Net Now - Valuing UX Design
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
What Is an MBA?
Harvard Business School prides itself in its ablity to train students to make difficult decisions and then to tenaciously defend them. I think this emphasis is an interesting failure given the decisions and rationalizations of some recent alumni:

George W. Bush, POTUS (HBS 75)

Jeffrey Skilling, Enron CEO (HBS 84)

Aren't we all a little better off involving others in our decisions, making the process more transparent, and being willing to admit when we are wrong?
Monday, February 09, 2004
ORKUT.COM Party - Friday, Feb 6, 2004

The orkut launch party was really fun -- we partied like it was 1999! The space was beautiful and the crowd nerdilicious (even if a little too straight for my taste).

A few thoughts:
- wow! google staff are really paranoid -- you can come to our party, BUT DON'T ASK ANY QUESTIONS!;
- orkut, the man, is just as adorable as his site (and feeling a little E-cstatic about his birthday! ... if you catch my meaning);
- San Francisco is still home to lots of fun geeky-freaks. Hooray for us!
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
Six Sigma and Web Development
HOT TOPIC: Control Planning

As the resident MBA at Adaptive Path, I often get asked to explain those businessy phrases you hear all the time (and can fake understanding in context, but still don't really know what they mean). You know, terms like NPV or hurdle rate from corporate finance -- in context they are fairly easy to figure out, but an exact definition is not always obvious. So recently, a colleague at work asked for a one-page primer on Six Sigma ... and specifically how it can be applied to web development processes.

Here's my initial response to the request; i'll update it later.


WOW - that's a tall order. Here's a quick stab at how Six Sigma is being used (but first, ignore anything you read on alertbox or useit about sixsig because I think that Jakob is misapplying this tool -- and I chatted with a few baychi folks who agreed (most notably john zapolski who is pretty smart about this stuff)):

Six Sigma is a design process for manufacturing that was first pioneered by Motorola and GE. The ultimate goal of sixsig is to use intensive quality control to ensure that defect tolerances (or for UX, error rates) are limited to outside six standard deviations from the mean (in other words extremely unlikely). This is especially important for manufacturing things like computer chip equipment, where errors that cause rework are super expensive. Of course, website errors could never achieve this level of quality control because there is no way to account for user error in sixsig. (ed., actually I was wrong about this -- more later. --scott)

It is being applied to UXdesign because the benefits of a six sigma design process extend beyond ensuring a high quality product. Because the error tolerances are so slim, designers must get really really meticulous about their process to ensure that they are accurately measuring all the available data to make design decisions (here is where usability and other user research come in). You often see the abbreviation DMAIC to describe the user-centered design process in sixsig -- I can't remember for sure, but I think DMAIC is: design, measure, analyze, improve, control.

Also, you hear about Management by Fact (MBF), which is another component of sixsig that I think is very applicable to UXdesign. MBF ensures that metrics are identified in the design process to measure the success of the possible outcomes. MBF metrics break the process into smaller pieces so that discrete elements of the process can be analyzed separately, and therefore better controlled. MBF metrics are identified in what is called a process control plan. I like MBF because it emphasizes that design decisions should be made with the support of data (rather than just intuition -- I guess you could say that it is the antithesis of heuristics).

Ultimately, sixsig is about identifying sources of error, developing ways of measuring these errors, and controlling those errors through iterative design. In this regard, another tool you sometimes hear about is a pareto chart -- this is a fancy term for a histogram that is organized by error type so that designers can see what the most common errors are.

In sum, I think there is a lot to learn from TQM in developing better web design processes. Interestingly six sigma has its own UCD component in its adherence to Voice of Customer (VOC) as a source of control planning data and for error identification. Another great thing about TQM is that there is a wealth of literature on the subject, much of which has already been applied to use in software design. Of course, such a rigorous analytic process carries the risk of "designing to metrics" which some view as limiting creativity and focusing too much on incremental changes ... rather bigger-picture strategic design issues. But then, aren't those design projects intiated in a different way? more later ...

Short glossary of Six Sigma terms (google for more info):
Control plan
Management by Fact
Design tolerances
Pareto chart
Hoshin planning
Voice of Customer

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