CASE STUDY ON
Company A is a software development company
consisting of several subsidiaries. Company A is used to conducting regular
usability surveys about their products already on the market. Recently, the
company decided to initiate a software quality improvement programme. Usability
was identified as an aspect of software quality that the company was already
doing, but which could be done better, and more rigorously.
The objectives Company A had in their
usability project were the following:
1. Gain knowledge about newer techniques
regarding 'user centered design' and evaluation of software regarding ease of
2. Evaluate their already existing method on
effectiveness and correctness
3. Improvement of their existing methods by
combining the best of two methods
4. Embedding the methods in the software
The trial application is a complex document
management package for the technical engineering environment, which is being
sold world-wide. Company A sells the software using a distributor and dealer
channel, causing a distance between the developers and the end-users. Because
of this, the ease of use when leaving the factory is very important. The
software is being developed at several different geographical locations. This
results in a complex process, in which communication, version management,
strict procedures, and long distance project management are essential.
The embedding of user centered design, and the
evaluation of the software in so-called usability tests into this process asks
for increased flexibility, stricter management and much more communication.
This was therefore the challenge.
The software package is very complex, and
therefore very difficult for non-experienced users to fully understand, and
apply in their process. The software is market leader in the market Company A
is selling the software. At the same time the market has matured during the
last three years, forcing Company A to pay more attention to the user
friendliness, and end user acceptance of the software.
The project was divided in different parts to
work towards an integration of the Music techniques in the development process
of Company A.
Usability requirement analysis
This task evaluated the existing problems of
the software using the SUMI questionnaire as a 'big bang' event and generated
the work plan for improvements to solve these problems.
The training course was meant to teach the
developers the way of user centered design and evaluation of the software and
to show how the methods introduced related to the current evaluation methods
used by the company. Heuristic analysis and co-evaluation were used.
Usability test on prototype
This test evaluated the results of the applied
improvements to the software, and the evaluation method improvements were
applied during this test. Principally, the method of performance analysis using
video capture was used, but SUMI was also used to quantify the gains.
The results were the following:
The software development process improvement
program that was taking place at Company A was sped up enormously.
The trial application was improved enormously
regarding subjective usability (SUMI, before - after effect).
The development team was taught to use basic
usability techniques and tools, and the methodology was embedded in the company
software development process.
The consultants of Company A services are
using the knowledge about the Company A usability program to offer their
clients the tools and methods to evaluate the implementations they buy.
A hitherto-undiscovered type of application
was discovered during the course of Context of Use analysis. This has since
been designed from the beginning using user-centered design techniques and is
now selling as an adjunct to Company A product range.
The benefits for the organization are
enormous. The result of the project is that all people are aware of usability,
know what the word means, and also work according to that. This means that the
attitude of the developers, product marketers, and sales people has been
changed, which is the most important benefit for Company A.
The benefits for the market arise because
users are getting more and more mature, and do not accept bad software anymore.
The developers of software in this market, which used to be highly technically
specialized, are herefore forced to create better software,
more generally usable. This was the first reason why our company started a
software quality improvement program. Usability methods took our software quality
improvement programme a quantum leap into the future.
The company knew it had a software quality
problem in the making, maybe not just now, but a few years down the road. In
addition, multi-site development, entered into for economic reasons, placed even
greater stress on the software lifecycle to produce quality results. Using the
User-Centered Design approach, the company was able to set a discipline on the
development lifecycle and the design teams were able to check the quality
status of the work at well-defined stages. This became a crucial aspect of the
way the company dealt with the 'quality problem.'
Although Company A was keen to get more
experience in user centered design, they needed a focus. They were attracted to
us because of our multi-national reputation. The hard data that SUMI gave us
about their chosen product was just the right thing for that purpose, and it
gave a meaning to the training workshops. Designers knew what they needed to
beat. The Context of Use analysis, first carried out as a training exercise,
suddenly revealed the need for a new product to go with the rest of the product
line. After this, we had a high standing all the way with the company.