Projects started to become a little more “real” this week.
I spread my time working on three different projects:
- Looking at a software product that’s already in production, and working with a client to understand what additional requirements their users need.
- Reviewing some ‘emerging tech’ strategy documents and possible applications.
- Supporting a colleague who’s looking into hardware options for inspectors.
Across all these projects, the people on the team are trying to do the same thing: lower the risk of failure (and waste). Gain confidence that we’re investing in the right thing.
Which is why I’m involved! We’ll be conducting user research to help eliminate blindspots and lower risk.
In several conversations this week, I teased out this divide between problem- and solution-space research. It can be tempting to push forward with a technical solution, and then try to find a problem we can solve with it. But that can be a pretty risky approach. Plus, we’re here to serve our users (inspectors), not to sell a commercial product. So we’re well served to become experts in our users, and then use that information to find a solution that fits.
When we become experts in what Jobs to be Done our users have, we have a clearer sense of how we can help them be successful. Jobs are stable: our inspectors need to review physical spaces to ensure they are safe and secure. Inspectors have done this job for years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
As designers and developers, we’re here to help our customers be more successful. This means helping them do things quicker, with fewer errors and consistent results. Helping them achieve their goals should be our goal.
So, we need to focus our research up-front on understanding what inspectors do now, and how they define ‘success’. What about their job is tedious, time-consuming, or prone to error? Are there certain circumstances that make things more difficult than others?
As we learn about the gaps between the inspector’s ideal experience and their current experience, we can develop a list of needs. These are written in the form of a statement of imperfections to minimize, with the ultimate goal being to eliminate them completely.
Examples could be:
- Minimize the time it takes to access relevant regulations
- Minimize the time it takes to cross-check local records with official records
- Minimize the likelihood that an inspector will miss an area in an unfamiliar location
Of course, specific circumstances may mean there are new needs that arise. Right now in 2020, we could add:
- Minimize the time an inspector has to work within 2m of another person
- Minimize the distance an inspector has to physically travel to inspect a site
- Minimize the likelihood that an inspector leaves respiratory droplets on physical items
Of course, we can’t expect to completely resolve each of these needs. Some of them may even be in conflict with each other. But when we have this list, we can have informed discussions about the decisions and trade-offs we’re making. (We can also survey our users to understand how important each of these needs is to them, and how satisfied they are with their current solution. People may be satisfied with their current solution, even if it’s less than perfect).
Once we have this exhaustive list of needs, we can start to consider solutions. We can compare options by looking at how they bring users closer to their ideal state. Of course, this means we have to first agree on who the user is, what they’re trying to achieve, and how they measure success. We can’t realistically compare solutions until we know what we’re aiming to solve.
As I mentioned, one of the topics that came up this week was looking at possible hardware devices for inspectors. But rather than asking people “which of these solutions would you like” and not really knowing what factored into their decisions, we’ve discussed doing something like a conjoint analysis, where we tease apart the different features available, and allow users to tell us what they value across options. This gives us some more insights into what’s important to them, and also recognize that there may be alternative combinations that may better suit their needs.
We ended the week sending out some emails to inspectors to start to set up some interviews, and I’m looking forward to getting moving past this somewhat theoretical approach to gathering some information to share back with my colleagues!