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Giving as good as you get

January 31, 2011

Following on from last time, we now have a good idea of who are users really are via a set of stereotyped personas, and what they want our product to do via user stories.

However, it's almost certain that there will be conflicts between what users require from the service (everything, yesterday) and what there is time and resource to develop. Even though it might be technically possible to deliver all the features all the persona's want, or there may be many people willing to work on the project, this approach may cause problems.

Trying to do everything at once means:

  • increased risk of not completing on time or budget
  • increased risk that requirements will alter from under the project
  • delayed time-to-market
  • jack-of-all trades, but master-of-none
  • Poor focus
Taking longer to do something invariably means there is a greater chance the real world will move on after you've tried to fix it in one place long enough to build a solution to a problem - this goes double if you are trying to keep up with the Internet!

It's all right not to be first to market, as long as you are right to market, but it's often better to get out there, with real feedback, and build on your first mover advantage.

A product that tries to do everything that everyone wants, like Microsoft Word, is almost certain to fail to create a strong focus on the 20% of functions most people need.

Therefore it's important that the features users want are prioritised. But, likewise, there are strong business reasons for some features (such as gathering biographical data from users) that users would want less (after all, they just want to create an account so they can use the service, or better yet just to use the service !).

It's clear, then, that some things must be finished and released first, but what's a good way to find out what should go in that first release ?

There's no hard-and-fast method, but there are a few promising ideas.

Richard Cecil has suggested a 'value matrix' approach, where the customer need is matched to a business objective and proposed functionality. This is combined with a success metric to give a final priority. This is simple enough to be run in an Excel spreadsheet, and works well if you have plenty of stake holders to pick the brains of.

James Kelway has suggested a graph of user wants against business needs. Which provides much the same information but in a more visual format. This makes for a great presentation tool when reporting back the results of the design process, and is a good reminder for why some features are produced before others.

This visual aspect to the design process is a theme we'll continue next time.

Posted by Tom Chiverton

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