NYC-UPA Talk by Mona Patel:
Negotiating Usability Testing Results
by Alan Seiden
Senior Developer and Technical Lead at Strategic Business Systems, Inc.
Mona Patel, MS, CUA (Certified
Executive Director at Human Factors
Usability professionals may offer great user-centered advice, but what
to do if project stakeholders oppose it?
Negotiate, says Mona Patel, a Jersey City, N.J.–based Executive
Director of the user-centered-design firm Human Factors International
(HFI), headquartered in Iowa. She has enjoyed consistent success, she
says, by using a win-win style of negotiation to make sure HFI’s
recommendations to clients get implemented. On March 22, 2005, Mona gave
the New York City chapter of UPA a fast-paced lesson on how to do the
René Ithier Jr. provided sign-language interpretation. The presentation
slides are available online at http://nycupa.org/pastevent_05_0322.html.
Mona led the group through a quick thumb-wrestling contest to warm up
the crowd and convey the inefficiency of adversarial interactions. The
winner, chapter vice president Ilise Benun, was awarded a copy of Eric
Schaffer’s book Institutionalization of Usability: A Step-by-Step
Guide (see reading list).
Speak Their Language
While usability findings are based on scientific and psychological research,
Mona said, business clients tend to accept ideas more readily when they
are couched in business language. Usability professionals should prioritize
their findings in order of importance to the business. Writing a cost/benefit
analysis may be helpful for estimating the return on investment.
Reach Common Ground
Understanding clients’ goals can turn potential adversaries into
partners. Mona advised, “Have the empowering assumption that we
all can create value.” Listen with an open mind, she said. Discern
what people really mean when they are supposedly telling you what they
Get the Facts
Developers sometimes resist usability enhancements because they fear
that making the changes would take too long. Instead of giving up, Mona
suggested, continue to talk to developers, emphasizing that employing
usability principles will help them avoid future tedious overhauls. Given
time, the developers may find a creative way to accept the recommendations.
If the developers still resist, ask them how long making the changes
would take and whether they envision any other impediments. Share their
responses with the person who has the authority to approve such work at
the client company. Let that person decide whether the improvements are
worth the time and money to implement.
Working with Internal Usability Staff
Outside usability consultants can collaborate with internal usability
staff to produce strong results. Consultants provide an independent view,
while staff members supply an understanding of corporate business needs
and priorities. A joint report to decision makers that combines these
viewpoints gives credit to staff, portrays the consultants as collaborators,
rather than rivals, and may carry extra weight.
Know When to Move On
Sometimes fighting for an improvement is not worth the effort. A real-world
example: The search function of a furniture retailer’s e-commerce
site barely worked. The retailer’s managers, though, insisted that
customers needed only to browse, not search—as in the physical store.
Solution: Cede the point and move on. Other areas of the site probably
need improvement, too.
Usability professionals should strive to make it easy for clients to
opt for good user-centered design. Present at least two different designs
that will meet everyone’s needs. The client can then participate
in the process by selecting the most desirable option. Offering clear,
specific choices may expedite approval. For example, instead of suggesting
“Shorten the text,” the effective consultant might display
a page redesigned to feature shortened text.
Try not to judge or blame those who resist usability recommendations.
Be a leader who takes responsibility for helping others to achieve shared
goals. Enter the negotiation, Mona said, assuming that everyone wants
the best final product. The process, however, must start with you.
The presenter recommends these books:
- The Art and Science of Negotiation by Howard Raiffa (1982)
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
by Roger Fisher and William Ury (1981)
- Institutionalization of Usability: A Step-by-Step Guide by
Eric Schaffer, Ph.D., CPE (2004)
- The Negotiating Toolkit: How to Get Exactly What You Want in Any
Business or Personal Situation by Roger J. Volkema (1999)