Understanding what people need

"We must begin digital projects by exploring and pinpointing the needs of the people who will use the service, and the ways the service will fit into their lives. Whether the users are members of the public or government employees, policy makers must include real people in their design process from the beginning. The needs of people — not constraints of government structures or silos — should inform technical and design decisions. We need to continually test the products we build with real people to keep us honest about what is important." - CIO Digital Playbook 

The principals at Agile Six (Ernie, Brian, Edward and I), decided to jump out of rather stable and lucrative jobs to start a company in the service of Veterans.  We saw a hole and we felt an obligation to fill it.   As a team, we are immensely inspired by the USDS and the CIO Playbook because in them we find support and advocacy for ideas we have been espousing for the last several years in the face of many critics. Over the coming months I would like to elaborate on how we read the playbook and why we are so inspired by it.

Play 1 - Understand what people need.

I find it particularly impressive that the USDS chose to make this the first play.  It makes total sense to me that we "begin with the ends in mind".  We should always start with the basic questions:
  •  What gap or need are we filling? 
  • Who benefits from what we are building, and how will they engage with the product of our investment?  
Whenever we bid on a project, we spend time envisioning how our participation in the project will ultimately improve the lives of the user (veterans, their families and/or care providers).  If our participation in a project will not make a veteran or her caregiver, or family member’s life better, then we should not pursue the work. 

Additionally, early empathy with the end-user is critical to designing a great user experience (which, we will discuss in greater depth as we look at Play 2 - Address the whole experience).  It has always amazed me how some software projects will totally neglect the user, and bring them into the project only as an afterthought and even ask the user to reshape how they act around the application.   This leads to wasted investment, as users will ultimately decide to neglect adaptation and actively work around the tools that should provide empowerment.

The principals of Agile Six came together to serve the user (in our case veterans, their families and care providers).  We formed our whole company on the idea that we exist ultimately to serve them.  We have witnessed the power of Agile and user-centric design in service of great user experiences and we are deeply committed to it.

From the Playbook:  http://playbook.cio.gov
Early in the project, spend time with current and prospective users of the service
  • Use a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods to determine people’s goals, needs, and behaviors; be thoughtful about the time spent·      
  • Test prototypes of solutions with real people, in the field if possible·      
  • Document the findings about user goals, needs, behaviors, and preferences·      
  • Share findings with the team and agency leadership·      
  • Create a prioritized list of tasks the user is trying to accomplish, also known as "user stories"·      
  • As the digital service is being built, regularly test it with potential users to ensure it meets people’s needs
Key Questions·      
  • Who are your primary users?·      
  • What user needs will this service address?·      
  • Why does the user want or need this service?·      
  • Which people will have the most difficulty with the service?
  • Which research methods were used?·      
  • What were the key findings?·      
  • How were the findings documented?
  • Where can future team members access the documentation?·      
  • How often are you testing with real people?

- Robert  -  (robert.rasmussen@agile6.com) 


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