly due to the very construct and meaning of the word, innovation intended to find out “newer, different, better” ways. But then innovation by itself is not just one tool or technique, but a collective application of a whole suite of theories, schools of thought, approaches, tools and techniques. How would you then decide which one of them. That’s where Innovation Games come in and help you choose the right technique, and bring about the right value in a quick, fun, cost-effective way.

Innovation Games_Texavi_Workshop_Items Innovation Games - at play

Innovation is collaborative product development

First off, you would need interested and motivated people who are motivated to pave way for innovation. Also important is a conducive environment to help boost the free thinking and to let the creative juices flowing. Innovation games, as the name suggests, are a fun, interactive and engaging way of bringing out the innovation and creativity among teams. These are serious games played to bring out the hidden problems, create fresh ideas and arrive at plausible solutions. Innovation games are cost-effective, quick-win tools that can be organised with very less effort and minimal preparation and planning. There is no doubt that Innovation Games provide a perfect setting for aiding innovation with supporting collaboration tools and techniques.

What are and what aren’t Innovation Games

A word of caution here…Innovation Games are not the same as gamification or the Game design that you might have come across. So, what exactly are these Innovation Games? Product in a Box, Prune the Product Tree, Speedboat, Show-and-Tell are a few popular ones. While some of these help you in convergence (idea generation), some help in shaping (structuring) and  a few others help support for divergence (prioritising and pruning). You can get more information about Innovation Games and collaborative exercises from the leading thinkers and authors in the innovation, collaboration and product development arenas. A few sources for some great inspiration are “Innovation Games : Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play” by Luke Hohmann and “Gamestorming” by Dave Gray et al.

Innovation Games_Consultants and agile coaches

Business case for collaboration through Innovation Games

Now that you are aware that there is a great tool set for you to help in collaborative product development, let us look at the business case for using Innovation Games. In the context of an agile product development, Innovation Games certainly help bring various stakeholders, team members and customers in the same room. They do help in setting common goals and also provide a fun and interactive environment to promote innovation among teams. Another important aspect of using Innovation Games is their adeptness to not only generating ideas, but also prioritising the features and decision-making.

Innovation Games_Collaboration_Benefits

 

When and where to use Innovation Games

You might be wondering in what scenarios you can use Innovation Games and how they can help you and your teams. Well, they can be put to use when you or your business is in need of generating ideas, pruning them, prioritising the features, and understanding the problems and needs of your customers. This means that Innovation Games are a great tool in the context of product development, process improvement, creation of a solution or a service. The collaborative tool is extremely handy not only in the creation of new products, services, solutions or processes, but also in enhancing or re-engineering the existing products, processes or solutions. In short, Innovation Games are of great relevance when you want to bring together people, and create a collaborative environment to help foster innovation and creativity through focus, group dynamics, interaction and yes, most importantly a bit of fun.

Hope this post helped you in getting a grasp of Innovation Games and collaborative product development. In the future posts, I will get into further depth and discuss the details on this topic. As always, drop in with your valuable feedback and advice. Until next, ciao!

 

Behavior Modeling & Design, Business Analysis, Interaction Design, Product Development, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User Studies, User-centered Design

“There is no Average Joe Bloggs” – reads the copy on the billboard advertisement of an insurance company. I couldn’t agree more with this, especially in the context of designing and developing new products for end users. No matter how much I like Statistics, we just cannot apply it to all things in our personal and professional lives. While its good to be number-savvy, we need to balance the quantitative with qualitative aspects, to get it right. More so in the case of product design and development, the “law of averages” doesn’t quite contribute to the successful product development. We are all familiar with the concept of user profiles and personas used in the design and development of products. These help a great deal in understanding the real needs and goals of your target audience. In this post, I will dwell on why designing for average users is a misconception and how we can make use of user profiles and personas in developing successful products.

All customers are not users

This is the biggest notion among my clients that customers are well, users of the products. Not always true! The good thing is that both customers and users are both people, the similarities end there.  I think that “Customers” is a favourite term for Marketers whereas Designers and User Experience professionals connect better with the term “Users”. Customers are the people who purchase your products and services, while consumers or users use these. In some cases or well, most cases customers and consumers are the same. As in the case of some daily use products, white goods, FMCG, customers and users are the same i.e., people who buy your products use them as well. But in the case of high-end products, enterprise applications and productivity solutions, buyers could be different from consumers. For instance, office supplies, financial services, technology products like computers etc., the people who pay are different from those who suggest. These in turn are different from the people who decide and yes, the people who actually use the products or services could be completely different from the above groups.

First, know your Users

Knowing your users is the most important step in the approach to developing great products. By knowing your users, I mean to say that you must understand the goals and needs of the users. This understanding will help you in shaping your product or service, make it more suitable and appealing for the users. You can’t just create a product in thin air and then retro-fit it to the benefit of some people. As they say, the most important question in any business is asking “whose needs is the idea/concept/product going to solve?” . Texavi’s Unified Experience Framework has a whole phase dedicated to help you get to this. The “Know the Needs of your Users” phase has all the tools, techniques and technologies to ensure that we understand the real needs of the users. These are often unwritten, untold, unexpressed and even unknown to the very users. So, its a big challenge to get to the real needs of the users.

Know the Needs of the Users - Texavi Unified Experience Framework

 

User profiling holds the key

It doesn’t make sense to design and develop your products for all the people in the whole world. There is a danger of missing out on most people, as they think it doesn’t suit their specific needs and goals. Also, on the extreme end, it doesn’t make sense to design your products for one or two users. This argument lends weight for some people to think the middle path and rely on the law of averages. So, they think that the best path is to design and develop for average user. But hold on, what is an average user? How can you get to that person and define the characteristics of average user? The answer to this question lies in the user profiles and personas. User profiles are essentially the characteristic grouping of users based on various properties, traits and behaviours. This doesn’t mean that you are defining an average user. Instead, you are trying to understand the essential aspects of your users.  Using the profiles and personas helps the team to have a common language of understanding. This not only helps them in having a good picture of the end users, but also gives them a great affinity to the users, because of the name, form and physical characteristics.

UserProfiles_Personas_Design

Personas – archetypes not stereotypes

You might have heard of the term “persona” used in the context of marketing, research and product design. A persona is a representative user from amongst the group, but does not point to one user from within the group. It is a powerful design tool that helps the design and development teams and client relate to the target audience. Persona is not a stereotype of the users, but rather an archetype from the user group. In a persona, you give a form, a name and a picture to the representative users, so that all the team members and concerned people can relate to that person more effectively and easily.

Persona - Texavi example

 

Benefits of user profiles and personas

While there are many benefits of using the user profiles and personas in the product development life cycle, I list below a few of them that really stand out.

  • Understand the real users who you should target from amongst the many people in the population
  • Help prioritise the target segments within the groups of people
  • Know the real needs and goals of the target audience
  • Support in connecting and relating to the real needs of the users
  • Design, develop the products in a more practical and pragmatic manner
  • Evaluate and test the products, keeping the real users in mind
  • Minimise the effort, time and cost of development and rework

Hope you agree with me now that the average user is a myth and acknowledge the power of profiles and personas. Please keep writing in with your suggestions and comments. Till the next post, ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agile Development, Behavior Modeling & Design, Business Analysis, Innovation, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User-centered Design

There is one news item that I have been following very keenly in the evening newspaper , going back home from work, daily. It caught my attention a week ago and ever since, it has been on my radar. The news is not  related to the bad state of economy, nor  connected with  sports , movies or  music. It is the ‘Get London Reading’  news story  published on the front page of  London Evening Standard newspaper.  This caught my attention because of the very title of the campaign and the positive vibes being generated and the potential impact and change it would create. The very title of this initiative is a great example of a behavior  definition, nevertheless if it is a tad bit broad and ambitious, if not ambiguous.

Behavior change is possible

In my last post, we looked at what behaviors are and the main types of behaviors. Some people actually asked me the difference between a behavior, goal and task. When I have seen the ‘Get London Reading’  campaign, it instantly occurred to me as an example to help clarify this. A quick look at the campaign page hosted online will give you an indication why I refer to this as an exemplary behavior change programme.  Well, in this post , let us take the next step and understand the Behavior Model touching upon the relationship between motivation, ability and triggers.  I wish to draw some insights from Fogg Behavior Model (aka FBM)  proposed by Prof. B.J.Fogg, using my examples.

The Poppy Appeal – Persuasion success story

A couple weeks ago, people in the UK observed Remembrance Sunday paying tributes to the armed forces personnel who sacrificed their lives in the line of  service.  People from all walks of life came forward to commemorate the bravery of  soldiers  in various ways. There were  donations collected in different forms , the most visible of them being the Web site making the ‘poppy appeal’  and of  course, the sale of poppies on the roads. You would have seen  many people in London and other cities wearing and flaunting these poppies proudly, to show their support to the Royal British Legion. The poppy appeal  program is a massive hit, garnering generous amounts of funds, besides all the attention. I wish to take the poppy appeal case as a success s story to elaborate my case about persuasion and behavior change.

    

Will do -> Want to do + can do

Let us consider a case when somebody comes and asks you to donate funds for the cause of soldiers. How many people will  donate  the money? Notice that some people do want  to donate, because it is serving the noble  cause  of  helping the defence services personnel, albeit  in a small way. But not always do you find that all these motivated people can actually give.  So, it is not enough to want to give funds, but  most importantly, people should also have the ability to donate amounts. Great, so you found some people who want to and also who can donate. Is the job done? Not exactly. They need to be asked, reminded and provided with ways to  donate . These are all the various triggers  used to facilitate these motivated and able people to take the step and donate the amounts. Then and only then, would the motivated and able people come forward to donate.

Fogg Behavior Model (FBM)

So, from the above example, let us try and generalize this  using the Behavior Model proposed by Prof. B.J.Fogg, Director of Persuasive Technologies Lab, Stanford University. You would have understood that people will do a task, not only when they  are motivated but also when they have the  ability.  In other words, the first step in the process of behavior change is to identify those people who have high motivation.  The next step is to simplify the task or  process, or to increase their ability to do the task.

However, it does not always happen that these people actually do the tasks, until they are triggered with the right call to action. These triggers have to be placed on the journeys or paths of these people,  at the right time, in the right place and with the right visibility. That’s the secret  behind many successful products and services, which have been able to bring about a behavior change  in their users.

Change is in the air – Lean & agile

You  would have seen that this persuasion and behavior modeling is all about change, but change of a different kind.  Organizations and products have been trying to induce the behavior change in the people.  The beauty of this model is that it perfectly aligns with the spirit of other successful contemporary models for change management . These include  but not limited to Agile product development and lean startup. All these models and schools of thought have an almost similar ideology. Agile product development is about identifying and responding and managing changes with the right people, tools and techniques. Lean startup embraces the philosophy of doing something in a small way leading up to a gradual and sustainable growth model.  The behavior model encompassing behavior  modeling, behavior change and persuasive design combines the best practices from psychology, change management, design and product  engineering areas.

Mantras for changing behaviors

FBM is a powerful model which is applicable across different industries, product lines and market segments. It is very apt in the scenarios where you wish to make a long term behavior change, with an aim to make a positive habit among your customers and users. Here are some tips and guidelines, given by Prof. Fogg, based on the points discussed in this post.

  • Behavior depends on how motivated users are, their  ability and response to the right triggers for action
  • People’s behaviors can be changed by motivating them, making it simple and/or  inciting them to act
  • Place triggers on the paths of motivated people who are able to do the behaviors
  • Habits can be formed in people through behavior change
  • Focus on increasing ability by making tasks easier for users
  • Help people  do what  they already want to do

Hope you enjoyed reading this post and it is as helpful to you as the previous ones. Until next post, ciao!

Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience

As you all know, during the recently held “Lets talk iPhone” event, Apple officially announced the launch of  iPhone4S, iOS5 and iCloud. While it was a disappointment to some people who were expecting the big upgrade to iPhone4, that’s beside the point I want to make in this post. Rewind to April2010, when Apple first launched iPad, as the first ever consumer Tablet in the market. There was a knee-jerk reaction from lot of people, who rejected Apple’s new Tablet concept. There were more naysayers who expressed that they didn’t find any use for it and that the iPad was just a “glorified and bigger iPhone which can’t be used for calls”.  Its everybody’s knowledge how that perception and reactions changed drastically over a period of time. Apple created the undisputed benchmark and a leader in the Tablets market, with many more companies bucking the trend and releasing their me-too versions. In this post, let us look at what it takes to create great products by managing users’ reactions and how you can better define the product.

Great products vs. good products

Some times, you would have come across products that not only have features and functionality to help you do the mundane tasks, but also fit in very well into your life and work. Discerning readers like you are very well aware that there is a difference between great products and good products. Great products differ in that they offer rich context, enable users to realize their goals and enchant them satisfying their implicit and unmet needs. These often go beyond the briefing and provide more than just nice features. Its true that not all products are created with this intent and that they gain users’ acceptance slowly over time.

iPhone and iPad

How users relate and adopt to new products

I have seen an almost pattern-like behavior from users on how they react to products launched as groundbreaking new concepts which go on to become a huge success. I call this the 5A model of User reactions to new products. It starts with an almost hatred like feeling towards the new product. This is because users develop habits with the existing products and are happy using them the way they are. They perceive the new product as a change and a potential threat to their comfort. This could be because of the innate behavior of aversion to change and anything new. Then over time, due to various factors, both external and internal, customers tend to develop an acquired taste for the product.

The 5A model for product adoption

The perceptions and reactions of users to new products almost always follows a gradual progression of steps leading to great adoration for the products. I am not sure if anybody has patented this model already, but these terms came to my mind 3 months ago, when I was working on a new concept product for one of my clients.

  1. Aversion
  2. Acceptance
  3. Admiration
  4. Aspiration
  5. Adoration

I observed this model applicable to many successful products, tracing back to the times of their launch, how they changed with marketing, alignment to business and better product definition.  One of the most successful product companies, Apple and its successful creation, the iPad are not an exception to this model, as we discussed above.

Ask what you are creating

The trickiest thing in developing new products is in understanding, defining and communicating what your product is and what it can do. Most products fail, not because they are designed badly or implemented in a technically incorrect way. They fail because the product vendors could not communicate the purpose and benefits of the product clearly to the customers and users. Or worse still, products are hit the hardest, when the product owners themselves are not clear about the vision and definition of their product.

How to define your new product

Innovation and thinking differently often help you in defining your product, which is a first step in paving the way for its success. The standing example for a successful application of innovation with thinking big is Metamorphosi which changed the way lamps and lighting are created.

Lighting Solution, not just a lamp  Metamorfosi_lighting_solution

While every other player in this market thinks of creating better and attractive table lamps, Artemide realized that they are not merely creating lamps, but helping keep people in better mood through their lighting. So, they decided their product definition as not just as a lamp, but a ‘lighting solution’! Small wonder that Artemide and Metamorfosi are equated to innovation in the home decor segment that triggered many admirers, followers and copy cats too, all around the world.

New product development checklist

The critical success factor in the product development is having a clear vision, direction and purpose for the product or application, that you are creating. You need to define the scope, intent and content of your product, which help in translating the vision into the product design, development and delivery. It is often necessary to go beyond the immediate form and name of the product under description. Do not get attached to, nor be limited by the physical aspects of your product. I always do a check with the following parameters to decide how well we are doing and whether we are on the right path. I use these as a definitive check list to assess the potential success of your product or concept.

  • Business viability
  • Technical feasibility
  • Product usability
  • Resource availability
  • Consistent Quality

The above factors play a decisive and definitive role in the assessment of your product’s potential and performance. Do not underestimate the potential of validating your product against this check list. This would give you a very good measure of how your product is faring and in what direction it is heading to. You can then take necessary course correction and take preventive steps to steer your product back on track. We can talk in detail about applying each of these in the context of your new product, in a separate blog post.

Hope you found this post informative and usable. Happy Diwali to all my Indian friends and followers. Until next post, ciao!

 

Information Technology, Innovation, Interaction Design, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience

After all these years of my experience in engineering software products and applications, I realized that there is one phrase that I tend to hate the most. No, its not “Give me a ballpark estimate” or “I need this delivered by e.o.d. today”, though these come close enough to be 1st and 2nd  runners-up :). The one I am referring to is “Let users figure it out”. It is a nemesis to developing successful products, often resulting in a shoddy product.  The “Figure-it-out” syndrome as what I call it,  could be an evil for product development which can be as bad as, if not worse than Featuritis. The plausible cure for this syndrome is when the product is made easy to use for those people who are using it for the first time. In this post, I touch upon the ease of learning and use and give some tips about making your products a breeze for your users.

Easy to learn and use

Let us be honest, how many of us got trained on using the ATM card to withdraw money from a cash machine? At the least, how many went through the user manual, supplied? Popularly known as Any Time Money, the Automatic Teller Machine was conceptualized and designed so that users from different segments can get to use it with little or no effort. This is a classic case of designing a product which is not just easy to use, but also easy to learn for new users as well. Easy to learn and use a product is a critical yardstick to measure its success and is often ignored to a large extent for various reasons. Lacking this, a product might become a nightmare and the product or feature puts off not only novice users but also some experienced users, some times.

New user scared of technology product :)

But then it has the ‘user manual’

Training, setup guides, user manuals, glossary, help docs and other such documents are meant to support the new users in coming to grips with the product. Like a site map which provides a clear guide on how a web site is structured, most of the above artifacts are meant to make it really easy for the users. But then, there is a view prevalent among the Design community that site map comes handy only when a web site is not usable by itself. In other words, only when users are confused, puzzled and left with no option, that they would look at a site map. So is the case with the supporting documents and help guides that I mentioned above. No matter how effective and efficient your technical writing team is, your documentation goes often into the dust bin. The golden rule is ‘Customers and users don’t read user manuals!‘. Bear in mind that these are good supporting aids but they can never replace a well-designed product.

The ‘Figure it out’ syndrome

Whether its the apathy towards customers and users, or the need for speed in delivering the product to market, the figure-it-out tendency gains ground with the product development team. You don’t suddenly wake up one fine morning with the syndrome. It gets built up over time and plagues your product and users to no end. Here are the factors that can potentially contribute to it…lack of empathy and concern for users, a frog-in-a-well approach. Also, an unwritten but strictly-followed preference attached to functionality and technology over user experience tilts the scales against making the product intuitive.

Don’t undermine the impact of this syndrome, it could be long term, deep cut and manifold. It affects not just the product creators – the stakeholders and the development team but also the product consumers. For the creators, due to the relatively short-sighted  aspects of their planning and execution, there will be heavy overheads of customer-reported defects leading almost to a total rejection of the product by the users.  Some of the products tend to be so overly complicated for new users that they instantly give up and return them or pass on to others. There are umpteen examples of products which flopped not for their technological maneuvers, nor for their functional richness but merely because they are rather too complicated for users to start using it.

Steps for ease of learning and use

The first step in making your products easy to learn and use, is to know your users. There is an oft quoted saying in the User Experience industry that tells it all – “Know thy user and you are not your user”.  The next step is to design and develop the product in such a way that it is intuitive and clear for users. Cluttered and dense interfaces, confusing controls, unclear messages, lack of help when needed- all of these make it hard for your new users.  As Steve Krug puts it in his book, ‘Don’t make me think’, the moment you let your users start thinking about how to use any feature or functionality, you start to lose the user ‘s interest.  Also, there should be a flow that lets users feel immersed when doing a task. This would make them not only feel that they accomplished the task but also delighted. I would equate this to the concept of flow as explained by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his classic book on psychology – “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience”.

yes, don't make them think   Let there be a flow with the tasks in your product

Who are you creating the product for

To be able to design your product better for ease of learning and use, you need to clearly identify who you are creating the product for. Going back to the ATM card example which we discussed above, the product was intended to be used by the larger number of users with little or no literacy, who would have never seen, leave alone using a computer before in their life. It was designed and developed knowing fully well that it needs to work with all the users with different backgrounds and literacy levels.

Atm machine in use   Monk using ATM machine

The beauty of the ATM product lies in that they cleverly disguised a computer into the machine. Without users’ knowledge, they are actually using a computer and its all made so much of a breeze to use it. No wonder, the concept and product caught up and it has changed the very definition of  ‘banking’ on a global scale.  Another case in point is Intuit’s QuickBooks. While every other accounting product in the market was geared towards the accountants and qualified book keeping professionals, Intuit understood that there is a huge demand for a simplified accounting product for the non-accountants and novices. They launched QuickBooks with the sole focus on this segment of users and today it is the most successful product in that segment, popular for its ease of use among new and expert users, as well.    

QuickBooks - Accounting made simple for non-accountants

Expertise and experience make a big difference

I would suggest that you classify your existing and/or potential users, based on the following:

  • Demographics
  • Education and computer literacy
  • Professional
  • Psycho-graphic (attitudes, likes and behaviors)
  • Tasks and scenarios

More importantly, to make your product easy to use, you must first profile your users based on the product usage experience. The following is a typical way of classifying the user groups, but you can adapt this and modify it to suit your needs.

  • Novice /beginners
  • Intermediate
  • Advance
  • Expert/experience

Specify your target

Now that you had a considerable start in the path of creating a great product, you now need to ensure that you have the right pick. The list below will help you in approaching the product definition in a structured way.
  • Identify the composition and distribution of your existing and proposed user base
  • Have a clear markup of the proportion of new users vis-a-vis advanced or expert users
  • Specify which of the above user types you will target with the product
  • This is applicable equally to the features and functionality and not only to the entire product

Here is how you can make IT easy

Beside the above suggestions from my experience, I offer a few other tips below to do a quick check on how effective your product or feature in the scale of ease of learning and use. You might use these as guidelines during the design and development of the product or as checkpoints to validate the features and functionality in your product. I am classifying them into the typical buckets of user experience, so that its easy to assess them individually.

Functionality

  • What can I do with this product?
  • What do I need to do, so that I can achieve my goals?

Navigation

  • Where am I now?
  • Where can I go from here?

Interaction

  • What should I do to make this work?
  • How responsive is it to my inputs?

Presentation

  • Does this look pleasing to my eyes?
  • Am I distorting anything to make it appear what it is not?

Help

  • Can I get help when I need?
  • Is help provided when I require it?

As always, hope you find this post informative and useful. Please do give me your feedback. Until next post, ciao!

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Business Analysis, Business Case, Product Development, User Analysis, User-centered Design

Whenever we start working on a new product or project, we are often rushed into creating ‘the  solution’. Pressure builds up from all directions and we are but forced to start delivering the solution from the day one.  This is where my problem lies…not being able to work on and understand the problem itself, but still trying to solve it.  For instance, whenever you go to a doctor with an ailment or complaint,  he does not give you treatment straight away. The physician asks you a set of questions, listens to your responses, understands what your problems are and then starts giving you the correct treatment. They call it ‘diagnosis’ and we all are happy to be diagnosed without asking any question to anybody, including ourselves. Then why is the resistance to adopt the same approach in other spheres of our work and life?  Taking specifically the case of you, me and all of us, IT professionals and experts, I write this post to highlight the approach we should adopt to understand, define and communicate the problems before resorting to solutions.

Problems, needs, challenges & opportunities

Most of us use the terms problems and needs interchangeably in varying contexts. I am not too tied down to using any one terminology over the other.  Bottom line is that we have to make an effort to identify them, define correctly, and strive to solve the problems or fulfill the needs. Some people also use opportunities in the same vein to convey that these have to be understood, pursued and addressed. You might have also come across the suggestion to replace the negative connotation of problems with its more positive and pragmatic counterpart, challenges. As I said, I am flexible on this and you can choose whatever you might like among the four terms problems, needs, challenges and opportunities. However, from a product manager’s perspective, my personal preference is to use the terms problems or needs, because they convey some sense of urgency and cry for addressing them and solving them at the earliest :)

Texavi’s Model for Problems and Solutions

I would like to touch upon briefly the model I evolved at Texavi to have a better handle at problems and solutions. The image below provides a clear distinction between problem space and solution space. As you can see, focus on the problem domain first helps us understand the WHAT and WHY which enable us to get to define the TO-BE WHAT and HOW to reach there.  Also, this platform independent model lets you apply the methods and rules to any platform, technology. I shall discuss more on this in a separate blog post.

 

Problems drive solutions

Yes, problems do drive solutions and not vice versa. It is imperative to specify the problems first and then accordingly, direct our attention to the solutions. I would like to take the analogy of train and engine to put forward my point about problems and solutions. My fascination for trains and being a son of a Railways employee, I couldn’t but think of a better example.  A train is driven by the engine and not by the bogies attached to it.  No matter whether the engine is placed in the front or back of the train, it still powers the train and makes it move. Similarly, understanding the problems always helps us to find the correct solutions to tackle those problems.

   

How do you get to the problems

Well, by now you might have been convinced that problems are as important as, if not more important than solutions. The next obvious question that might come to your mind is how we can identify the problems, in the first place. From experience, I realized that problem solving is best when it is solved where it has come from. To be able to spot the problems in the correct way, we need to really have an open mind, with an inquisitive  approach leading to exploration and discovery. This is quite different when you approach the solutions, which might need a one-pointed focus,  with deep dive approach leading to generation of ideas and implementation of solution.

I follow a set of unwritten rules when trying to work in the problem space. These facilitate me by providing the right directions for the flow of my thinking. You can find the following pointers helpful in structuring your thoughts and approach to problem identification:

  • What are the problems?
  • Whose problems am I trying to solve?
  • Why are these problems existing in the first place?
  • Where can I start with my solution? Which problems need my attention, first?
  • When can these problems said to be solved?
  • How can I solve these problems?

My mantra for problems and solutions

Based on my experience as an analyst over the years, trying to find problems and solve them, I created a small mantra to help myself.  This helps me focus and leverage the powerful relationship between problems and solutions. It is applicable to most situations, and helps all of us in any sphere of work and life. In fact, this entire post is based on this one and I would urge you, especially the product managers and business analysts among you to note it well and try and put into practice.

Know problems…know solutions

No problems…no solutions!

I hope that you find this post helpful to set the direction and help change your views about the problems and solutions. I will cover more details on the proven methodologies that we evolved at Texavi Innovative Solutions. As always, your feedback is welcome. Until next post, Ciao!

 

Business Analysis, Innovation, Life, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User-centered Design

You might be slightly intrigued by the title of this post. Yes, you are correct in that the focus of any innovation almost always happens to be on customers and end-users. It ends up delivering value to users in some way or the other and that the most significant benefactor in the process of innovation is the user. No denying that truth, however, in this post I wish to look at innovation being driven by users and their needs. Let us look at a few instances which triggered the users to innovate and what it takes to nurture this user-centered innovation.

Defining innovation

From whatever I have learnt from my experience, I would define innovation as an approach to deliver value to customers and users, using the existing resources and working under the constraints. It could be a powerful combination of bringing in some simple ideas, adding some imagination and creating value.

This value-creation process can span across multiple industries, verticals, domains and market segments. Innovation is not restricted to products alone. Innovation can happen in the way you deliver services to your customers or even in the way you improve the internal processes within your organization.

Whose problem is it anyway

Innovation starts with identifying the right problems and can be said to be successful when the ‘right solution’ is created. What is a right solution? It is that which works for customers and users! But whose problems are you trying to solve? Its the users’ problem and if its their problem, who is best equipped to find a way out? Well, the people who have the problem did find the solutions too in some cases and in this post we shall touch upon a few of them.

   

 

Quality and process improvement initiatives such as Kaizen, TQM (Total Quality Management) and Quality Circles have been evolved in the later part of the 20th century. These initiatives came out after finding that the people who are close to the problems are the people are working on the shop floor and are working on the assembly lines. Many companies in the automobile industry have successfully leveraged Quality Circles to identify the problems and also soliciting solutions from the people who are working on the shop floors.

Improvisation vs. innovation

Innovation need not always be ground-breaking and involving rapid changes to the existing ways. It is not about big or small, high or low, but it is about the ability to deliver value in the first place. As the saying goes ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, it is necessity and not needs alone that drives people to innovate and invent. Note that the user is the person who has the problem or the need and he/she has the best ability to determine the scale of impact or outcome from the process.

A case in point is the video clip that you can view by clicking on the link below. I came across this small video clip being shared in the social media. I am really fascinated by the way the gentleman in the video found out a way to satisfy his need to look better in the eyes of the onlookers, when driving his car. Sometimes, its the urge to look better that makes us think for better way of doing things leading to innovation. This proves that innovation or the ability to make things better need not always be on a large scale nor involve massive machinery.

Manual Power windows_innovation demo_Video Clip

Innovation is not expensive

User-centered innovation need not be a huge investment involving millions of dollars. It need not be even be seen as an investment in some cases. It is more a process of improving the things or merely doing the same things in a different way to bring about the value.

I am reminded of the story during the cold war space programmes by USA and the USSR. NASA invested millions of dollars to invent a pen which writes in zero-gravity space conditions. They invented this space pen ( also called as Fisher’s space pen) after a lot of effort, time and cost of research. The Russian Cosmonauts on the other hand, used a cheaper and smarter way…they used ‘pencil’! My friends in India might recollect the famous scene by actor Amir Khan in the popular movie ‘3Idiots’.

    

I saw this Fisher space pen (also called as Bullet Pen) when I visited the Smithsonian’s NASM (National Air & Space Museum) in Washington D.C. Of course, the above is just a story and not completely factual, as the NASA did not develop the space pen but acquired it from the company that manufactured it and later the Russians too started using the space pen. However, the moral of the story is that innovation need not be expensive all the time.

Measuring innovation

A true measure of innovation is the value delivered to the users. But I would not measure the value as high, medium or low. I would not even quantify the value delivered because that would defeat the purpose of innovation as a continual or should I say continuous process of making things better.

Native intelligence and improvisation

Innovation does not require high end technology nor using huge number of resources. Some times , as they say at grass roots level, this can be witnessed through using native intelligence and improvising in a small way. A small example to prove this is the case of mobile vendors of vegetables who went innovative in the rural areas of Vijayawada in India. I witnessed one such instance in a remote area, Gollapudi in the outskirts of Vijayawada. This area has a few colonies which came up recently but they are too inside the town to be closer to any everyday things such as vegetables and groceries.

  

Their application of native intelligence and innovation starts right from the vehicle they use for moving from one house to another. The local vegetable vendors hired a truck, took a few select vegetables in bulk and went about advertising the arrival of their truck. The truck is customized to suit the needs of the vendors. They announce that they have come onto the roads using a microphone. The lady who uses this microphone seems to be more comfortable with a telephone, than a microphone. Also, considering the comfort factor too, the mike was remodeled into a telephone receiver using which interactive and sensible announcements are made by the vendors. Now, that’s what I call user-centered innovation. :-)

Hope you find this post informative. We will touch base in the next post, till then ciao!

Business Case, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User Studies

Caller:             “Hello, is this Tech Support?”

Tech Rep:      “Yes. it is. How may I help you?”

Caller:             “The cup holder on my PC is broken and I am within my warranty period. How do I go about getting that fixed?”

Tech Rep:      “I am sorry, but did you say a cup holder?”

Caller:             “Yes, it’s attached to the front of my computer

Tech Rep:      “Please excuse me if I seem a bit stumped, it’s because I am. Did you receive this as part of a promotional, at a trade show? How did you get this cup holder? Does it have any trademark on it? ”

Caller:             “It came with my computer, I don’t know anything about a promotional. It just has ‘8x‘  on it.”

The caller had been using the load drawer of the CD-ROM drive as a cup holder and snapped it off the drive.

[This story was attributed to George Wagner,  Greenberg,1971]

You might have read this earlier and laughed it off. I started this post with this very naive-sounding, but true conversation that happened between a PC user and a customer service representative.  Today, I wish to touch upon  the widening gap that prevails between the management and stakeholders of product companies and the needs and conceptual models of end-users. As a product manager, its all the more important to understand the existence of this divide between the creators & consumers and try to plug this ever widening distance!

First, identify the people involved

First things first, define the roles of the people involved in the process of product creation and consumption. To keep it simple, we can classify them into three different categories – stakeholders, customers and users. These can be people, groups of people, entities or even organizations. They can be separated physically and logically into different classes, but sometimes there could be an overlap or common areas amongst a few of them. For instance, in a product company such as an automotive manufacturing, sometimes the stakeholders and customers could be the same as the company might be manufacturing the components which are consumed by the same company in building a car.

What do you want to be and want to do

Stakeholders are those people who have a direct or indirect influence on and who get benefited from the product, solution or service  under development. One might argue that customers and users are very much part of the stakeholders. Yes, they are, but since they hold bigger stake of your product, you can classify them under a separate category. For simplicity’s sake, include in this category of stakeholders…management, product development team, client, vendors, partners, venture capitalists, and all those involved in the process of product creation.

You need to identify the key stakeholders in the form of individual persons from within the groups. Have one-to-one interactions with each of the identified stakeholders. During these interactions, extract the various perspectives depending on their roles and profiles. For example, from a CEO, get a business perspective, whereas from a CTO understand the technical perspective and from a Business Development Director, get the views on customers and competing companies.

Define the ‘Identity’ –  Inner view

The sum total of the vision, challenges, constraints, expectations, views about competitions, products, business, technology etc. from each of the key stakeholders provides the composite identity of the organization or the product under discussion. You might notice that within the same organization, and on the same area or point, there might be conflicting views and expectations from different stakeholders. However, this should not be a stumbling block, but instead try and understand why these differences are cropping up and resolve them with the involvement of stakeholders.

I am reminded of the marketing assignment which I did during my MBA summer-project. It was with a company which is into biscuits,cookies and dairy products. They just re-positioned their brand and brought out a whole range of products aligned to their new identity. The company’s stakeholders thought that the brand and the products they create not only support the health and well-being of the consumers but also enhance their thinking and intellectual capabilities. So, they started massive campaigns all around the country brandishing those perceived values, strengths and greatness of the brand and product. Read through the next few paragraphs to know the outcome of my studies.

Customers and users may not be the same

In the case of services, mostly customers and users could be the same, but in the context of products and that too for enterprise and B2B products and services, these two groups invariably differ, to a large extent. In fact, even within the same group say customers, you have different variations such as decision makers who hold the purse strings, and purchasers who execute the deal.

No ‘Average Joe’ in users

The ‘law of averages’ might work in almost all the places but not in product innovation and user experience management. Bear in mind that there is no average user or stereotypical user, for whom if you design and develop your product, it works across all the potential users.  Similarly within the users, there may be many different sub-groups based on tasks, work profile, experience, education, and other demographics. You just cannot assume that all the users are same and have the same needs, wants and challenges.

Understand the ‘Image’ – External view

Another critical component is to understand the external perspective, that of the customers and users about your product. This is what I refer to as image of the organization or the product. Often times, this image is formed in the minds of the users through various ways. Some of these could be the interactions that users have with  your company or product, experiences formed through usage of this or similar products earlier, advertising and promotions, interactions with friends, peers and family about the product etc.

Sometimes the image formed about the product need not be real at all and instead was formed from incorrect perceptions and misconceptions. Again this could be due to various reasons such as users themselves( demographics such as education and experience), your product (promotion, design of the product, and its promotions) or both.

Referring to the biscuit company case of my assignment, I did a lot of user research talking to users, understanding their mental models, conducting some market research to know their perceptions, preferences etc. All these studies led me to a very strange set of results. The consumers of this specific brand and products, don’t really see anything healthy in the products, nor do they associate it with their thinking well or intelligence. They had a completely different sense of what these products stand for and do

Gap = Identity ~ image

You defined the identity for your product from stakeholders’ view and also understood its image among your customers and users. By now, you would have realized that they are not exactly matching and that there is a difference between the identify and the image. Often times the success or failure of the product is decided by the extent of this gap. The focus now shifts to measure the extent of this gap, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Then the next steps are to understand the root causes for the gap and taking corrective and preventive actions.

Going back to my project work on the biscuits company, I analyzed the results and found that there was a huge gap between the company’s vision and consumers’ view of the products. After further analysis, I could get to the bottom of the case and understood the real reasons to be lack of customer awareness, increasing focus on competition, new management oblivious to the ground realities of the industry and the market needs etc.

Here is how to plug the gap

To ensure that your product works well for the key primary users, follow the guidelines I give below. These are based on industry standard best practices and also from my experience from the past success stories. Note that each of the steps can be explained and expanded into a separate blog post or even a separate chapter in a book. I am just giving them in a list so that we can focus on the specific topic of this post.

  • Create user profiles
  • Select no more than 3 user profiles as your primary target user groups
  • Create personas
  • Understand the conceptual models of users
  • Identify the key needs, challenges, pain areas of the users
  • Understand the key tasks that they do
  • Define the breakdown scenarios, and workarounds used in doing these tasks
  • Use the personas extensively throughout your product development
  • Scope the features and functionality of your product, around the personas
  • Design and develop your product around the needs
  • Keep stakeholders, customers and users involved throughout product development
  • Go back to these people on a continual basis with whatever you have developed
  • Try and identify the gaps, problems, and areas of improvement

I hope this post would help you form a vision for your product, reach out to your users, understand and bridge the gap between the two. And by doing all of these, you are increasing the chances of developing a successful product. Till next post, ciao!