Software quality pros are more likely to associate the term user experience with design than with application performance. But that could change if a concept known as user experience management (UEM) takes hold among developers and testers. Organizations that face challenges with their current user experience design process may find success by adding UEM concepts.
What is UEM?
User experience design focuses on how an application looks and feels and how easy it is to navigate the software. Aptly named, UEM is concerned with how the user actually experiences the software in the real world.
Dennis Drogseth, vice president for Portsmouth, N.H.-based research firm Enterprise Management Associates Inc., defines UEM by posing two big-picture questions: Does the software deliver on its promise to constituents? Have software developers and testers optimized the experience with the software?
Does the checkout process take too long on Amazon.com? Does the CRM system return account data fast enough? Is Google Maps running too slowly to help users reach their destinations? In each instance, the application is delivering a sub-optimal user experience -- an experience that hasn't been managed properly.
In my mind, UEM is the essential counterpart to user experience design process. A software application can earn high marks from a design and ease-of-use perspective. But if it fails to deliver the fast, reliable experience users expect, its sleek, intuitive design doesn't matter.
The importance of UEM in user experience design
The idea of UEM is not new. But it's gaining importance as software teams turn their attention to the requirements of mobile applications. Unpredictable connectivity and the constraints of small devices can quickly lead to poor user experiences.
An application that delivers a great experience lets users of that software conduct business without anything getting in their way. They can make a quick purchase on Amazon, and receive alerts when the package is on its way. They can download account data so fast there's no need to put the customer on hold. They can file an expense report without the app hanging up when they upload receipts. All three instances deliver an excellent user experience and improve business processes.
In my mind, UEM is an essential counterpart to the user experience design process.
Drogseth noted that UEM is important for all applications, not just those that run on mobile devices. He also said that the term UEM -- and the concept of delivering optimal user experiences -- isn't getting much attention right now, but he believes that will change in the near future. When organizations finally recognize how heavily they rely on software to conduct business with customers and employees, the question of what it's like to use that software will matter.
How to improve the UX design process
Because UEM concerns arise most commonly around mobile application performance, it's easy for software developers and testers to take a "do nothing" stance. As one mobile developer told me a recent trade show, "We don't worry about performance because we can't control the connectivity [conditions] under which the app is be deployed."
I shared this comment with Ben Grubin, a director of product marketing for Compuware, a Detroit Mich.-based firm that sells application performance management software. He said the hands-off approach is a big mistake, but this mindset is not uncommon among mobile developers who don't necessarily come from a professional software development background.
Developers and testers can't control where a mobile application is deployed, but they can make sure the app is architected in way that optimizes mobile performance, Grubin said. That means paying close attention to the data the application requires, and providing no more than necessary.
It also means digging under the covers of an application to see where and how it makes connections. This can uncover where the root cause of a performance problem is hiding. Grubin offered an example. "The app is slow, and it turns out it is making ten database calls when it should be making only two."
Developers and testers need to focus on providing the best possible user experience with every application they deliver. Keeping UEM in mind helps program managers develop user experience design testing processes that get them there.
Does your software team struggle with UX design? Is UEM a part of your user experience design process? Let us know what you think and what questions you need answered.
This was first published in July 2013