Did you know?


More than 30% of software projects are cancelled before completion, primarily because of inadequate user involvement in the design process. 63% of software projects exceed their estimates. The top four reasons are all related to product usability:

  • Frequent requests for changes by users
  • Overlooked tasks
  • Users lack of understanding of their own requirements
  • Too little communication between
    designers and users

Heading - The costs of ignoring usability

The true value of usability is ensuring the finished product meets the intended business goals, as well as lowering the risk of getting in wrong.

The following account provides a real-world example of how usability was not considered and the consequences. We have changed the name of the company and aspects of the scenario in order to preserve anonymity.

ConfCo are in the event management business providing facilities including rooms, audio visual hire and catering. Traditionally their website has been for informational purposes only, with all bookings being completed over the telephone or via email. ConfCo CEO was concerned that other competing organisations were able to offer their facilities at lower rates and customers were able to book facilities online allowing bookings to be made 24/7.

A high-level strategy was to be implemented with two core business goals:

  • Reduce costs in order to be more competitive
  • Increase revenues through 24/7 booking facilities

Responsibility for the ConfCo's web presence was with Marketing and Communications. The IT department of ConfCo was responsible for managing the outsourcing of the development, rollout and maintenance of the website and associated applications. Intech Solutions were the incumbent and provided the outsourced services.

Intech were asked to provide a quotation based upon a set of functional requirements provided by ConfCo's internal Business Analyst (BA). In order to obtain the list of requirements, the BA had undertaken a number of interviews with internal ConfCo administration staff and call centre staff in order to understand what information they would normally gather to make a booking.

Based upon the scope of functional requirements, Intech's quote came back at $45,000. An ROI study showed that reducing the pressure on the call centre by allowing customers to book online would reduce the cost by 1.5 persons in the first year alone ($52,000). This represented over 100% ROI within the first year, aside from any additional benefits derived from the increased revenue by the adoption of a 24/7 booking facility. The figures were submitted to the board for review and the project was given the go-ahead.

So far, the development had progressed to time and budget and the updated website was due for user acceptance testing of the beta version two weeks prior to rollout. A couple of ConfCo employee family members were asked to try it out. Beta testing highlighted some issues:

  • Terminology was difficult to understand - Acronyms and ConfCo vernacular was employed and was not easily understood by the user.
  • The information structure was not clear - e.g. teleconferencing services came under the heading "Bureau Services". This was a well known categorisation within ConfCo, but not with users.
  • The form layouts were not intuitive - The layout of the forms had been ordered in a way that was based upon the call centre booking forms, not how the user would expect.
  • Unable to resume a booking - this meant re-entering a lot of detail where a booking included catering, audio visual equipment and bridging services for teleconferencing.

Some fixes were fairly easy. The effort involved in modifying the form layout was a bit more involved and the project required a further 2 weeks' effort.

The new budget for the development was now $53,000.

This did not include the feature for resuming a booking as this required a substantial rework and additional database software. The decision was made to include this at an additional three weeks effort. The grand total was now at $68,000.

Five weeks over schedule, the software was released. All existing customers were sent a flier advertising the new service and promoting its convenience.

After three months, they had expected the pressure on the call centre to have dropped, yet this was not the case. Further analysis revealed that many users wanted to be able to obtain a quotation with options based upon different scenarios of varying rooms sizes, configurations of equipment and catering. Users found that the existing facilities did not allow for providing quotations with options. The only work around to obtain options was to complete a new form each time, which required re-entering ALL details. For those people who wished to review options, the system was largely unusable. This represented a large percentage of their user-base.

Intech were called back in and asked to quote for the modifications. It was revealed that had this requirement been known when the ability to resume a quote was addressed it would have cost substantially less.

The cost of providing this feature was beyond the budget for that year and would have to be addressed in the future, as some management members were losing confidence in the project.

Meanwhile the booking facility is being used by some customers, but it has not resulted in any significant reduction in call centre traffic. Since most customers like to be presented with pricing options, for the most part, this negates its use as 24/7 service and predicted increases in revenues have not been realised.

The ROI calculation looks somewhat different now:

  • Cost to date is $68,000.
  • An additional $25,000 is required to provide options within a single quote.
  • No reduction in call centre staff.
  • Increases in revenues have been small.

Adopting a user-centred approach to design means designing an application with the users in mind. Finding out what users want and testing users with designs on paper offers a low risk approach. Mistakes can be made early and rectified when the cost of doing so is minimal and your design options are far greater as there is no commitment based upon existing constraints.

Using specialty techniques, specifically for the purpose of eliciting rich feedback from users, results in a design with a high degree of confidence that it will meet the goals of the business, lower the risk of failure and provide the return on investment that is critical for successful products. Many of the pitfalls could have been avoided by undertaking site visits to call centres and observing how customers interacted with the sales staff.