A financial services company came to us with a terrible problem. They had just rolled out a new platform for financial advisors and the advisors were furiously refusing to use it. Usability Matters was asked to help figure out what the problem was and how to fix it.
Not surprisingly, financial advisors at this company are on the phone speaking with their clients throughout day. Their clients call, a little chit chat ensues, and then financial matters are discussed. Advisors needed a tool that allows them to quickly pull up client information to support the banter– things like the client’s spouse’s name or the date of their last financial check-up – and then lead seamlessly into details of the client’s investments. The Business Analysts (BAs) on the project team had thoroughly identified all the needed information but it was so cumbersome to retrieve in the new design that when clients called, advisors found they had to hang up, look up the information they needed and call their clients back several minutes later. They ultimately refused to use the new platform because it failed to support the way they do their jobs. Plenty of grief all around.
In many ways, Business Analysts and User Experience (UX) professionals are two sides of the same coin. We both aim to create better, more successful products and services for our customers and we both liaise with the technical team to bring those aims to life. The difference quite often is simply one of perspective: where the BA typically represents the needs of the business, in UX we steadfastly represent the needs of the people who will use the product or service.
Every successful project needs both viewpoints, but in our example above, the financial services project team missed the user perspective – they missed the real-life needs of the financial advisors.
So let’s look at some typical BA activities and identify ways a UX perspective can add value to your BA role and help you create products and services that people will want to use.
ACTIVITY: DEFINE AND SCOPE BUSINESS AREAS
In this step, BA’s and UX professionals alike want to establish a shared understand of why the project is being undertaken – the project’s goals and objectives. Both roles help determine what the business domain is and who the key stakeholders are.
Identify User Goals
Get the project team thinking about your users right from the beginning. Identify, at least at a high level, who the users are and how the project will benefit them. No need to flesh out user profiles or personas at this step, simply document who the project aims to serve and make sure their core goals are recognized alongside the business goals.
Reach out to people who have the most direct contact with your users to gather insights. Often this is marketing, sales and support personnel.
The project model canvas can help you gather all of this on a single page.
ACTIVITY: GATHER REQUIREMENTS
This is where most of the BA’s insights and expertise are channelled – gathering accurate and complete requirements. From a UX perspective, we want to ensure that user requirements are included with the business and system requirements. Familiar techniques such as interviews, workshops and surveys are used and we supplement these with techniques that may be less familiar to BA’s.
Try adding one of these to your next project:
Contextual inquiry or observation is a research method that provides rich insights into the context in which a product or service will exist. Spend a few hours watching how your intended users do their job, watching for key influences on their work and how your product or service will fit in to it. This technique may have helped the financial services example to stay firmly on the rails.
Card sorting is an engaging, yet effective activity that reveals how users think about information. It allows the Business Analyst to match your organization structure and labels to the way users think of them. Simply create cards for all of the features or content elements in your project, ask people to sort them into meaningful groups and then provide a name for each of those groups.
ACTIVITY: ANALYZE AND DOCUMENT REQUIREMENTS
Business requirements documents are often the key deliverable from both BA’s and UX professionals but we always want to make sure this documentation includes a thorough understanding of our users and their needs.
User Profiles and Personas
Document who your users are. Often that takes the form of either user profiles or personas. User profiles tend to be more generalized and provide insights into groups of people. They are a great place to start but most UX folks prefer to take profiles a step further by creating personas.
Personas are usually a one page summary of a person’s behaviours, characteristics, and overall personal profile including name, age, marriage status favourite brands and technology use. They evoke empathy and they prevent thinking of generic ill-defined users that each project member imagines differently. To be effective, persona development must be firmly grounded in user research techniques.
Personas can also help objectively prioritise your requirements. Each feature can be assigned weighted values indicating how important it is to the business and to each persona. The result is a feature prioritization matrix that takes the guesswork and individual subjectivity out of the prioritization process.
ACTIVITY: DEFINE THE SOLUTION
The technical part of the solution is usually captured in process flow diagrams, system maps and data models. From the user perspective, it’s all about workflow, navigation, user interfaces, and interactions. Often a BA is responsible for all of these and may even create annotated wireframes.
Begin testing your ideas early in the process. With a little repurposing, wireframes can quite easily be turned into a paper prototype that can be tested with real users long before any code is written. Pick a few key tasks and ask people to try to accomplish them with your prototype. When they “click” on something with their finger, simply present the next screen on paper. If you can’t get real users, test with anyone you can – testing with anyone is far better than not testing. You’ll be amazed how these early insights have a major impact on the solution at little or no cost.
For a more realistic experience, try a prototyping tool and test your ideas as if they were the real system. There are great tools like Axure created specifically for this purpose.
ACTIVITY: VERIFY THE SOLUTION MEETS THE REQUIREMENTS
Usability testing is a qualitative technique that assesses not only if the solution fulfills the requirements, but also how well it does so. Ask some people – anyone if you can’t get real users – to accomplish a few key tasks and watch where they trip up. Test early, test often and smooth out those cracks in the sidewalk before formal user acceptance testing begins.
Download our Usability Testing checklist and get started today.
To add even further value to the BA and UX roles, we want to make sure that a holistic view is taken of all the user’s touch points with the business so that a harmonious user experience is delivered – you’ll hear this broader perspective referred to as service design or customer experience design. As a final bonus, check out our hot-off-the-presses Service Design Heuristics field guide.
The broader point is that the BA and UX perspectives are entirely complementary and hopefully we have given you the confidence to inject a little more UX value into your projects. We have many more insights, tools and tips to share on our website, Twitter feed and LinkedIn.