Bringing the User into the Project Development Process

Bringing the User into the Project Development Process

Daniel W. Surry (University of South Alabama, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-400-2.ch008
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This chapter will discuss more than 20 system development life cycles (SDLC) found in the Information Technology project management arena, whereby, a comprehensive overview of the SDLCs history as well as the trigger that instigated its development would be laid out. Subsequently, the chapter will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using SDLC, whereby the chapter will explain where and when to use which SDLC. As such, the chapter will classify the different SDLCs into three non-exclusive categories: Traditional methodologies, agile methodologies, spiral methodologies and other types of methodologies that used in IT project Management.
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Theoretical Overview: End Users And Project Development

Most people would likely agree that understanding the needs, skills, behaviors, and attitudes of end users is a desirable part of the product development process. However, it is also likely that most people do not know the underlying theoretical reasons for understanding the end users. While there are many reasons for understanding the end users, including the refinement of product features and the development of supporting documentation, by far the most important reason is to increase the effective utilization of the product within the desired context of use.

There are many theories about how to increase the utilization of products. Many of these theories focus on the development of highly effective and efficient products as the key to increasing utilization. While no one would argue that the creation of effective and efficient products is an important goal of the development process, it is not sufficient to ensure widespread or effective utilization. In fact, there are many examples of technically superior products that have not found wide use. One of the most interesting historical examples is the case of highly precise methods of mass production in the early years of the Industrial Revolution (Morris, 2005). Even though the use of precision machinery reduced costs, shortened production cycles, and made interchangeability possible, the method was resisted by many, especially in England, because of existing social norms, resistance to innovation, and opposition from traditional craftsmen and guilds (Morris, 2005).

The preceding example illustrates how technically superior products are not always rapidly or widely adopted by users. It provides anecdotal support for the idea that product developers must have an understanding of how their products will affect users both practically and emotionally. In addition to anecdotal support, there are a number of theoretical and philosophical stances that strongly support the importance of understanding a product from the users’ perspective.

Ample theoretical support for including users in the product development process can be found in the cluster of theories related to the diffusion of innovations. For example, diffusion research has shown that users go through a process of fact finding, persuasion, decision, and confirmation before adopting a new product (Rogers, 1995). Because the adoption and use of a new product is a process, not an instant decision, the more time users have to learn about, try out, and interact with a product prior to its introduction, the quicker the product can be adopted and utilized. A key part of this innovation adoption process is re-invention (Rogers, 1995). Re-invention is the phenomenon of user initiated modifications to a product following adoption in response to practical necessities, unique or evolving work conditions, and other factors. If re-invention can take place during the development process, as opposed to post-development, then creative, unique, or desirable features can be included in the initial version of a product and, therefore, enhance adoption and facilitate use.

Innovativeness is another concept from diffusion theory that is relevant to the role of users in the development process. This concept states that different people within a given population will be more or less innovative than others (Rogers, 1995). More innovative people will tend to adopt and use a product earlier than less innovative people. This suggests that the end users of any product are not a homogenous group, but vary widely in their willingness to use a product. However, there is a tendency for highly innovative users to be overrepresented in the development process because they are often more vocal and visible to developers and managers. This overrepresentation skews product development to be more useful and desirable to innovative users while minimizing the needs and opinions of less innovative users. The obvious implication of this is that developers should seek out input from a wide cross section of users, highly innovative and less innovative, and develop products with features that appeal to each group.

Key Terms in this Chapter

End User: Any person who employs a product to complete a task. End users can be intended or unintended. However, it is more common to identify and consider intended end users during the development process as unintended end users can be difficult to anticipate.

Context of Use: The conditions under which a product is used by intended users in the performance of a task. This includes not only the technical environment but also all of the social, organizational, and personal characteristics of the performance site. Understanding context of use can assist developers in creating products that are practical, useable, and desirable to end users.

Institutionalization: The point at which a product ceases to be considered new or innovative as a result of widespread, ongoing, and substantive utilization by members of an organization or social system. Institutionalization is often seen as the ultimate goal of the adoption/implementation/diffusion process.

Diffusion: The process by which a product is introduced and disseminated throughout an organization or social system. The diffusion process begins after the initial decision to adopt a product and continues until the product is either abandoned or becomes institutionalized within the organization.

Technological Determinism: A philosophical stance that, in its most extreme form, views technology as and autonomous force and the primary driver of change in the modern world. Technological determinists believe that technological considerations tend to minimize or eliminate social, human, and organizational factors during the development and diffusion of a product.

Sociotechnical Systems: A theory that views people and technologies not as separate and discrete entities but as parts of a larger system. Sociotechnical systems theory states that a full understanding of any organization or social system can not be attained without understanding both how societal issues shape the development and use of technology and how technology shapes the capabilities, desires, and beliefs of society.

Utilization: The manner and method that a product is actually employed by end users in the context of use. Studying the utilization of a product can provide valuable information about the product, its features, its effectiveness, and potential upgrades and revisions.

Implementation: The process of facilitating the effective utilization of a product by end users in an organization or social system. Implementation commonly focuses on identifying potential barriers to the use of a product at a worksite and planning for the removal of those barriers.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
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