LANDesk integrates customer knowledge into the Agile development process.

LANDesk provides the industry's most cost effective and intelligent systems and security management solutions from a single console that simplify IT management for desktops, servers, and mobile devices. LANDesk has been very successful in the desktop administration market. However, LANDesk wasn't satisfied with its penetration of the server management market. LANDesk, having worked with InContext previously, wanted to use Contextual Design and gather needed data for a deeper understanding of its customer.

Challenge

LANDesk wanted to gather reliable customer data quickly. It needed a way to bring the needs of customers to its developers as part of the user-centered design commitment of LANDesk’s agile development process. LANDesk’s goal was to discover:

  • How current server management tools were used
  • What tasks and steps users go through during the server life cycle (for provisioning, updating, retirement and repurposing)
  • What issues server managers wanted to monitor and manage
  • What kind of system could be put in place that would simplify the work of server management and increase productivity, reliability and responsiveness

InContext’s data collection process included the LANDesk team, which went along on field interviews to observe server managers in the workplace and to see the tools and techniques they used. The team also participated in interpretive sessions, lending its expertise to the data analysis and getting a first-hand look at emerging data.

By looking at different users performing a variety of tasks, the LANDesk team was able to understand the needs across the whole server life cycle. The InContext team organized this information and delivered a market characterization, detailed design recommendations and next steps.

LANDesk’s implementation team uses an XP agile development process to develop LANDesk solutions. This meant the entire development cycle had to be completed within the short timeframe of just four weeks—from start to finish—before release planning and the product’s first XP iteration.

“We have usability and user experience professionals on staff, but InContext specializes in collecting data from the field and using it to create a real impact on products and marketing strategies. That’s what we needed. By contracting with InContext, we were able to quickly extend our resources and expertise to get the best value from our customer visits”

Lisa Baker, LANDesk lead user interface designer.

Delivering Results

Based on its data, the InContext team developed a series of recommendations to help LANDesk extend its market share in the server management market. LANDesk’s Lisa Baker also took the data and developed personas to easily communicate the needs of the users to the LANDesk development team, helping focus the developers on creating value for the users. “Building personas with real contextual data brings the customer alive for development and marketing,” Lisa commented. Feature recommendations from the InContext team fit in the agile development timeframe, allowing LANDesk to glean immediate direction for implementation and then develop a server management solution that provides immediate value to users. InContext’s recommendations focused on:

  • Streamlining the setup of new servers
  • Providing targeted information for individual server managers
  • Creating features to support troubleshooting and monitoring
  • Maximizing usability throughout the product
  • The team also delivered ideas for marketing and packaging

The features introduced through this process were well received in the market.

  • The current LANDesk server management product has penetrated the market faster in its six months since release than any previous LANDesk server product
  • The data and insights revealed opportunities in the previous LANDesk server management product that could be added to allow LANDesk to more effectively achieve its goals in the server management market
  • LANDesk was able to ground its prioritization and project plans in real-world, detailed customer data and deliver a more user-centric product
  • The entire project was tailored to the tight timeframe of LANDesk’s agile development process, proving that a user-centered design approach can work hand-in-hand with agile development techniques

The market response to the resulting product has been excellent. In March 2005, eWeek Labs Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant wrote of LANDesk Server Manager, “The sensible combination of useful tools should ease many system management chores without adding a lot of training time.”

The Process

“Integrating contextual data with our agile development process means we are not just getting customer feedback on the work completed in an iteration, but that we’re using the customer need to drive priorities at the planning stage when we create our stories and iterations,” explained Lisa.

By observing real-world users at work and talking to them about their needs, the InContext team discovered that users’ most-pressing priorities weren’t all addressed by LANDesk’s current solution. Users top concerns included:

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  • The primary concern in provisioning, migration and patch management was to keep servers up and functioning
  • Server management is the central focus of the job only in larger companies. Elsewhere, it’s one of many tasks
  • Tools that come loaded on the server are what gets used, whether they’re the best or not
  • Remote provisioning (either when bringing up a new system or installing applications or updates) isn’t always used, despite its convenience; many technical and logistical problems prevent its use