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The Dian Fossey way - treat your users as monkeys

After a comment and a blog post on Peter Lundholm's excellent blog, I decided to give some more ideas on how you track your system's usability.

Everyone who hears the story on Dian Fossey are amazed. How much time she spend and that she gave her life for these gorillas. Her struggle is kept up by others and we all have something to learn.

Working with requirements, I can sometimes think about what Dian Fossey can learn us about how we watch behaviour. Because what was so special about her methodology? Well, first, she watched the gorillas herself. She did not use any go betweens. She went there herself. Then, instead of barging in there with a camera thinking that the animals would behave as they usually did even if there was a human there with a camera, she realized that they had to see her as something/someone normal and that they could see her as a part of their every day life. Only then could they start functioning normally. When you watch a show on Animal Planet or Discovery, much of the scenes are staged or special because normal animals does not behave that way in the wild. You can see the same fenomena in real life soap operas: many participants act in ways they wouldn't normally if they weren't lifted from their normal social surroundings and if they didn't have a camera pressed up their face.

What I'm trying to say is that if you expect users to let you share their every day work process, you need to be a part of their every day. They need to be able to feel safe surrending information about their lack of knowledge, how they by pass stuff in the system and that they don't have to act in front of you. You are there for them. And hopefully, the risks of you getting killed are less than they are for the heroes watching out for our endangered gorillas.



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