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VI.2 March/April 1999
Page: 55
Digital Citation

Reflections: Isn’t technology grand?

Bill Hefley

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Reflections ... I've spent some time looking back recently, as I finished the Ph.D. degree that I put on hold when we launched interactions. As I've looked back, I find myself more often looking forward and becoming even more excited about the future because of the changes that have transpired in recent years.

A longstanding maxim of our profession is "Know your user." We've always argued that this is important, but recent studies are starting to show that this is not only smart advice, but makes good business sense. The business community first became widely exposed to this perspective by Tom Peters' advice to stay close to your customers. A recent study shows that emphasis on customer needs assessment and skill building in the development staff are strongly associated with improved organizational capability. Thus, integrating our concerns into ongoing design processes may be key to improving organizational and product effectiveness. More evidence of this is found in a recent article describing improvement in the development processes used in the HP SoftBench product that highlights not only the use of the Capability Maturity Model for Software (SW-CMM®), but also the application of user-centered design practices.

Just a few years ago, we were raising the issue that we ought to start treating our practices as the software engineers were with the CMM and continue focusing on improving what we do. Although recent CMM Integration efforts have still failed to address usability issues, a current ISO effort is showing promise. The "Human-centred lifecycle processes descriptions" efforts of ISO TC 159 / SC 4 / WG 6 have had some impact on the work of ISO 15504. This model provides a basis for those planning human-centered activities on a project and to assist improving how well organizations perform user-centered design activities. The model has been developed as a stand-alone model, not as part of one of the existing process models, such as ISO 12207 Software lifecycle processes, the Capability Maturity Model (CMM®) and the System Engineering Capability Maturity Model (SE-CMM®) or ISO TR 15504 Software process assessment. This is to make more clear the nature of human-centered activities and their implications for system lifecycles. The model conforms to and extends ISO DIS 13407 Human-Centred Design Processes for Interactive Systems. The current working documents describe seven key processes:

  • Ensure human-centered design content in system strategy
  • Plan and manage the human-centered design process
  • Specify the stakeholder and organizational requirements
  • Understand and specify the context of use
  • Produce design solutions
  • Evaluate designs against requirements
  • Introduce and operate the system

As this model moves towards an international standard, we have a firm basis for communicating about using and improving user-centered design practice in our organizations.

The devices we design are continuing to change. Where we've argued the anti-Mac arguments in recent years, we are finding more and more melding of communication, computing, and collaboration. PDAs are becoming rampant, and other more ubiquitous devices are emerging. The challenge we face is to make these devices usable and useful, using processes that are able to integrate with the rest of the ongoing design processes. This challenge requires that we understand our users. A very usable device that I've seen recently was a navigation system mounted on a pedestal in a rental car. It was a very usable system, incorporating common metaphors that we understand, like maps and driving directions. It was also the most useless, and perhaps even the scariest piece of technology I've ever experienced. Think of my fear, curled noiselessly in the back seat of a rental car, as my knuckles blanch and turn shades of snowy white, while we hurtle down the Interstate at 65+ miles an hour with two colleagues in the front seat; each of whom is trying to adjust the display and read the map — neither one paying attention to the driving. Isn't technology grand?

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Bill Hefley, Ph.D., CCP, CDP
IBM Global Services

Dr. Bill Hefley is an Executive Consultant with IBM Global Services. His dissertation addressed interpersonal dynamics within software teams. He has been on the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University, and was Product Manager and co-author of the People CMM® at the Software Engineering Institute. His research interests span software engineering, learning, and human-computer interaction (HCI). His interests in software process improvement focus on managing and developing human resources and on integrating HCI concerns with software engineering. Bill is a Senior Member of the IEEE and a member of ACM, where he was founding editor of interactions. He received an Ph.D. in Organization Science and Information Technology, MS Engineering and Public Policy, MS Systems Management, BA Psychology, and BS Computer Science & Political Science.

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