So you’ve been invited to take part in a user research study by your department head, your company’s IT department, or by an SAP contact. They told you about the importance user research has in improving the user experience of a software product, and they said you are just the right person for this.
You may be wondering what participating in a user research study means for you, what to expect, and whether to participate or not. Here are answers to some of the questions you may have that will, hopefully, make you want to take part!
Why does SAP want to talk to me? Why don’t they talk to the IT department instead – this is about software, after all?
At SAP, each development team is responsible for a specific business area for which they develop software applications. And for this reason, each team has a particular type of person in focus: the target user, or end user, who will use their application in his or her everyday work. For example, an SAP team developing an application to set up and manage recruitment campaigns would be interested in talking to HR professionals who actively run such campaigns for their companies. Other SAP teams have other end users with whom they want to conduct interviews, for example, sales representatives, logistics personnel, facility managers, and so on.
And the reason why they want to talk to you instead of your IT department is this: IT experts or line of business managers may know – to some degree – WHAT you do, but only you know HOW you do your work. You are the expert about your specific tasks and responsibilities, and it is only from you that the SAP team can learn how they need to design the software so that it optimally supports you in HOW you complete your daily tasks.
Fig. 1: Interviewing and observing a user during a user research study
What about confidentiality? Do I need to check with our legal department or my management first before talking to SAP?
SAP will only approach you if there is a legal agreement, called a Feedback Agreement, in place between your company and SAP. This agreement defines the possibility and the confidentiality of the information exchange between the employees of your company and the employees of SAP. If you have been asked to take part in an end user interview with SAP, the legal side of things usually has already been settled. But certainly you can check with the contacts at your company beforehand.
The SAP team wants to get a good understanding about your tasks, goals and requirements, and this also includes capturing your work context. To this end, they may ask for your permission to audio-record the conversation, and to take photos or video recordings. Again, they will only ask for your individual OK if your company has agreed in principle to such recordings. You are free to decline to be recorded in any way, or to answer a particular question; the SAP team will honor your decision.
All information the SAP team gathers from you will be kept anonymous and treated at SAP as highly confidential. It will not be given to anyone inside your organization, or to anyone outside SAP. (And having said this, here’s a short note on the pictures used in this article: they are either stock photos, or were taken at SAP of SAP employees to reenact a site visit situation for illustration purposes. SAP would never publish images of a site visit without the explicit consent of the customer and all involved persons).
What exactly happens during an end user interview?
Usually, two employees from SAP will join you directly at your place of work. You may ask yourself “Why at my workplace? Why not in a conference room, it’s a lot quieter there?” The SAP team wants to gain insights into how you work, and this includes your direct work environment. It can be a real eye-opener for the SAP team to learn, for example, that your work entails being on the phone a lot, or that you need to use many different tools to complete your tasks (which they will be keen on observing you use!). No other members of your company will be present, apart, of course, from the colleagues who normally share your work space.
One of the SAP team members, the moderator, will conduct the interview by asking questions related to your work. The other will take detailed notes of what you say, and take photos and recordings if permitted. A typical interview lasts about 90 minutes, and you can have a break or stop the interview at any time. First, the moderator introduces the SAP team, and why they are here talking to you. Then, following a few background questions on your role and responsibilities, the moderator will talk with you about your tasks and how you complete them. Not to review or comment on your way of working but to fully understand your role, what information and tools you need and why, and how you execute your tasks and responsibilities. During the entire interview, the SAP team observes, listens, learns and takes notes of what they hear and see. In the summary and wrap-up you have the opportunity to give feedback to the team or ask questions.
Fig. 2: Setup of an end user interview
What does the SAP team expect from me?
SAP teams are interested in talking to end users because they want to optimize their applications around how the users can, want, or need to work, instead of making users change their way of working to accommodate the software.
You are the expert at what you do and how you do it, and the SAP team are there understand what it takes, and what it needs, to do your job. Therefore, let your mindset during the interview to be that of the specialist sharing his/her experience. Imagine that the SAP team are new colleagues who will take on the same tasks as you. Show them the details of how you complete your tasks, explain what works and what doesn‘t, and also show the difficulties you run into and what your workarounds are.
Don‘t be surprised or annoyed if the SAP colleagues ask questions about what seems ordinary and obvious to you, it may just be that one piece of information they need to make their software better.
Most importantly, no work is required on your part. Since we want to observe your everyday way of working, you don’t need to prepare anything.
What is in it for me?
The 90-minute end user interview with SAP can be an exciting new experience for you:
- Not only does it offer an interesting change in your workday, it also lets you be part of a design initiative that goes beyond your daily work objectives, and even your own company. You can help SAP include those aspects in their software that are important for you and other users that do your kind of job, be they colleagues in your own company or in other companies worldwide.
- You get to know people from a different walk of life (software development and design, in this case), and can share how you work with people who are very interested in what you do.
- Not least of all: you will receive a small gift as a token of our appreciation, if this is in line with your company regulations.
What will happen with the information afterwards?
In the course of a user research study the SAP team usually visits a minimum of 6 to 8 users with the same job description, frequently from 3 to 4 different companies. This is so they get representative input.
Once all interviews are completed, the team systematically analyzes and evaluates the information gathered to come up with ideas and recommendations for the design of their software application. From my own experience, this is ususally the most work intensive, difficult, and the least enjoyable 🙂 part of user research. Colored sticky notes are a helpful and essential tool in getting a handle on the many data points and items of information.
Based on the evaluation and the findings, the SAP team can start to develop early prototypes or design proposals. If you have expressed an interest in further research activities, the SAP team may invite you to evaluate these prototypes or proposals in a usability test).
What if I have more questions?
If you have questions on a specific research study that you are being recruited for, do not hesitate to contact the respective SAP team directly. They will be happy to explain the goals and the procedure of their user research study to you.
If you have general questions on user research conducted at SAP, please post the question here in the comments. That way all potential end users can benefit from the questions and answers provided.