When software kills due to incomplete requirements

If you are lucky, your software has not been responsible for the death of anyone to date. If you are unlucky then you know it.

When a analyst gathers requirements for a piece of software there is a tendency to focus on the happy path and ignore the surrounding paths that can lead to disaster. Unfortunately events can lead up to the identification of the missing requirements and sometimes death is a result.

To be fair, we humans can still kill ourselves without software such as with the mechanical loaded gun or the speeding car taking a bend too fast. However software seems to give people in some cases a false sense of security that does not exist. In other cases it can give them power to do something that should not have been possible if they were directly engaged with the physical which leads to disaster.

The article below refers to two cases where software enabled a pilot to do something they should not have been allowed to do with death being the end result.

Lessons from spaceship two’s crash

In the above article, the situation was different from my previous article about lack of tactile feedback. In both cases the pilots knew what they were doing, they just did it at the wrong time or too frequently for the specific vehicle to survive.

As an analyst, be it a system’s analyst or business analyst, it is not enough to think of just the happy path. Whenever you are gathering requirements you need to also think of what will keep us on the happy path. Whenever there is an interaction or a key data point, ask yourself if the event that causes this can be triggered at the wrong time or occur too many times.

Look for the ways that one can step off of the path and see if you can build either a metaphorical wall to keep us on the path or ways to get us back on the path before any damage is done.

Data handling – know when to bring the experts on board.

We all know about the Y2K incident with the 2 digit year however there are still examples of data storage length being inappropriate for the data to be stored.

If you are a Business Analyst that deals with data then it is important to always be questioning the data requirements to ensure that they meet the need of the business / application now and especially in the future.

Industries where data is critical to their function will probably leverage Data Modelers / Engineers / Scientists to manage data definition. As a BA we should not be afraid to state when the  data knowledge is beyond us and ask for the project to employ one of these specialists. Do not try and wing it because the end result can be expensive to the company.

To read up on some of the impacts of data, see this article below from the BBC:

Data Handling that led to disasters

Responsive Design – the past repeats itself and when you should not bother about it

Google has been sending out emails to websites advising that the web site position in Google search results will be negatively impacted if the website fails to implement responsive design.

Google’s argument is that they want to serve their customers the content that is most viewable on the device being used by the customer. Responsive design being that the website adjusts itself to the screen size of the device being used.

All of the above is the past repeating itself. The print industry has been dealing with this for years.

If you traveled through airports back before e readers, there were lots of small bookstores selling books. Most of the books for sale were of a certain size – the small paperback. Book size was dictated by limited shelf space in the store and what travelers were willing to carry with them on the plane.

Like Google, the bookstore would not stock your book (as in appear in Google search results) if it did not meet their size criteria unless you were some incredible author (book guaranteed to be wanted by travelers no matter the size). Readers were less likely to buy your book if it was larger as it was more hassle to carry around.

However if you were the author of a coffee table size book, you did not care about the getting into the airport bookstores as that was not your market.

Big companies like to be everywhere on the web since they need to maintain brand recognition / market share / income. They also have a large budget to handle the design challenges responsive design creates. For some reason, however, big company still are not able to implement smooth Responsive Design.

Looking at the facts –  BBC.com recently changed their website and introduced moving click points and lengthier navigation (top menu items now moved to sub menu). ABCnews.go.com prevents the user from being able to pinch zoom on their pages. These are just some of the many examples out there of issues with responsive design implemented by large companies.

With large companies failing to implement responsive design well where does that leave the little guy who has the much smaller budget and the less brand recognition?

To answer the above question we first have to consider some others:

1 – Are the people visiting your website likely to be on mobile devices now or in the future?

If you answered yes, then you have to weigh up the % of mobile visitors against the cost of supporting them. Basically, can you afford to lose the mobile visitors if google no longer promotes you?

2 – Does your brand need to increase market share?

Can you afford for your website not to be listed in the mobile search as it will reduce the amount of instances that your brand is visible? If you are trying to build up your brand, the loss of presence in mobile search could negatively impact you especially if a competitor’s brand is present while yours is not. But then again, maybe you are the coffee table size book author and it does not matter. Or you are leveraging other channels such as YouTube / Facebook so losing on mobile search is no big deal.

3 – Will I lose significant revenue if my web site is not found in mobile search?

Does the effort justify the cost. For e-commerce sites, being mobile friendly is almost a requirement but for content sites this is debatable. Do people really want to read the news / advice on the screen of a small telephone.

If you have to go down the responsive path on a limited budget, probably the best bet is to find a vendor that has already developed the web site software to support your web site. For content, Word Press now has themes that are responsive.

Don’t expect a magic wand solution to responsive design as even with off the shelf packages there will probably be something not quite right.

In the long term, screen size will become stable as consumers decide what works and what does not and will chose to purchase the most useful mobile devices. When that happens, the software solutions will be robust and the whole Google conversation on penalizing those that do not implement responsive design will be part of history.

2 reasons to think physical product when designing Web UI

February 22, 2015 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, UX / UI, Web Sites 

Previously I have talked about tactile feedback in good product design. Today I want to suggest that anytime you design an interface you think of a physical product.

Why has this come about?

With the easy availability of touch screens, any web page is effectively a physical product as opposed to the days when we were limited to point and click via a mouse.

Some of you may argue that this is already being handled by having mobile versions of your web pages or mobile applications. This however does not take into consideration the larger touch screens that are coming into play as monitors or even when a user decides to browse your regular web site via their Tablet device. Some web sites are also assuming the network / server speed and graphic processing power will be able to cope with large pages (size in kb)without impact to the user but this is not the case.

Too illustrate the point of two bad touch interface design for a web site I will transfer the problems to a physical laptop.

1 – Laptop keys move around when laptop lid initially opened and every time a page button is clicked

Nobody is going to buy a laptop where the keys move as you try to use them but for some reason large web site owners such as CNN.com (page moves up by a row once it has finished loading) / abcnews.go.com + autotrader.com (banner advert expands and pushes page down) expect that users of their web sites will put up with this when the user opens a web page.

Why does this happen:

A – We see examples where banner adverts bounce page text up and down so when a user tries to select a link or read an article they are stuck with a moving target. In the worst case, the banner advert expands for a short while and then shrinks giving a user a double hit on a moving web page.

B – Web page has become bloated and parts of style sheet is loaded last meaning the layout location of some web page elements will move after the page has been presented to the user.

Page below initially loads without banner advert.

Bad UI - Banner advert causing web page moving text

Bad UI – Banner advert causing web page moving text

 

Then the banner advert appears pushing text on page down.

Bad UI - Banner advert causing web page moving text

Bad UI – Banner advert causing web page moving text

 

2 – Laptop keys made incredibly small that you can’t be sure which key is pushed.

Yet again, nobody is going to want really small keys on their laptop but we still see this on some web sites. Mainly it still crops up in paging where the site still focuses on using a small number to allow the user to select next pages. These small numbers are hard to touch accurately with your finger and even with a mouse it requires some dexterity.

www.Realtor.com is an example of this.

Difficult to select web links

Difficult to select web links

When designing for the web, think beyond the actual web page.

Ask yourself how well would the user interface on this web page work if the UI was part of a physical object such as  the keyboard on a laptop?

 

Four components to measuring success of your product / release.

Whatever you are working on will eventually end up with a new or updated product being released. Prior to that release date, consideration should be given to how to measure success.

There are four components to measuring success:
1 – Determine what is to be measured.
What is the new or improved product supposed to achieve? Hopefully you already know the answer to this prior to even starting development.
A business should have clearly defined goals as to what is expected via the release of the new or improved product. These goals should be quantifiable in a mathematical way even if you have to hire a PHD mathematician to determine the formula that quantifies it.

Examples:
a – Game averages 1000 downloads per day over a 3 month period.
b – LED Lightbulb increases market share for our brand over others.
c – New website design increases revenue from marketing and attracts more visitors.

2 – Identify Channels to supply the measurement information.
Now that you know what you plan to measure for success, the next question is where to get this information from?
Channels of information can come in many different ways:
a – Data could be collected from social media site such as Facebook to see how many positive comments a new product gets.
b – Sales information could be tracked from online and physical stores.
c – Surveys could be performed on potential and actual customers.
d – Certain key words/phrases could be searched on in the Search Engines.

3 – Integrate and absorb the data from the Channels.
Once the source of the measurements has been identified, the next step is the actual integration of this data into your reporting system so that it can be sliced and diced to provide the measurement of success reports. Your PHD mathematician may also be needed here to weight the data accordingly so that no one channel skews the results unrealistically.

4 – Present the success data to the consumers.
Finally with all the data, reports can be designed / generated or data outputted for consumption by those who will make the determination that the goals have been achieved. At this point knowing who the consumers of the information is becomes critical as you need to present the data in a format that the consumers can understand and consume. You may need to engage UI/UX experts at this point if the presentation is using new technology so that they can help design the presentation.

3 ways to kill your Mobile Game Success – bad UX/UI

December 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, General News, ROI, UX / UI 

With the opportunity to make money in Mobile Games there are some basics failings that should be avoided if you want the game to be a success.

1 – Reset Time
How long does it take your player to reset the game level if they fail? As players learn to play the game they will fail levels as they play. The length of acceptable reset time is dependent on how long the player got to play the level before they failed. There is no one size fits all but a short play time followed by a long reset will lose players. The length of the reset time can be offset by advising the player how they did, suggestions for improvement etc.. eventually however that will not be enough to keep a player engaged and they will drop the game. Some companies have even taken the reset time as a money making opportunity by putting in ways to purchase a quicker reset and making the game reset artificially slow.

2 – Forcing a large download (+1 gig) on a regular basis
It may have been a few days since the player played the game and if you want to make that time even longer force them to download 1+ gig of data before they can play. There is no rational behind making a game a forced download of such size on a regular basis. Better to state that a new version is available and give the user the option to download the new version while still being able to play the old.

3 – Not being able to play without an internet connection
I have seen games self destruct because they were opened without an internet connection and others have refused to play. From a money making sense, it would seem wise to limit play to only times when the internet is available however this just makes your game less played. For sure there need to be regular updates of advertising (for in game sales) but better that there is some countdown to removal of game access than a sudden abrupt implosion. Of course best of all is the ability to play the game while internet is not available, you can always prompt during the game to remind the user to share their scores or buy new products any of which will motivate the user to find a connection next time they play.

2 failings in ecommerce that cause lost sales!

November 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, ecommerce, ROI, UX / UI, Web Sites 

How well is your company managing it’s ecommerce?

The following two examples show areas where sales can be lost.

Today I came across 2 failures in ecommerce that should not happen but companies allow to happen.

1 – Online sales feature that is not available.
2 – Failure to respond to negative comments about your products.

Online sales feature not available
Today I tried to change my cell phone plan online with the company I currently have. This morning and afternoon, I was told that “We’re sorry. Change plan is not available online at this time.” How many more times will I try before I start to look at other companies to provide my cell phone service. This failure to provide a feature online at best might cause dissatisfaction with the company but at worst it gives me time to start looking at the competitors offerings which may tempt me to switch to another company! Companies cannot afford to have software that is part of the sales pipeline not functioning. It is truly like the sales pipeline has a hole in it that is leaking sales.

Negative reviews on products
Online I see two kinds of product management.

  • People behind the products respond appropriately to reviews
  • Negative reviews are left with no response
  • As a buyer online, there is no salesperson to offset the negative reviews left online nor to complement the nice reviewers. This means sales can be lost if buyers are presented with negative feedback on the review. Sales is about overcoming objections to the purchase, unfortunately with ecommerce reviews I can end up with more objections to buying an item than when I started the purchase process. It is important that your company has someone responding to reviews so that you do not loose valuable sales.

    HomeDepot.com – Major Link as part of image. Usability Issue?

    September 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
    Filed under: UX / UI 

    Some people today received an email from Home Depot advising them of the payment hack.

    The email then advised them to visit the website to take advantage of 12 months of identity protection.

    However Home Depot seem to miss the boat on making the information very easy to find. A basic usability issue. I presume they did not include the link in the email to avoid hackers sending out spoof emails that would then take the customer to a hacker’s site that looks like Home Depot. Still hackers can opt to do that anyway with their emails.

    Home Depot instead placed the link as part of the main image on their web site. Putting links as part of images can cause them to be missed if users are used to using menus on your site. The colors of this major link did also not tie in with their other links. If the mouse is hovering over any of the links on the left, the image on the right completely disappears.

    By placing the link inside of the image instead of at the very top, it also leads the rectangular box to look like part of the image and the image does not tie in with the subject leading to additional confusion.

    Between the email not explaining where to find the link (and supplying false leads) and the method of displaying the link I think they missed the mark on usability.

    However on a very good point they made the whole image clickable.

    homeDepot1

    You can learn more about the identity protection services and how to sign up for them at https://homedepot.allclearid.com/.
    The email text sent to customers with the false leads. Refers users to FAQS straight away, but that does not contain the link at the time this post was researched. Would have been nice if they had just said to click the main image on the home page.
    For more information, please visit our website where you’ll find frequently asked questions, helpful tips, our Important Customer Notice, and information about how to take advantage of the free identity protection services, including credit monitoring. Should you have questions regarding the authenticity of this email or any additional questions over the coming days and weeks, please call 1-800-HOMEDEPOT.            

     

     

     

     

      

    UX, UI and Usability – 3 Components that affect Product Greatness

    Today I am going to discuss the Hot Topic of User Interaction since it seems to cause many companies problems.

    Looking at the main components of User Interaction, we have:

    3-Parts-Of-Usability

    UX, UI and Usability. The 3 components of good interaction design.

    UX (User Experience) – This is the catch all for the user experience with your product that has not been covered by your personal User Interface definition (UI). It is all encompassing. Things like color, texture, speed, efficiency, reliability, words, fonts etc. can fall into this bucket. Depending on what your product does, the list could be vast.

    UI (User Interface) – This is interface between the user of your product (may not always be human – think dog door) and the product itself. Depending on how well you understand the users, the interface may be great or a complete miss. UI can be built without any consideration for UX since at the end of the day by definition, UI enables a user to interact with a product. To explain the previous sentence, think of a Light Switch. Your office may have light switches that are all the color red. If I give you a white light switch to replace a red one, it is still a valid UI solution since it can be used to turn lights on and off but from an overall UX perspective I have just changed the color to not match any of the other light switches.

    Usability – Different users will have different usability needs. A cat door will not work with a large dog but may work with a small dog. Understanding the needs of your users will influence the User Interface. A misunderstanding here could lead to a UI that is only partly successful. In the perfect world, the UI should be a perfect match for the needs of the users.

     

    UX-Good-Design-Components

    Good Interaction Design means that the UI (User Interface) and the users that will use it are a great match and overall the interface creates a great UX (User Experience).

    When we look at a well designed product be it software, web site or a physical product like a Dog Door certain things are evident:

    1. The User Interface ties in perfectly with the User of the product requirements.
    2. The Product looks and feels great to the user and the UI dovetails nicely into the UX.

     

    UX-Bad-Design-Components

    Bad UX means that the User Interface does not match the requirements of the Users and the overall UX is not great.

    If we look at bad interface design it has missed the needs of the users and the overall user experience beyond the user interface is not great.

    Why do we end up with bad interface design?

    1. Expectation that the person designing the User Interface (UI) understands the current needs of the users that will be using the product. Just because someone is able to build a UI that does not mean they understand the users that will be using the end product. Think of the light switch example given previously.
    2. Not building a new UI when it is not working or significantly changing the UI to meet the needs of the current users or new users without research.
    3. Usability requirements incomplete or the users of the product not understood. You could come up with a great touch screen application for use in food factories only to find out that they cannot have the glass of the touch screen on the factory floor because of contamination risks to the food product if the glass was to break in an accident!
    4. No research done with users to get their feedback on UI / UX / Usability before or after the product is created.
    5. Cost cutting done at the expense of Usability / UX i.e. the focus being on getting the UI released at all costs.

    How to create good interfaces?

    1. Understand your users in detail.
    2. Work with experts that know how to establish the important interface requirements to meet the user needs.
    3. Track the user experience before and after the product is released to pinpoint problems.
    4. Don’t rely on the UI person to do the UX and Usability or to even have the skills to do this analysis.
    5. Leverage interfaces that have already established good Usability / UX and modify them to meet your product’s needs – Don’t reinvent the wheel unless your product further enhances Usability / UX and you have proven that with research.

     

    etrailer.com personal touch in E-Commerce email communication

    Purpose of this post is to share how the use of a name in customer contact can bring a more human touch to ecommerce and raise your company above others in terms of perceived quality.

    Too often companies can treat E-Commerce transactions like the purchase of a product at a cheap store where the check out assistants have no personality.

    etrailer.com pleasantly surprised me with my recent orders through them and the email communication I received.

    Instead of the bland email advising me of the status of my order along with a generic support number, etrailer.com provided me at points in their communications with an email to a specific person.

    This gave their E-Commerce operation a more human touch and thus a shopping experience a step above the generic response.

    However, it should be noted that in the 5 emails I received from them in regards to my purchase, the communication did vary on the personal touch and the communication details. This is something that etrailer.com may want to consider from a standards point of view.

    As I did not use their customer support team, I cannot vouch for how effective they are or if even the people that contacted me do exist (could be that it is computer generated names).

    Listed below in the order they were received are the methods of response back to etrailer.com that I was advised that I could use – (note: I ** out part of the email addresses to limit spam to etrailer):

    1 – Receipt of order – with a link to their customer contact information page.

    1507 East Highway A
    Wentzville, MO 63385
    636 887 9300
    Contact Us

    2 – Order Status on same day as receipt of order advising of possible delay (note lack of extension number in phone compared with communication #3).

    If you have any questions, you can reach me at 1-800-298-8924

    Thanks,

    George J
    geor***@etrailer.com

    3 – Order Status 7 days later (note this time an extension number is provided)

    Please email or call 1-800-298-8924 ext. 333 if you have any other questions.

    Thank you,

    Cole S.
    col**@etrailer.com
    1-800-298-8924 ext 333
    636-887-9333

    Online at http://www.etrailer.com

    4 – Notification that order has shipped (note that email now refers to generic customer service but name still provided – which makes me think it is computer generated)

    If you have any questions you can reach me directly at  or (800) 298-8924
    extension  or by email at cs@etrailer.com

    Thanks,

    George J
    cs@etrailer.com

    5 – Post shipment follow up (note that everything is generic now and no email provided)

    As always, feel free to call us at 1-800-298-8924 if you have any questions or
    if there is something we can help with.

    Thanks,

    Patrick B

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