Thursday, February 14, 2008

Building the "Right" Project Team

The best usability engineer for a project is one who is intelligent and flexible, and one who is not controlled by ego. The usability engineer should have excellent negotiation skills, and should be able to present a compelling case for the work.

The right project team includes members with a variety of roles and hard and soft skills. Equally important, the right project team includes at least one firm supporter of usability. This person should be in a leadership position, and should be firmly convinced of the benefits of usability engineering.

In Example A, the usability engineers never became fully integrated with the project team. There were several reasons for this. First, the management team did not include a firm supporter of usability. Although they included usability in the project plan, they did not implement or support making changes to the system or the project schedule based on usability issues. In addition, the usability engineers on the project tended to be timid, and often approached their work complaining about what they could not do, instead of working to figure out how they could provide value to the project. The right project team in this case would have been one with stronger management support and more persistent, positive-thinking usability engineers.

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In Example B, the intranet project team was a combination of two independent, already established teams: the consultants and the clients. The majority of the consulting group was made up of new consultants, many of whom did not have a clear understanding of how to integrate the usability engineer role within their own team. The clients had very few people to dedicate to the project, and had no flexibility with resources if the team failed to gel.

Still, what made this the "right" project team was the consistent, open sharing of information. Despite its shortcomings, the project team worked well together by educating, communicating, and negotiating. Team members listened to each other and shared what they knew about the project. Open communication led to trust within the team. As miscommunications, mis-perceptions and other mistakes occurred, the team talked through them, working towards resolutions without egos getting in the way. This assured the highest level of success on the project, and created a basis for ongoing understanding.

In our next projects for the company in Example A, we have had enormous success by allowing project leaders to interview potential usability engineering candidates. This gives the project leaders a strong sense of resource ownership, and eliminates the resentment they can feel when resources are imposed on their projects without their approval. An initial interview ensures immediate buy-in, and in these situations, the usability engineer starts out as a more integral and integrated team member, laying the groundwork for success.

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