RE. Usability testing--maintenance of existing stuff?

Subject: RE. Usability testing--maintenance of existing stuff?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2000 10:16:10 -0400

Tom Johnson reports that <<...hundreds of people are using the procedure and
getting the job done without problems. That should tell us the
documentation is working and is as valid as any formal testing.>>

Not necessarily. I agree with you in principle ("no complaints" is a Good
Thing), but many people have learned that complaining gets no results, so
why waste the time complaining if you'll only get aggravated by the lack of
response? Consider anyone who uses Microsoft Word, for example, or the
phrase "that's not a bug, it's a feature" and you'll see the problem. Given
the context that you've already provided (really good initial usability
testing and ongoing correction of problems), I doubt that's a problem in
your situation, but a reality check never hurts. In particular, it'll give
you powerful ammunition when you confront the sales rep and show him how his
training method isn't working (or if he balks, take that information to his
manager and get the manager to correct the problem before the rep does more

<<As far as our manuals being in maintenance mode and not conducting testing
for minor changes. It would be about the same as the name of a road being
changed (in my example above) and I updated the manuals to reflect that
change. So if I told you to turn left on Hammond Road and the road's name is
changed to Johnson Road, I would just change it to "Turn left on Johnson
Road." There's hardly a need for more testing.>>

That's a good analogy, but it also suggests a corollary: when you make
seemingly minor changes, carefully consider how they might lead to an
unexpected point of failure. For example, I'm a visual navigator when I
drive, and spend so much time staring at a computer screen that I now have
difficulty recognizing anything that isn't made of pixels. (Gets
embarrassing sometimes. "Mind if I scan you? Your face looks familiar, but
until I see it onscreen, I can't be sure. <g>) The point is, when I visit a
place I've been many times, I look for the McDonalds on the corner rather
than reading the street name. So telling me that the street name has changed
won't make any difference to me. (In contrast, if you renumbered the
buildings in a block of cookie-cutter townhouses, then telling me the number
had changed would be vital information.)

A better example (closer to your actual situation) would be that if the
first item on an alphabetically organized menu changes names, you have to
warn people about the resulting position change, particularly if the new
first item on the list does something potentially dangerous. Case in point:
when I insert files in Word, I routinely hit alt-I to open the Insert menu,
then hit F to select "[insert] file". I do this so often that I don't
remember the last time I even looked at the Insert menu. If Microsoft
changes the menu or selection name in their next release, I'm going to have
a steep relearning curve, and I certainly expect them to warn me about the

<<We try to look at complaints as an opportunity to make improvements.>>

Whatever disease you guys have, do you think it might be contagious? I've
got a long list of software companies that desperately need to be infected.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer

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