“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
I’m not using this apocryphal quote to suggest that we shouldn’t ask people working in a law firm what they want from their systems and tools. Rather, I’m using it to make the point that, “what people say they will do, compared to what they actually do is notoriously unreliable.” (Macadamian)
By themselves, interviewing users and assembling focus groups to gather requirements won’t give you the insights to design and build what lawyers actually need or will use. They are excellent for quickly setting users’ opinions and feelings about things. They will reveal what your lawyers want, need and like – but only in the abstract. They won’t tell you whether what you’re building will work or whether anyone will be able to use it once it’s launched.
The shortcomings of asking people what they want are already well known in HCI and Psychology circles:
“[Nassim Nicholas] Taleb suggests that we humans constantly fool ourselves by constructing flimsy accounts of the past and believing they are true.” (Kahneman, Thinking Fast And Slow)
Mintzbergs famous Folklore and Fact’ study of managers revealed a highly idealized account of what managers say they do, namely “plan, organize, coordinate and control…[as] reflective, systematic planners” versus what they actually do, namely “plan and make decisions on the go, leaving little time for reflection and any real strategic planning.”
Jared Spool also has a great blog article on this entitled: “Three Questions You Shouldn’t Ask During User Research“.
Also file under: the human memory is fallible
“There’s a huge difference between imagining using something and actually using it.” (www.uxmyths.com)
See also: introverts vs extroverts on group dynamics and more on the “alter leader”
As the opening reminds us, “Most people are not able to imagine a car, if all they know is horse and carriage.” (Martin Pielot)
Have you been asked for discussion forums at your firm? I am amazed by the number of times this functionality is requested, rolled out, and never used (even by those who originally asked for it). We need to analyze what our lawyers say to really understand the functionality they need and what it will take to get them using it.
People are much better at complaining about what’s wrong with their current systems and processes, than they are at imagining what they might really need. Did you know that you wanted an iPad before you sat down and played with one? Likely not, but I bet you could have listed with ease all the problems you were experiencing with your smartphone and wished it could do better.
These insights about human behaviour and group dynamics are critical to our requirements gathering processes: we need to use focus groups and interviews to discover the problems lawyers are experiencing and itemise what is lacking. But when it comes to making a system functional and usable we need to remember Jakob Nielsen’s “basic rules of usability“:
- Watch what people actually do
- Do not believe what people say they do
- Definitely don’t believe what people predict they may do in the future.”
I have embedded a mix of Lean UX and other design techniques to overcome these shortcomings in my knowledge design process. This is why I’m passionate about uncovering deeper insights about our users; insights that can indeed bridge that gap between what lawyers say they want and what they truly need. But more of that in subsequent posts.