Let’s pretend: Project management software adoption with user persons

Steve Ballard, who is currently the director of user experience at Workfront project management software company, says that “the role of director of customer experience is quite new.” It’s not new in consumer software. The product must sell itself, so the focus should be on products that are useful.
Software you use at work has a sales force that can sell, support, and explain it. Ballard explained that the shift to focusing on user experience in workplace software is because users expect the exact same thing from office tools as they do from home.
He says, “People expect software to be useful.”
Useful software
Workfront is committed to producing useful software. Workfront members went out to live with customers in their offices this year to learn how the software was used. The results of this research were the inspiration for the new version of their project management tool.
Before they arrived at the offices, the Workfront men interviewed each other to discover who their users were. They then visited 20 companies in the U.S. to confirm or deny their theories.
Ballard says, “We talked with people with different roles.” “We spoke to team members, project managers, and executives, so we talked to about 60 people. We tried to live with people a bit – it’s a kind of anthropology.
Visitors sat at the desks of project management software users to learn how they use it. To ensure consistency, Ballard was present for all visits.
The team visited large and small companies as well as a variety of industries, including manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.
Ballard states, “We thought that we would face unique challenges in different industries. But we weren’t.” “They all struggle with similar things.” We now know that we can make Chris happy and all end users happy if we can do that.
Designing for fake people
“Chris” is a fictional character, the archetypal user of project management software. Ballard explains that designing for one person is much easier than for a diverse group.
He says, “We created user persons – fictional people.” The Workfront team created profiles for three fictional users: Chris, a member of the project team and software end user, Jen as a manager, and Mark as a project executive. Ballard says that no one focused on the team member for obvious motives. “The main user of software is not the software buyer on a daily basis. Chris is crucial to the success and growth of Workfront software within any organization.
Workfront site visits revealed that project managers force their users to (shock, horror!) enter data into a project management software tool. Their users must input data into project management software tools.
Stream, the latest version of Workfront software, tries not to do that. “Stream’s approach is to understand Chris’s goals and give him something that will help him be responsible for his work and have control over it. This solves the adoption issue, which is a problem for all software,” Ballard says.
He says that project managers face a major problem when they have to deal with ‘garbage out, garbage in’. When they have concerns about the data quality, project managers find it difficult to trust the software’s outputs. Stream addresses this issue by empowering the end user by allowing them to set their own dates.
Ballard says, “If we can achieve Chris’s goals we can get data into our system for project managers.”
Actionable usability
Ballard says that “some customers got it”, although he admits that it was more difficult to sit down with customers than non-customers. Workfront’s usability task force visited companies that don’t use their software to make sure they weren’t just “designing.”