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This chapter is from the book

The Case Study: Mike's Bikes

This book uses a single example as a case study to illustrate the steps involved in the usability design and testing processes. Other books in the For Mere Mortals series use the case study approach, which enables the author to present a process with some degree of continuity. In this book, I apply each technique to the process of designing a Web site and associated database application for use by both internal and external customers.

You may remember Mike's Bikes from Database Design for Mere Mortals by Mike Hernandez. In that case study, Mike's Bikes is a new bike shop located in the Seattle suburb of Green Lake. This case study picks up three years later to find that Mike's Bikes is doing so well that Mike has opened eight other shops in the greater Seattle area and now employs close to 120 employees. Given this growth, Mike has discovered that his customers now want to customize and order bikes and purchase other supplies online, and his employees want a more robust application that they can access quickly to get the information they need.

Mike has a project team of 10 people dedicated to the creation of the new Web site and database system. Following are the 10 team members:

  • Mike, the owner
  • Traci, the finance manager
  • Jay, the marketing manager
  • Laura, the production manager
  • Michelle, the customer support manager
  • Tony, the company Webmaster
  • Maureen, the database and networking administrator
  • Bruce and Travis, two database programmers
  • Paul, the documentation writer

The team is excited to get going but not certain why a usability test is necessary for this project. That's why you and your assistant Evan are in the kickoff meeting with the team: to create a business case framework.

The first step in the business case framework is to interview the project team to learn what the business goals are. You let Evan conduct the interview.

  • Evan: "What are the business goals for this project?"
  • Mike: "Make more money!" (The rest of the group laughs in appreciation.)
  • Jay: "The recognition from customers and competitors that Mike's Bikes is the best resource for bicycles and accessories."
  • Michelle: "The capability for customers to order their bikes and supplies from anywhere and have that information available immediately for production."
  • Laura: "My workers will have easier access to more information, so they will be able to get their work done more quickly."
  • Maureen: "My programmers and I can work on more important things rather than enter information into the database from customers phoning their orders in."

After a discussion of the business goals, including the due date for completion of the project, the interview continues with a discussion of the customer goals, and Evan continues to ask questions prompted by the discussions. For example, the following discussion is concerned with what the users want to get out of the user interface so that all users can specify and access the information they need quickly.

  • Evan: "What do you think of the current database application you're currently using?"
  • Mike: "What do you mean, exactly?"
  • Evan: "I'd like to know if there's anything about the interface that drives you crazy and what you would like to improve."
  • Michelle: "I wish there was a page on the site that I could access from any screen in the database to show me what parts are available in what stores so a customer in one store that needs a part can find the part in another one of our stores."
  • Jay: "That would be huge. If a customer can't find what she needs from us, she won't come back to us."
  • Laura: "I think the database needs to tell us when a store is low on a part, not just tell us when the store can't send another store a part, because then that store wouldn't have a part available for its customers."
  • Mike: "How do you suggest we do that?"
  • Laura: "We need to have another column in the product table that presents a visual reminder, like a flag, to let me know that we need to order more parts to keep the pipeline filled."
  • Maureen: "That won't be hard."
  • Laura: "I also think we need to have a button next to the flag column to let me order parts. The button would open up the manufacturer's Web site so I could order from them online."
  • Traci: "If the manufacturer lets you order online."
  • Evan: "Laura, what happens if the Web site is down or the manufacturer doesn't let stores order from them online?"
  • Laura: "Hmmm. Perhaps the button could open a small window that lists contact information, and that contact information would also include a link to the company's Web site if we can access that site to order products."
  • Evan: "But that adds an extra step to get to the Web site. How about creating a separate button that connects to the manufacturer's Web site?"
  • Laura: "Good idea. If the company lets you order online, then there can be a second button with a different color that will take me directly to the Web site order page."
  • Maureen: "We'd have to build another module in the database to manage the contact information, but we could do it."
  • Jay: "But how would you get the product to the store without making the customer drive over to that store? Unless the customer needed the part right away, she wouldn't drive all the way across town to our store—she would drive two blocks to Rob's Cycle World."
  • Mike: "We'd need to hire people, maybe high school and college students, who would drive or bike to the store where the customer is and deliver the part. That would mean that the application would have to provide an alert for store managers that another store needs a part it has. I'll have to think about that."

The roundabout discussions provide you and Evan with a good amount of information you can use to create a list of objectives for both applications. For example, here are a few interface objectives for the Mike's Bikes Web site and database application:

  • The customer must be able to find what she needs on the Web site as quickly as possible.
  • The Web site must reflect accurate information, such as the number of products available for purchase.
  • The customer must be able to customize her order easily and order her product(s) quickly and securely.
  • If the customer gets lost, she must be able to go back to the home page quickly and start over.
  • The customer needs quick access to product and support documentation.
  • We need to access customer, inventory, sales, supplier, and employee information quickly.

You review the initial list of interface objectives with Mike and the rest of his team. Afterward, you and Evan refine the list and present it to the team. You and Evan present a report to the team that lists three key design objectives in bullet form:

  • The product availability page must be accessible from any window in the database application. This page provides the following functionality:
    • It displays how many products are available in each store.
    • It enables employees to find parts more easily and quickly.
  • The "Parts Maintenance" page should display visual cues that indicate key status points for each part. This page will provide employees with the following functionality:
    • Employees will be able to see alerts indicating that another store needs a given part that is currently in stock.
    • Employees will be able to determine how many parts are defective in each store.
    • Employees will easily be able to determine which parts need to be reordered.
  • A search box must be accessible from any window in the database application. This page will provide employees with the ability to find a product, customer information, or order information.

With the initial list in hand, you then ask the team what it will take to develop the product and interface. When you talk about what development will take, include the associated costs such as combined employee hours dedicated to the project and any future anticipated costs; for example, the company may need to hire contract employees to finish the project by a certain date. You and Evan also inquire about the interest rate for the business, about the profit that the company expects to make, and about when the company will realize that profit.

Armed with this information, you and Evan create an ROI statement that you will review with Mike and Traci before your next team meeting. This ROI statement is the equation you learned about earlier in this chapter:

  • NPV amount = Future dollar amount x (n)/(1+k)n

Then you must plug the NPV amount into the ROI equation:

  • ROI = (NPV amount - cost) / cost

The NPV amount is the percentage return that the company will realize from its investment in usability design and testing. You and Evan received estimates from Traci of $45,000 for the future dollar amount ($5,000 per store) in 1 year at a 5.25 percent interest rate. You and Evan have estimated a cost of $12,500 for the production of test materials and the final report as well as paying testers to interview Mike's employees, create a paper prototype, and view how the employees use the current system as well as the new system as it's being built. Those costs are documented in a worksheet, as shown in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 Cost Worksheet

Given the figures that you and Evan have, you calculate the NPV amount as follows:

  • $45,000 x (1)/(1+0.0525)1 = $42,755.34

Now you plug this NPV amount into the ROI equation:

  • ($42,755.34 - $12,500.00) / $12,500.00 = 2.42

This follow-up team meeting will present not only your final list of objectives but also your ROI statement that proves your case for profitability—and in this case, a 242 percent return on Mike's usability investment should make him happy indeed.

Now that you have the ROI calculation, where do you store it? Place this ROI statement in a written report that you circulate to the rest of the team, and be sure that the written report contains the date you last updated the document. If you need to update the report, be sure to save the old report as an archive and place it in an archives directory either on your hard drive or on an external drive (like a rewritable CD-ROM) so you have a traceable record of all changes that have been made to the document. If you use Microsoft Word, another way to keep track of your changes is to turn Track Changes on.

What's more, when you distribute these changes to the team, be sure that each team member has access to the latest version of the documents online, such as through a folder on the network that is accessible only to team members. You and Evan should each keep a copy of the printed reports that you give to the rest of the team so that you have everything the team does and you have reference material easily available in case the online versions aren't available for some reason.

In the next chapter, you'll see how to apply paper prototyping to Mike's project.

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