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Usability Planning

Summary

Usability planning provides an important means of managing individual usability activities as well as the overall role played by usability input within a software engineering programme. It defines the scope of usability work required to produce a user- interface design that is efficient, effective and satisfying in use.

Usability planning involves defining and managing user-centred design activities that will take place during the development of a product. A usability plan report is created, which details the scope of selected usability activities and defines actions and time-scales required to implement them. Usability planning should be carried out for all development projects, but in particular development projects purporting a high degree of user-centred design.

Cost benefit analyses of user-centred design activities may be carried out and its results summarised in the first part of the usability plan. Wherever an investment in user-centred design activities is made during development, one or more tasks will be identified. A task manager is appointed for each task, an appropriate activity is selected and a schedule specified. The usability plan is a living document, and undergoes regular reviews as the project progresses.

Benefits

  • Ensures that usability work is co-ordinated and not performed in a piecemeal fashion.
  • Provides clear visibility of what usability work is going on and what its overall aims are.
  • Enables priorities to be assessed, and facilitates the efficient allocation of resources.

However, it is important to remember that usability plans may not be stable because of continually changing project plans. Also, usability plans are constrained by the need to schedule the delivery of results in sufficient time for them to be acted upon by designers and implementers.

Method

Planning

As a part of the usability planning exercise a cost-benefit analysis may be required to indicate that it is worth making an investment in further user-centred design activities. Also note that the output from a context analysis meeting can provide a valuable input to any usability plan.

Become familiar with the features for which cost benefit analysis has indicated it is worthwhile making a user-centred design investment.

All relevant parties should be consulted when constructing a usability plan and their backing should be secured. The plan will need to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate changing development schedules.

Running

Hold a meeting with the key project personnel who have an interest in the usability of the product. For each selected feature or aspect of the system discuss what sort of usability targets could be set, the work that needs to be done to achieve those targets, and the most appropriate methods to assess the developing system. Following this create the usability plan. For each selected feature specify a programme of work which will deliver the desired target. If a detailed target has yet to be defined, create a task to do so. A person who is responsible for carrying out the usability work should be identified along with the resources that will be required, and a schedule with milestones. Get agreement to each part of the plan with the relevant people.

Reporting

A usability plan report is created in which details of the scope of the intended usability activities It defines the actions and timescales required to implement them. Implement the plan as specified and update where necessary.

More Information

  • ISO 13407 Human centred design processes for interactive systems

Alternative Methods

The information required for usability planning may also be collected as part of a more comprehensive stakeholder meeting.

Next Steps

Implementation.

Background Reading

The Usability Engineering Lifecycle: A Practitioner's Handbook for User Interface Design. Deborah J. Mayhew. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 1999,.


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