Monday, May 01, 2006

Corporate Usability Maturity: Stages 5-8

Jakob Nielson on a usability maturity model...

"To truly become a user-centered organization, companies almost always progress through the same sequence of steps, gradually increasing their levels of commitment to usability. My previous article covered the early stages of this journey, from hostility toward usability to the establishment of a dedicated usability budget.

Stage 5: Managed Usability
At this stage, we can finally say usability has "made it" in a company. At stage 4, bits of usability budgets are scattered around the organization. However, these budgets can be canceled without notice, resigning the staff to work on non-usability areas of their projects.

At stage 5, there's an official usability group, led by a usability manager who has the charter to "own" usability. Typically, the group starts with only a few members, but tends to grow and acquire dedicated usability lab space as the company increases its user testing.

Stage 5 resembles stage 4 in the choice of usability methods: the focus is still on user testing, which mainly occurs too late in the development lifecycle. The primary difference here is that studies are conducted more consistently because the usability group refines its methodology as members learn from each other.

The group can also maintain a usability reports archive to compile past findings. Doing so enhances understanding of the company's users, which culminates in company-specific design guidelines. Such cross-study insights are an early move toward the systematic usability processes that characterize stage 6 of corporate usability maturity.

Finally, stage 5 is the first stage at which the company has a person -- the usability manager -- whose job it is to think about usability across the organization and across design projects. When usability managers spend all their time fixing individual design mistakes, they’ve failed their most important task: increasing organizational maturity and leveraging existing usability staff for more strategic purposes.

The methods for evangelizing usability shift once you're trying to move to stage 6. At that point, the usability manager must create opportunities for senior management to experience the huge business value that can be driven by a more systematic approach to usability than simply running tests at the end of a project.

The problem is that the usability budget is too squeezed at stage 5 to implement all the recommended usability activities for all projects. Instead, the usability manager must select particularly promising projects and make them into spectacular wins for user-centered design. The remaining projects must make do with the more fragmented usability methods that remain characteristic of stage 5."   continued ...   (Via Useit)

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