Oracle Usable Apps | Applications User Experience Simplicity, mobility, extensibility
   
 
Customer Role: How User Experience Research Is Conducted
 
Brainstorming on Data Visualization: Starting an Ongoing, Open-Ended Conversation

 

Teena Singh

Author: Teena Singh, Oracle Applications User Experience
November 21, 2012




Image by Aylin Uysal, Oracle Applications User Experience


A picture is worth a thousand words … but who knew Oracle’s visual components could start an ongoing, open-ended conversation? That is precisely what happened when Oracle’s Human Capital Management (HCM) User Experience (UX) team conducted a brainstorming group session at the Oracle Human Resources User Group (OHUG) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, in June this year. The HCM UX team presented existing Oracle data visualization components (DVT components) and then employed a brainstorming methodology where customers were encouraged to discuss ideas, no matter how wild, and express how they envisioned these components being used in both their current and future HCM applications. This creative, energetic session at OHUG provided a great opportunity for the HCM UX team to gather requirements for the next phase of iterative product design on the Oracle applications user experience.

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Photographs by Teena Singh, Oracle Applications User Experience

Ivy Leung, UX manager with Oracle, facilitates brainstorming with customers at a recent conference.

Inspired after attending Stanford’s d-school, Aylin Uysal, Director of the HCM UX team, said she felt that the brainstorming methodology outlined in the Stanford program would be a great fit for requirements-gathering with HCM customers. “I saw the methodology as a great addition to the research methods we already use to engage with our customers,” she said. “Brainstorming allows us to gather requirements from our customers that are open-ended and less driven by the current product direction.” Under her direction, the HCM UX team invited customers to set aside two hours at the OHUG conference to brainstorm, build ideas, and rate their ideas on use cases for DVT components. Oracle’s Application Development Framework, or ADF, team has created a rich set of JavaServer Faces (JSF) components that provide significant graphical and tabular capabilities for visualizing and analyzing data. So customers were asked to think of innovative ways in which these JSF components could be used, and how they wanted to accomplish particular tasks using the designated component. From this, the HCM UX team identified best visualization use cases for HCM applications.

Why Data Visualization?

By nature, humans are visual creatures. Given the option to read a detailed report or look at the information in a graphical format, it’s obvious what route a person would take. An image conveys meaning that’s innately understood.

Typically, enterprise applications have shown large amounts of data in a tabular format. For example, the following table (figure 1) shows Jessica Mullen’s organization in a manner in which customers would typically see it in an enterprise application. By reviewing the details in the table, the user can see that Jessica is a director with five direct reports. Jessica can toggle between tabs of information on the entire set of employees, and also drill into each of her direct reports. The table presents a functional representation of the hierarchy and adequately serves the purpose.

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Figure 1. Traditionally, large amounts of data are displayed in tables.

However, with the use of a hierarchy viewer, the same data can be represented in a more user friendly and aesthetically pleasing format (figure 2). In the next example, you can see Jessica Mullen’s direct reports presented more visually. With the hierarchy viewer, the user can now see summary information on each of the direct reports, but also the user can interact with the data. For example, the user can now toggle through the cards to view different data on the employee. As a manager, Jessica can compare at a glance or with one click, and toggle through all summary information for her direct reports. Instantly, the graphic gives the manager a dashboard capability and the ability to visually and tactically interact with information.

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Figure 2. The same data in figure 1 in a graphical format.

There are key advantages to representing data visually. Large amounts of data can appear concisely. At a glance, the visual representation of complex data sets enables the user to easily see trends or patterns. Comparisons and the ability to interact and manipulate data enables managers, business analysts, and leaders to better understand data so that they can ultimately make better decisions for their organizations.

Given the compelling reasons for visual representations of data and the fact that Oracle already has these components, brainstorming on functional uses cases for implementing these components in Oracle applications seemed like natural, organic initiative.

Starting the Conversation

The Applications UX team recruited a diverse group of customers for the inaugural brainstorming session at OHUG. Customers who attended each session had different HR functional skill sets and hailed from different industries and different regions of the US. Rondi Mertes, a senior principal product manager on the Oracle Fusion HCM development team that helped facilitate the session, noted that the diverse backgrounds of participants ensured that different user and business requirements were represented during the brainstorming.

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Participants posting stickers to rank use cases as part of the brainstorming session methodology.

The focus of the brainstorming was to leverage the collective thinking of the group and to generate as many use cases for the components as possible. As the ideas were generated, participants were asked to record their ideas on post-it notes and then stick these notes on flip charts. Team members were asked to defer judgment during the ideation process and instead encourage creativity so that unexpected and breakthrough ideas could surface. As a result, customers provided a volume of ideas, including many out-of-the-box ideas that Oracle team members might not have thought about in initial research.

After the ideation was complete, teams were asked to rate their ideas with stickers. One set of stickers was to identify the ideas that were “most likely to succeed,” and another set of stickers was to identify ideas that were considered “most breakthrough.” This rating process was invaluable to the Applications UX team. All of the ideas were documented, and then researchers were provided with the ideas that the group felt could be implemented or designed immediately. The Oracle team was given a clear set of ideas to try to implement and then plan for in future releases.

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Customers were encouraged to go for volume, defer judgment, and be visual when brainstorming use cases.

Advantages for Customers and Oracle

The brainstorming session at OHUG was a great opportunity for customers to meet other like-minded professionals. Participants witnessed how others approached the same functionality and how their particular software needs compared to those of other companies. Mike Hopper, HCM manager from TRICARE Management Activity, said, “The networking was really valuable. I got to hear firsthand how other customers do their human capital management. It was great that we had the chance to do work, but also to network and share our experiences.”

Similarly, the HCM UX and HCM product teams have also found such exercises conducted at recent conferences invaluable. In addition to gathering critical requirements for the next phase of Oracle’s user experience designs, the information was presented firsthand and then vetted through a rating process. Oracle Applications UX Manager Ivy Leung called this methodology a dynamic form of research that is a critical part of Oracle’s UX research data. She said it’s wonderful to see that “we don’t have limits for customers, and customers aren’t forced to stay within in a specific framework. We get to see how they would like to see and do things.”

The HCM UX team wants to continue the conversation, so we are working on creating a virtual environment where we can capture compelling conversations. The collaborative virtual lab environment will be a place where interested, engaged customers can provide regular feedback on concepts, designs, and the latest HCM releases. This interactive forum will be a “sandbox” where the Applications UX team and Oracle customers with a vested interest in user experience issues in the human capital space can keep talking and complete collaborative design.

If you or your organization is interested in this virtual HCM UX lab environment, contact Teena Singh for details.

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