Phase Four: Development

The Development Phase is the fifth installment in a series of posts exploring how organizations can leverage design to create and capture value by infusing their processes with moderated research. Here are the overview, challenge, discovery, and design posts, if you’ve missed them. 

Our Point of View: User Research Improves Development

We believe that user research during development saves companies time and money. Businesses and teams that commit to user-centered design will outperform their competition. Development efforts will be more efficient and produce products more likely to capture value when they are informed by user research. To realize this potential advantage, teams need to commit to doing moderated research throughout the development process.

Phase Four’s Intent

From a user experience and design perspective, the intent of the Development Phase is to evaluate, refine, and validate a solution meets the goals and needs of the business and its customers/users.

The high-level objectives of the Develop Phase are:

  • Build the designed solution efficiently and effectively
  • Address new constraints and challenges
  • Confirm the solution is on target

Problems & Opportunities Reveal Themselves

No matter the project new constraints and challenges will emerge during development.  The word develop is derived from Latin, then Old French, meaning to unfurl or unfold. Whether it is software, hardware, or services, the Develop Phase is where the intent from the Design Phase becomes real and tangible.

Just as a Polaroid picture became clear over time; the clarity of development efforts emerge over time. With growing clarity, we will find new opportunities and challenges. Each of those opportunities and challenges benefit from user research and feedback. Depending on the status of the development team’s progress, user research and feedback may take the shape of formative directional tests or summative usability tests.

Avoid Expensive Mistakes

Improve the likelihood of your product creating and capturing value in the market by continuing to leverage moderated research throughout the Develop Phase. By testing as you go, you can reduce potential errors and support expenses.  In the recent past, many enterprise software products were so difficult to use that companies sold “professional services” to help train users. Beware! If you hear “sounds like a training issue” from your dev team, give your customer support staff a heads-up that they are going to get a lot of calls. Perceived savings in time and money during the dev face are lost, with considerable interest, in paying for support staff. Or worse, losing a customer.

In over 20 years of leading design and development projects, perceived savings by skipping moderated research or quality assurance rarely, if ever, materializes. Problems becomes more expensive as they move through the product lifecycle. At the end of the day, you’re going to pay for those problems. It’s just a matter of when and with how much interest. For example, look at the Note 7 smartphone. Samsung saved money by skipping QA and research tasks and were able to deliver a hot product to the market. So hot in fact, it burned up in customers hands, pockets, and cars. It was so bad, the company had to recall the entire line. Now research doesn’t so expensive, does it?

ROI of User Research

It’s not just avoiding an exploding phone. It’s possible to save dollars and cents in less obvious ways.  Doing your research will pay off by making products and services that customers understand as well as reducing bugs in the process. User research can serve as an exterminator to costly development bugs.

This bug is cool. Development bugs are not.

Determining the true ROI of bug reduction has been gaining ground over the past fifteen years. While an exact figure is hard to come by, most research indicates that investments in eradicating bugs early and often pay dividends. Getting your development code in front of users helps identify potential bugs. Here are a couple examples to help make the business case for user research in dev to produce better products and services.

  • IBM’s research on “Cost Justifying Ease of Use” claims that for every $1 invested in usability returns between $10 and $100.
  • The Celerity Blog investigated the true cost of a bug and illustrates the progressive expense of eliminating a bug by phase
    • during requirements = $100
    • during QA = $1,500
    • in production = $10,000

Agile or Fragile: Accuracy is better than speed

Agile becomes fragile when the addiction to speed blinds teams from being accurate, as the lose sight of the design intent and goals. The speed addiction presents symptoms like “we don’t have time for that” or “we can afford to test our code.”

I was in a class taught by Eric Schaffer (CEO of Human Factors, Inc.) where he relayed a great point from a gunfighter – “speed is great, accuracy is better.” In this case of Development accuracy is the ability to deliver the product, free of costly errors. Accuracy and speed need not be mutually exclusive. You need both in today’s business environment. Don’t let an addiction to perceived speed get in the way of delivering more accurate and valuable solutions. Whether it’s waterfall or Agile, environments that skip user research push expenses downstream to customer support and/or recovery.

Use(r) Research to Hit Your Target

As you prepare to develop and deliver your new product or service, remember that user research helps you hit your design targets and will help your business increase its ability to create and capture value. Creating value by presenting users and customers with useful solutions that work. Capturing value by reducing the costs of production, as well as building long term trust with your customers by delivering competent solutions.

Key Takeaways

  • Accuracy beats speed… and both are important in today’s business environment
  • Moderated research helps you exterminate costly development bugs and errors
  • View user research and testing as an investment to product your product, service, and brand.

Next Steps

  • Check out Handrail’s UX Guide for more resources to help with your Discovery efforts
  • Stay tuned for our next post in this series, the Deliver Phase
  • Sign up for a free trial or schedule a demo of Handrail to see how moderated research can improve your design outcomes


What research do you do during development? What obstacles have you faced? Let us know in the comments section.

About Handrail

We built Handrail to help teams collaborate throughout the entire user research process. Plan, collect, analyze, store, and share your research all in one location. Sign up for a free 30-day trial today.

Matt Arnold

Matt is a researcher and product specialist at Handrail, Inc. He is passionate about human-centered design and helping teams do more effective research. Matt has led strategy and design work for early and late stage startups, as well as some of the country’s most recognized brands.

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