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>From techwr-l -at- listserv -dot- okstate -dot- edu Thu Mar 19 11:35:19 1998
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>Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 13:38:02 -0500
>Reply-To: kelly -dot- williamson -at- CBIS -dot- COM
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>From: Kelly Williamson <kelly -dot- williamson -at- CBIS -dot- COM>
>Subject: Product/audience analysis
>To: TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU
>I've been assigned to a group to come up with ways to improve
>our documentation, including paper, online help, and CBT. The main
>problem we face is how do we gather information and/or
>analyze our current products to see where they need improvement.
>I know that audience analysis is the first, essential step.
>I've searched the archives, and while there is some information
>about audience analysis, I couldn't find anything very specific.
>Are there studies, guidelines, etc. on getting client feedback? I've
>seen opinions on the effectiveness of questionnaires, client visits,
>etc. but are there difinitive answers? How do you go about assessing
>or analyzing a product's effectiveness? And, how do you measure
>success? (i.e. was the re-design sucessful, and what is that
>Any help or information would be greatly appreciated.
>kelly -dot- williamson -at- cbis -dot- com
A product is effective to the degree that it meets the end user's needs.
The key to effective product design is in obtaining an understanding of
what essential tasks the end users perform and (more importantly) how
all those tasks interrelate. It is critical to remember that the need
it to obtain an understanding of what business problems the system end
users solve (as opposed to understanding how they do their work).
I have significant experience as a systems analyst, including major
product redesign. The key element to success is ALWAYS working closely
with the end user - even to the extent of doing the work along with
him/her. Surveys, questionnaires, client visits, and meetings are not
nearly enough to make significant impact.
I realize that working closely with the end user is a lot easier said
than done. The end user is often far away from the office and most
technical writers do not get much direct contact with them. However, it
has been my experience that the people who are formally supposed to do
this analysis don't like doing it. And and an technical writer with a
lot of initiative can fill the vacuum.
What techniques do you use to perform end user task analysis? Use data
flow diagrams. Only by understanding the flow of data is it possible to
understand the underlying logic of a system (Note: a system here being
defined as the conglomeration of tasks that your end users perform).
And only by understanding this underlying logic is it possible to
understand how all the tasks interrelate (understanding the
interrelationships between tasks is the litmus test to understanding the
How do you know the redesign was successful? There are a variety of
techniques for quantifying elements of success such as productivity
improvements. I will not go into those here. However, I will mention
one very important qualitative measure - enthusiasm. Successful
design/redesign efforts are always marked by a high level of enthusiasm
both on the end user and on the developer side. Everyone likes to be
associated with a winning project. If you have ever been lucky enough to
be on a project like this, you know what a hugh impact it can have on
how one views the work world.