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April 2005 Contents

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NYC-UPA Talk by Mona Patel:
Negotiating Usability Testing Results

by Alan Seiden
Senior Developer and Technical Lead at Strategic Business Systems, Inc.

 

Speaker:
Mona Patel, MS, CUA (Certified Usability Analyst)
Executive Director at Human Factors International, Inc.

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 same.

René Ithier Jr. provided sign-language interpretation. The presentation slides are available online at http://nycupa.org/pastevent_05_0322.html.

Opposing Thumbs

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 want.

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.

Take Responsibility

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)
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