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    Tuesday
    May112010

    scalability as critical ux design criteria

    Stop working so hard.

    Probably not something you hear very often in your work life. In my practice, it's becoming a bit of an anthem. Yes, the economy has created a situation where many of us are working more jobs with less people. Yes, your company is still required to produce great offerings that speak to and inspire your customers.

    But as we all know, designing systems that support and make our lives easier as a business takes quite a bit of planning and testing. As the economy forces all of us to get more creative in the products and services we develop, it becomes critical to design both our internal and external offerings with scalability as a major design criteria.

    You've heard the term scalable for years in reference to hardware, databases, and enterprise software. In software design the basic idea is to design systems that can smoothly carry larger task loads and data or serve larger numbers of people.

    When we’re speaking scalability in terms of UX and UI design criteria, we’re talking about all efforts that allow the company to increase the amount of work and services they can offer without increasing the individual's workload or a large increase in staffing. This is about moving your company from reactive, ad-hoc pricing and process and into a more proactive and synchronous state.

    Process
    It’s important to customize this exploration for each company, team or product and to hone in on one area at a time, but here are just a few of the questions and directions you can explore:

    Business and financial
    Strategic planning throughout the company assures that contingencies and plans are in place for any outcomes as a result of growth - rapid or paced

    • Move from ad-hoc pricing to structured approach that allows sales to proceed without the need for in-person contact or allows more than one-person in the company to sell your product or services
    • Play out the scenarios of super-fast growth. Develop a business plan that covers the strategic concerns of growing astronomically as well as a more measured growth plan.
    • How sustainable are your monthly costs?

    Knowledge and skill risk management
    Typically this is a much neglected portion of scalability planning. Understand who and how you work with your company's most valuable asset - knowledge.

    • Where and how are you storing each person’s output?
    • How do you track who owns what document?
    • Do you have version control?
    • If you lost [insert person] from the team, what would happen?
    • Allow tracking of what each person needs to do and has accomplished. Be sure to include the ability to add notes on done, how its been done, what works and doesn’t work
    • Are you able to record what works and what doesn’t from a majority of your key positions, if not all of them?
    • Are records able to be accessed by appropriate team members?
    • How do you document the history of the company?
    • Moving from ad-hoc process to templated process
    • Creating systems and process that leverage knowledge base and allow different people to pick up different jobs

    Communication strategy
    Another broad category that mixes with other areas so deeply it can be easily overlooked. Find any repetitive or misaligned communication inside and out.

    • Is it easy for people to understand how your product or service works?
    • What’s the best way to communicate to your external audience?
    • Map the different cultures of communication inside your company. For example, if your company has both engineering and business teams, be aware that interruptions like email and phone will not work well with implementation teams. They need time to code, create, write and work. The many meetings and always updating culture of corporate business runs on meetings. And if you don't let work happen, things can't scale.

    Content strategy
    Every piece of content that travels through, into or out of your company is a key element of any scalability review

    • What content needs to be produced internally and externally. Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly?
    • What are the most scalable channels to communicate with your audiences?
    • How many people and of what skill level does it take to produce the content for each channel you use?
    • How well does the content that you produce perform? Set up measures of effectiveness and use an iterative approach to conform your content to perform better.
    • How good are your help systems? Are they appropriately simple or expansive to cover rapid growth?

    UI/UX
    Make sure you're looking at any UI elements and process that your internal team or external customer needs. Streamline and simplify all process.
     

    • How integrated and flexible are your internal systems?
    • Is the data and display sufficiently separated to allow for changes in UI skinning, addition of fields without major surgery?
    • Do people understand how to enter information? Could you make it simpler for them to succeed by tweaking your UI or the flow of the experience?
    • Are you taking every opportunity to employ your customer?
    • Are you automating repeating processes for internal and external users?
    • Find the most repetitive and time-consuming tasks. How can these be removed, combined or automated?
    • Make sure your branding says what you think it’s saying

    Real-world applications
    In one company that I was working with we looked over the struggles they had with the need for personal, one-on-one time to help get people set up and working with their deeply technical & interrelated physical and software product. Over four months, using scalability as a design criterion, we re-designed the software UI to make it simpler for the user to set-up and use their product. Then we put into place a very simple video and help system, lowering their customer service demands a whopping 93% from our starting point. Talk about ROI.

    Another client missed several opportunities to prepare their UI and content for large growth even after repeated attempts to gain acceptance for scalability projects from their design team. Caught in a pseudo “agile” windmill the company spent money only on engineering-centric projects and never made a transition out of “start-up” mode. When hit with the downturn and the loss of several key players, they were thrown into disarray and ended up being disbanded. As the company had a powerful idea and amazing technology, my feeling is that this lack of strategic business sense created the situation.

    Doing a review of all the ways your company is ready to scale does take some time and creativity but realistically the return is worth the effort. Keep in mind when you create your findings after this type of review to divide the opportunities out into what is realistic given the current staff, funding and time that your organization has. Choose the top priority items and get in there.

    Stop working so hard.

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