Value proposition: three questions to ask

Neo Insight’s e-newsletter on Usability topics and techniques. 

Value proposition: 3 questions to ask

Once in a while, many of our clients have to plan out the next year or two. User experience evaluation creates an ongoing list of priorities for developers. R&D must be prioritized. Senior managers in charge of websites or applications are overwhelmed with information. At times of future planning, we suggest a few key questions can help frame good decisions about user experience changes. Perhaps they will help you plan your road map or prioritize new functions or service ideas. Of course these are not simple to answer, but these three questions are a good start to building your case.

1. Who needs it and for what tasks?

This first question is about analyzing user requirements and behaviour. It is a question we ask ourselves in many ways, not just in the up-front strategy. Every user experience can be evaluated on how well it supports customers at accomplishing their tasks. More and  more, applications and web apps are embedding the ability to observe usage, identify user errors, provide meaningful metrics, and notify management when the user experience is failing or taking too long for people. Then when it comes time to plan future improvements, those metrics and behavioural data help understand where to have the most impact. Don’t get caught out being told to “convince customers they need this!” Few web teams can afford to educate their visitors extensively. The value has to be profoundly obvious. Keep in touch with your clients, and prioritize the top tasks for which they need your website.

2. How are competitors trying to meet that need?

The second question is about analyzing feasibility, comparative offerings, emerging practices, and business processes. How well does your website or application perform? Are users coming to your site with high expectations set by other websites? It is generally a bad sign when some R&D planner tells us “this feature has no competitors”. It can mean that your users are not ready for it. Don’t get hung up on the word “competitors” – find examples from comparative services or alternative offerings. They provide a perspective on what is feasible or realistic. Web visitors quickly adapt their expectations to what is generally available, and bring those expectations to your website or application.

3. How is the user experience effective and efficient at support the user task and meeting the competition?

Our third question is about usability, and analyzing whether the user experience is effective and efficient at delivering the underlying value. You can only manage what you can measure. Answer this question iteratively, all throughout development, not just after development is a sunk cost. Here, one warning sign is when someone tells us “All we have left to develop is a GUI”, or “it is all done and ready for testing”. Efficiency and effectiveness in the user experience require iterative development. While the first two questions can be answered as a snapshot up-front, and be updated, bring up this question before every new iteration of design.

Here is an example. Dan Bricklin’s 1979 invention of VisiCalc would have answered our three questions, and it became the first accounting tool for personal computers. The fundamental need for accountants was a PC-based alternative to common spreadsheet paper. The users were more effective and efficient, the row/column user experience was familiar, and at only $34.95, many more people than accountants could afford a personal copy.

But Dan Bricklin kept inventing. He invented a wiki approach in WikiCalc. Recently he added a feature to update a wiki spreadsheet in real time. Unlike Excel or Google spreadsheets, it allowed real time updates from the web. Thus a current stock price could be updated automatically right in the web spreadsheet, from a web service such as Yahoo’s. WikiCalc also met user needs of being able to share, store, edit, and save changes to web spreadsheets. Did the feature succeed? Yes, it answered our three questions regarding the users, competitors, and the user experience. Google now offers the capability on Google Sheets.

Try our three questions on your own strategy or idea. It’s a way to summarize your value proposition. If you get stuck, we can help.

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