Today was an interesting day. I spent the entire day observing users in their natural environment. Prior to this, certain members of our team had interaction with the users, but not everyone. It was an eye opening experience, really. I took ten pages of notes about the interactions I observed and that only covers certain portions of the proposed system, not the whole thing. Even when you think you know what the users are up to and what their needs are, they can certainly surprise you.
Our setting is interesting in that the system we are trying to build is very large and has many different user classes. A subset of those users have an existing system that partly meets there needs. The remainder have a paper process only. For the users with the existing system, they have a better understanding of what they need, but only in relation to what the current system does not do. We also run into resistance about changing from what they know to the unknown. The users with the paper process are much more receptive to moving away from paper to an online system, but are less sure of what it is they need – they have nothing to compare to.
The observation we are doing is part of a new effort to obtain a better understanding of the user's needs. I am very excited about this new direction as the previous way we were going didn't seem to make sense – that is, it didn't focus on the users. Some of the other developers will get their chance to observe on Monday. I hope they get as much out of it as I did.
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