Probably the best way to get to know your users is to watch them work, in their typical environment. That, and getting to talk to them right after observing them. It’s from that perspective that you can really see what works, what doesn’t, and what people don’t like. And this is exactly what we want to learn about in our quest to improve our users’ experience using Oracle software.
That said, we’ve been eager to get out and do some site visits, particularly for learning more about supply chain management (SCM). For one, SCM is an area most of us on the team haven’t spent too much time working on. But two, at least for me–working mostly in the abstract, or at least the virtual—there’s something fascinating and satisfying about how physical products and materials move throughout the world, starting as one thing and being manufactured or assembled into something else.
We had a contact at Micros, so we started there. Also, they’re an Oracle company, so that made it much easier. You’ve probably encountered Micros products, even if you haven’t noticed them—Micros does point of sales (POS) systems for retail and hospitality, meaning lots of restaurants, stadiums, and hotels.
For this particular adventure, we teamed up with the SCM team within OAUX, and went to Hanover, Maryland, where Micros has its warehouse operations, and where all of its orders are put together and shipped out across the world.
We observed and talked to a variety of people there: the pickers, who grab all the pieces for an order; the shippers, who get the orders ready to ship out and load them on the trucks; receiving, who takes in all the new inventory; QA, who have to make sure incoming parts are OK, as well as items that are returned; and cycle counters, who count inventory on a nightly basis. We also spoke to various managers and people involved in the business end of things.
In addition to following along and interviewing different employees, the SCM team ran a focus group, and the AppsLab team ran something like a focus group, but which is called a User Journey Map. With this research method, you have users map out their tasks (using sticky notes, a UX researcher’s best friend), while also including associated thoughts and feelings corresponding to each step of each task. We don’t just want to know what users are doing or have to do, but how they feel about it, and the kinds of questions they may have.
In an age where we’re accustomed to pressing a button and having something we want delivered in two days (or less), it’s helpful on a personal level to see how this sort of thing actually happens, and all the people involved in the background. On a professional level, you see how software plays a role in all of it—keeping it all together, but also imposing limits on what can be done and what can be tracked.
This was my first site visit, though I hope there are plenty more in the future. There’s no substitute for this kind of direct observation, where you can also ask questions. You come back tired, but with lots of notes, and lots of new insights.