By Applications User Experience on Apr 16, 2012
Teena Singh, Principal Product Manager
The Application User Experience Team has been running Customer Feedback Sessions at user conferences for the last five years. These one-on-one sessions are a fantastic way for our team to conduct user research, illustrate the user-centered design process and showcase our latest designs to customers.
While the one-on-one sessions have been enthusiastically received in recent years and become our trademark methodology in the onsite usability lab, it was time to further expand our research methods, and refine our approach to engaging customers in the conference setting. Focus groups have been a welcome new addition at our onsite labs.
Instead of meeting with one customer at a time, a focus group brings together a group of people to discuss a topic in order to quickly obtain ideas and opinions. The focus group approach is used to increase our understanding of potential users and their requirements, as well as to identify potential solutions for these requirements. Typically focus groups are conducted at the very beginning of the product lifecycle.
Recently at the Alliance 2012 conference, our team ran a focus group on Search and Navigation Options in Fusion Applications Help. This study asked seven super-users of Oracle products to simultaneously take a look at new designs for search and navigation in the user interface. The group was asked to evaluate several alternatives and determine which would be the most useful to them. Through an open dialogue with these users our team assessed the strengths and weaknesses of design alternatives and the functionality our users most desire.
Customer Advantage: Product Interaction
Our focus group at Alliance was unlike a conference session, where a conference attendee might just sit and listen to a speaker present new functionality; rather it was an interactive session with other like- minded professionals. It was a good opportunity for customers to see the future of the application, while also discussing whether or not these designs met their wants and needs (while Oracle noted down their remarks and observations). As a result of the group discussion, customers had the opportunity to see how other customers approached the same functionality, and to observe how their particular software needs might be similar or different than those of another company. This was succinctly summarized by Bob Daley, Manager of FAS Payroll Services, from Harvard University:
“It's great that Oracle is interested in improving their products and included users in the discussion. Having several people included helps to raise issues you may not have thought of and to understand their concerns.”
Another participant, Lauren Scott, Business Systems Analyst from Stanford University, said she found the dynamic conversation with other super-users, with similar yet slightly different experiences, to be highly enlightening. She said she liked seeing how different people responded to the visuals that were shown and she added, “it was interesting to see how consensus changed as the discussion ensued.” She noted the group discussion was highly successful because she got to hear a variety of opinions and also provided her own reflective input. Additionally, the focus group provided a great opportunity to network with relevant peers. One participant noted that she exchanged business cards with a fellow participant, after they both realized they were both working with end users in a (primarily Oracle E-Business Suite) higher education setting. She noted that it’s uncommon to find someone in the exact same situation, so you definitely have to take advantage of that prospect.
Figure 1. Participant, Lauren Scott (center), Business Systems Analyst, Stanford University discusses her organization’s requirements with respect to Search and Navigation, while Andrea Cantu (left), Oracle Applications UX team takes notes and Bob Daley (right), Harvard University, looks on. Alliance 2012, Nashville, Tennessee, March 20, 2012 (photo by Tejas Peesapati, Oracle Applications UX)
Research Advantage: Wisdom of the Crowd
From a research perspective, sometimes “two heads are better than one.” Small group research is a great way to brainstorm and allow people think in a new way. Erika Webb, a Manager of User Experience and the Moderator for the study at Alliance, noted that with a focus group:
“You have an opportunity to get people to think in a different way. One person can bring something up and the conversation can go in a direction you might have not anticipated.”
Figure 2. Erika Webb presents Search and Navigation paradigm to the focus group audience. Alliance 2012, Nashville, Tennessee, March 20, 2012 (photo by Tejas Peesapati, Oracle Applications UX)
Erika noted that often times when she does a one-on-one session, if an interesting comment or concern comes up halfway through her scheduled participants, she isn’t able to explore the idea with all the participants without compromising the experimental controls in her previous studies. She felt the beauty of the focus group is the ability to summarize an interesting idea and then gather feedback from the group as a whole. A focus group enables you to expect the unexpected and then explore the discovery.
Our next focus groups will be held at the OBUG conference in Maastricht, Netherlands and COLLABORATE12 in Las Vegas later this month. Will you be attending one of these conferences? Are you interested in being involved in a session of this sort? If so, please e-mail Teena Singh for further information on becoming a participant.