We live in a world of opposites, or at least that is how people view the world. Previously, I talked about those that prefer either traditional, sequential waterfall software development or the more flexible agile approach. You also tend to find two polar opposites in the development of business applications in contrast to websites and e-commerce applications. IT tends to attract those people that like to work with technology – and not people; whereas Marketing, where the whole point is to engage customers and interact with them, tends to attract those that like to work with people. Yes there are exceptions but as generalisations they are true; I’ve worked on both sides of the fence and seen the differences consistently. No wonder then that we find different worlds and tensions. To get their websites done Marketing would sooner get their own team or outsource to design agencies who know the importance of getting across the right message, or customer experience in the fullest sense. This is all well and good in e-commerce but who will champion the corporate customer, the poor staff member with no choice but to be served by IT even when some of the systems they have to use look like they were designed by children? We end up with a split between the user-oriented web/e-commerce sites that can delight their users (as well as sometimes frustrate them in their careless execution and lack of attention to detail) and business applications where the requirements are gathered and delivered to in a way that frequently fails to deliver to expectation. Have you noticed that the main difference in personnel is the presence of UX designers on the one hand and business analysts on the other?
Software development is full of business analysts whose job it is is to gather requirements, analyse them and propose solutions in consultation with technical staff. It’s a very logical, rational process. Business analysis is great because good analysts ensure a good coverage of requirements and system needs. The problem with analysis is that it does what it says it does – pulls things apart, strips the engine to its component pieces to be comprehensive – but focuses less on how these parts are assembled and how people will make sense of them. Business analysts are a bit like police – just the facts, ma’am. In the functional specification (if there is one) there may be a flow diagram or two, clarification of fields on a form and so on but the design responsibilities often end up with the developers if only because no one has done the work up front. In other words, a key part of the project hasn’t been done. This approach is unthinkable in most product development practices where working hard to assess needs and validate designs is imperative. The UX approach is to look at who the types of users are, their aims, their preferences and so on and what tasks these users need to do. Personas and scenarios are modelled visually so that all project stakeholders can understand and comment on them. This typically moves on to an information architecture/wireframing/visual design phase where key parts of the solution are prepared visually, again by designers who understand the requirements. These deliverables can also be reviewed and signed off by stakeholders before commitment to build so the users know what they’re getting and the developers know what they’re building. Any scenarios can be reused to test the final deliverable which tops and tails the project quite nicely, ie testing the deliverables with the requirements. In contrast, the traditional software approach is to test a list of functions individually. Whilst this should also be done to ensure full coverage, what it fails to do is to evaluate how these functions work together, ie the user experience.
So, business analysts need a sea change in their approach and need to work alongside UX specialists to deliver user centred design. Conversely, it would be good to see business analysts more consistently involved in the web/e-commerce world to ensure the job is done comprehensively (a lot of design agencies can’t be bothered to test in different web browsers for example – too boring I suppose). The fact of the matter is that good software and web projects require both the detailed approach of business analysis and the holistic approach of user experience design to ensure that user needs are met both comprehensively and in alignment with real users in real life scenarios.