Their efforts resulted in a really successful aircraft that is still a legend today, after more than 30 years in production. Instead of just running with the mission and trying to achieve Mach 2.5 or focusing on the proper processes, the designers took a step back and looked at the bigger picture. It turned out that, while greater speed was necessary in situations where a pilot needed to escape from combat, delivering faster speed was just one possible solution. They garnered a lot of additional insights during interviews, including alternative solutions such as better visibility from the cockpit and greater agility that would help them achieve the same or better results.
Designers can take this same approach on a range of projects—all the way down to a small content-migration project for which the business requirement was simply a better way to migrate content. Again, there was no UI component to the solution, but research helped the team to discover that users actually spent the majority of their time on mapping the old and new content structures. So, by focusing on the key business goal—faster migration—the designers helped users to complete projects eight times faster, saving the organization two million dollars in the first year.
The Magic of User Research
A recent study by The Project Management Institute (PMI), titled “Requirements Management, A Core Competency for Project and Program Success,” states that, of all projects that failed to hit the mark, 47% were unsuccessful because of poor requirements management—whether they failed to hit time, budget, or functionality requirements. This was true for all types of projects, across all industries—including nuclear power, construction, and other industries that are as far from IT (Information Technology) as they can possibly be.
Think about this: The single biggest reason why all of these projects were unsuccessful was that the implementation team just took the requirements document and ran with it, without ever conducting any additional research.
Now, think about all the superpowers a UX professional can bring to the table. You can do contextual inquiries or ethnographic studies to observe business people engaging in their activities and glean insights that most users would never be able to articulate. You can use efficient, inexpensive surveys to cover a lot of ground, whether across a product’s whole user base or even the entire marketplace. You can do interviews.
Imagine yourself explaining these methods, tools, and techniques to a procurement officer or a project manager who works in construction. Imagine the looks on their faces when you deliver the results! You would seem like a fortune teller to them because you could actually discover exactly what needs to be built, before the project has started. These business users would no longer have the lingering feeling that something is missing. Nor would they come up with so many additional requirements late in the game. Yes, you could still employ the agile development methods that let teams react to changes in the marketplace, but there wouldn’t be nearly as much confusion or waste.
But you don’t have to take things that far. Instead, just imagine talking to a typical Business Analyst (BA) about user research. Mind you, a lot of BAs are now moving toward creating wireframes or even clickable prototypes, but how many could do a good job on user research?