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I was wondering if you could help me conduct a proper needfinding observation. Mostly, do you see any methodological errors in my observation plan or survey questions? Does my plan maximize the ability to discover user breakpoints?

Here is my plan:

My observations center on the design brief for "Time". I spend much of my time working on various tasks at a local coffee shop and notice that the baristas have to complete many different tasks under a strict time constraint. My goal is to observe the many different tasks baristas have to complete and their current methods of managing these tasks. I will ask the staff of their planned tasks before the observation period begins and then ask them a set of questions via email afterwards (the survey questions are listed below). I will ask the baristas to give a thumbs up if they feel they are running behind on a task--this would be an indication of a user breakpoint. I will observe one barista at a time. My ultimate goal will be to design an software application that would help them manage these tasks more efficiently using the timeboxing principle of time-management—which focuses on distributing and allocating specific time-intervals for prioritized tasks.

Online Survey Questions (all with text field response boxes except when choices are indicated in the question):

  1. What is the value of time-management in your daily life? (Highly important, Moderately important, minimally important)

  2. How skilled do you feel you are as a time manager?

  3. What tools do you currently use for managing your time?

  4. What is the fastest task you typically perform on daily basis?

  5. What is the slowest task you typically perform on daily basis?

  6. What daily tasks do you feel you have trouble completing in the time you feel you should?

a. Why do you feel you do not complete these tasks on time?

  1. How many unplanned tasks do you typically perform on a daily basis?

a. Do you tend to complete these tasks in the time you intend?

b. Are there any unplanned tasks you have trouble completing on time?

  1. How would you characterize the amount tasks you perform every day? (Many tasks, Average amount of tasks, not many tasks?)

  2. How often do you complete the tasks you set out to do in the time you intended to complete them?

  3. How often on a daily basis do you alternate between feeling busy and feeling collected (more than 20 times a day, more than 10 times a day, more than 5 times a day, more than 3 times a day, less than 3 times a day)

  4. Is there a time of day where you feel busier than other times? If so, when?

  5. How often do you delegate tasks to another person on a daily basis? (very often, often, not very often)

  6. What tasks do you feel are unreliable to complete in a timely manner and why?

  7. How do other people’s expectations regarding time influence your prioritization of tasks?


I guess Question 7a. is a binary question but it is also a follow-up to a previous question. Does its role as a follow-up make it methodologically sound?

Also, I was thinking of using 15 minutes as the length of the observational period. Should I control for "busy-ness"? For example, should I ask the baristas, before the observation period, when the busier parts of day tend to be and choose only those moments to observe their activity? Should I observe at different times of day (busy and non-busy)?

  • your plan sounds interesting and your questions are correct. I just don't get how do you plan to implement this based on these questions, but guess you have it figured out. Anyways, this looks like a typical Behavioral Psychology experiment, so if you have the chance, try to ask a Psychologist for more input on the questions and the experimental approach. My wife is a Behavioral PsyD , and believe me I can see her students getting really weird results (or ditching experiments altogether) by just changing a word in questions, so better safe than sorry – Devin Feb 14 '15 at 18:17
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The plan looks good in itself. I'd certainly advise to make observations in heavy- and off-load times, because the method/app you are going to develop should work in both scenarios (otherwise it will either slow down in peaks or just bother in low load). That also should guide you in the time frame of observation - if one/two full serving cycle is good enough; if there are parallel tasks/communication/resource allocation with other team members...

I don't really get the purpose of the survey. As I see it, it may provide only marginal leads to the overall aim. Most of it are qualitative self-evaluation questions, which dont really tend to deliver valid answers.

Are those questions related to the working environment only? I'd focus on questions leading to the "learning" process and cooperation/communication - how did they learn/adjust to the task scenario, what are the cues they use in managing tasks, where do they spend most of the time physically. In the end you will "force" a new set of tasks upon them and they will have to incorporate them into their flow. If that proves to be hard, the system will get rejected, however good it is.

Note - don't use odd number of answer options - you end up with a useless "mode" right in the middle. Force a polarity of answers (i.e. a scale of 4).

  • Thank you so much. This is such a great evaluation. I plan to ask the survey questions in regards to the user's work environment. I will change the question to reflect breakpoints and user coping mechanisms. I noticed from some conversations that delegation is a noted feature of daily activities and that tasks tend to fall behind schedule as a result of a lack in training/communication. Is are there any questions that I could ask to flesh out the nuances of these concerns? – user51843 Jul 21 '14 at 4:39

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