ifacethoughts

Encourage Observation

One of the practices that helps in gathering information is observation. Observing the potential users can let you identify and realize things that would probably slip out of your mind and the requirements elicitation task. The problem with the whole requirement elicitation, gathering and discussion meetings is that they are too conscious. And our usage is usually driven by a lot of our subconscious, which we never give explicit thought and attention. This usually results in design elements that border on the usability and functionality edge.

The onus is on the software developer to get that behavioral information. And the best way is to observe. Observe and take down notes, and incorporate the traits and behavior in the profile of the potential user you are building. This can provide the missing link when the decisions are stuck, or tie the loose ends together.

Why is observation the best for this? Because it is one-way. Yes, two-way might not be suitable always. You do not get to discuss, just observe. Any attempt to create a two-way discussion in this case fails, because most of the times the user feels there is nothing to say. Also, a lot of times some information does not seem relevant or valid because of our lack of information. This is the reason that observational testing has proved quite efficient.

Things are too obvious to be noted or sometimes too silly to be explicitly specified. The only way to make sure you do not miss them is to observe, listen and note.

One of the ways I have encouraged observation for me or even others in the team is by reading out lot of facts that we usually miss. These non-work interesting things help us understand there is lot of information out there that we simply fail to know. Here are some of those:

  • Name of all continents start and end with same alphabet.
  • Most polar bears are left-handed.
  • Typewriter is the longest word that can be made using the
    letters only on one row of the QWERTY keyboard.
  • Venus is the only planet that rotates clockwise.
  • If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle; if the horse has one leg front leg in the air, the person died as a result of wounds received in battle; if the horse has all 4 legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes.
  • The Eisenhower interstate system requires that one mile in every five must be straight. These straight sections are useable as airstrips in times of war or other emergencies.
  • Because radio waves travel at 186,000 miles per second and sound waves saunter at 700 miles per hour, a broadcast voice can be heard sooner 13,000 miles away than it can be heard at the back of the room in which it originated.
  • Blue and white are the most common school colors.
  • Number 13 is skipped while numbering cars for a Formula 1 event, probably because of Triskaidekaphobia.
  • 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

Each of them have different amusing element, but they do help us realize that there is lot of information which has to be discovered. We do not know a lot of it enough to even ask questions about it. The only way to come across is to observe. I have received many such in emails, there are many more available on the web sites like Interesting Facts.

Do you think observation is important? How do you encourage it?

Discussion [Participate or Link]

  1. Pete Johnson said:

    Nice post, in particular that first paragraph. My first job at HP was writing software for the enterprise support call centers and once a year we were required to go look over the shoulder of one of the support engineers using our software. Needless to say, it was always a humbling experience to watch someone using code you created and not use it the way you thought they would. As you point out, that’s a lot more powerful motivator for change than an impersonal requirements document you get handed.

    Pete Johnson
    HP.com Chief Architect
    Personal Blog: http://nerdguru.net

  2. Abhijit Nadgouda said:

    Thanks for your input Pete. You used the perfect words – humbling experience. There is always so much to learn from the users.

  3. Are You Angry That You Are A User? | iface thoughts said:

    […] consider the individual’s knowledge, habits, conveniences and comforts. This is where you observe, understand and identify with […]

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Abhijit Nadgouda
iface Consulting
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