Help me convince my company to put Human Factors Engineering (or User Centered Design) into their software CMMI process.
July 7, 2008 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to educate and convince my company of the value of incorporating Human Factors Engineering (aka Human Systems Integration or User Experience) and User Centered Design into their software engineering processes and the software lifecycle.

I work for a software contractor company and we design and develop Windows and internet based software applications for the government. Most people know “sort of” what HFEs do but do not really understand what is involved or exactly how they can benefit. I am not even sure myself how to explain it to them since we have never really successfully incorporated any of the things I learned academically. As a “first step” in this education process I am going to give a presentation featuring the variety of activities that HFEs can do, how these activities directly affect/benefit them, and what they need to provide in order to get it. This last point is crucial. Even those that want HFE support do not know how to work it into the schedule and what to plan for. I am not much of a planner myself so I do not know what to tell them. I do not have much practical experience to use for examples or as a place to start.

I am looking for some resources (and personal recommendations, perhaps contacts) that can help me develop this presentation. I have only a couple of weeks (on my own time) to develop this presentation so I am looking for resources that will get me on my way fast - such as websites, articles, books, tutorial, etc. The following are the main areas I am researching:
• A list of the types of activities that is reasonable to expect from HFEs in my type of company.
• Given resource A, the development team can expect B from the HFE.
• In order to get B from an HFE, X resource must supply Y. (fill in the variables)
• Examples of similar companies and projects using HFE successfully.

Any advice, recommendations, or experiences would be appreciated. If you know of other forums that are more HFE/HCI focused, please let me know. We are a very process/CMMI directed company with a focus on software engineering, so if I can’t back up my recommendations with facts, data, and linear logic then they are just wild opinions from some crazy designer.
posted by Vegheadb4 to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe this will help:
posted by amtho at 5:43 PM on July 7, 2008

The head of the Design & Usability Center at Bentley College in Waltham, MA is a friend and former co-worker of mine. She might be a very good resource for you and I would be glad to do some sort of e-mail introduction for you if you wish. My contact info is in my profile.
posted by briank at 6:04 PM on July 7, 2008

If you can get your hands on a copy of Cost Justifying Usability, you may find some useful arguments from a business perspective.
posted by i love cheese at 6:40 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good on you for wanting to do this. You have a lot of work ahead of you!

If you're talking about the US government, start with It's a site designed especially for people who make web sites for the US government, be they staff or contractors. However, be forewarned that a lot of the resources you're bound to get from this question are likely to be web-based. Just interpret it all as best you can for application/software design and your particular business processes.

amtho's UIE suggestion is sound. Search that site for selling usability and the "scent of design," which will give you some good primer-type language for an elevator pitch-type conversation. Also check out, site of web usability godfather Jakob Nielsen. Search his site for ROI (return on investment) and application design.

Also check, which is an online magazine of content dedicated to information architecture, which has a natural intersection with usability. Lots of resources there. Search for ROI and "elevator pitch." You should find some good language for a presentation on that site.

Lastly, if your company designs software that is, or might be, subject to Section 508, have a look at for guidelines on the federal law that pertains to how US government web sites and some applications and software must be usable by people with disabilities. This might be your big "in" to convincing your company to focus on the user (which would be a nice segue to user-centered design/UCD): The law might actually require that you make your software usable by blind people, those with low vision, color-blindness, etc.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:13 PM on July 7, 2008

Hi there, where about are you located?

I am a Usability Professional. The core of what you are asking is a business development question, not a usability issue. What you need is a user expereince strategy. The problem is that to answer any of your questions, even marginally well, will require a lot more detail about your business than you can possibly give via askme. If you were my client, I would require a 2 hour meeting, minimum.

What would need to come out of the meeting would be:
1. Who are the users of the systems you are designing?
2. What are their primary tasks on these systems?
3. What are the pain points of the current software systems (if there is one)?
4. What are the most critical elements of the systems?
5. What kinds of problems are you solving for the government agencies?
6. How long do these projects last?
7. Who are the resources deployed on the projects?
8. What is their structure and responsibility on the projects?

Without knowing more, I'll give you my standard answer. A HFE will invariably have the greatest impact to shape the design process at the beginning. I would recommend a HFE on each project for the first 25% of the project. After the decisions are made, it's probably too late for User Centered Design. What they do in this 25% will vary from project to project, but can include: 1. researching current users (interviews) 2. creating scenarios that describe how people will use the new system(scenarios) 3. making wire-frame specifications that follow from 1 and 2 (wireframes). This is the biggest bang for the buck.

Please email me if you think I can help you.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 7:32 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would get a copy of Mayhew's "Usability Engineering Lifecycle". It addresses all your questions. You will not regret getting this book! Here are some HFE activities:

1. Product Definition:
- Behavioral studies (e.g. contextual inquiry, card sorting, user profiles, scenarios)
- Behavioral model (i.e. a "map" of domain objects and actions from the user perspective)
- Conceptual model design (e.g. high-level prototyping)

2. Information Architecture:
- Prototyping / Functional specification
- Taxonomy building (e.g. metadata, etc.)
- Styleguide creation (with graphic design / development)

3. Design Review
- Cogitive walkthrough / Heuristic analysis
- Usability testing / Surveys / Customer reviews
- Styleguide adherence reviews

I am also a usability professional. Basically, Human Factors ensures the product is modeled on real customer behaviour, and introduces design activities much earlier than normally. Designs are iterated throughout development, and then rules are documented to maintain consistency. Feel free to email me if you have any other questions.
posted by xammerboy at 8:29 PM on July 7, 2008

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