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Resources: UPA 2005 Idea Markets

How Can User Research Quickly Become a Valued Part of Established Product Teams?

Activator: Eric Jensen, Adobe Systems, Inc.

The Activator's Initial Questions

As a company’s needs evolve, the user researcher is frequently shifted from team to team or product to product. When joining a team that has already existed across several development cycles of a product, it can be difficult to create a role for user research and for the usability professional to gain credibility. This is true for both new and experienced usability professionals. This discussion helped attendees explore ways to get a presence in established product teams and to think about developing new approaches.

The posted questions were:

  • What are the reasons a product team might be reluctant to include user research in their existing process?
  • How can the user researcher address these concerns early and successfully to gain credibility with an established team?
  • What kinds of presentations, data or approaches can help to quickly establish a toehold with an existing team? Which help to grow that position over a longer term? What helps to solidify the value of user research being present?
  • How can the user researcher sell themselves as a valuable addition to the team initially? Are there tactics that work well in meetings and face-to-face interactions versus others that can be used “behind the scenes?”
  • Who are the key allies for user research in the product team and why?
  • How can team members in different roles be drawn into supporting your value?
  • How can the user researcher gain credibility with more than one product team simultaneously?
  • How should the user researcher balance what they perceive as the needs of the team against specific requests from the team?

Summary of Results

The four attendees were usability specialists with various levels of experience. One works for a corporation, one in an educational setting, and two were contractors or consultants who in effect need to continually integrate with existing teams, although on a short-term basis. They provided the following observations on becoming integrated with an existing team:

Sources of reluctance within a team:

  • Teams may think it will show the process down – need to convince them that spending two weeks now will save five later

Working on more than one product:

  • Makes it hard to keep the various issues in your head – easier to have a single product

Customer requirement visits can help:

  • These should be done early in the cycle – if they are driven by product management it can help to ensure coverage of the entire intended user base
  • Broad participation by team members including upper management is critical to getting good role for user data into the cycle

Short-term vs. long-term success:

  • Get some early results for where they are now in the cycle (e.g. benchmark for next release)
  • Outreach/visibility can be valuable (e.g. conducting a class on “usability 101” for non-practitioners)
  • Make sure you are defined as member of the product teams within the company
  • Find a management champion who will keep you in the loop
  • Work through a “showcase” project that is a slam dunk for crossing between corporate silos
  • Alternatively, pick a project that will make a “friend” of someone who has a key role in your org
  • Look at core or global functions to cover a broad spectrum when there are too many products or issues to cover at once
  • Don’t overcommit to what you can deliver
  • Have good estimates for time required, like engineering does – if possible turn these into templates for how long it takes for external research, number of anticipated iterations, competitive analysis, etc
  • Get internal/upper management support for the value of usability
  • Try to streamline the process for the user – reduce or eliminate exposure of processes they don’t need to know about such as round-trips to the disk or database.



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