Five Reasons for Doing Anything
The strategy that led to playtesting the Xbox platform
It’s what everyone tells you not to say in an interview:
“What’s your biggest weakness?”
“I care too much.”
When people ask me, “What’s the biggest challenge of being a user research lead in Xbox?” my honest answer is, “I have too many interesting things to work on.” You can almost hear “Everything Is Awesome” playing in the background.
I consider myself extremely lucky. I work in a group and industry where the fascinating and impactful work keeps rolling in. There are times when it feels like a tidal wave of requests. Many of them are immediate (or faster!), and some are longer term and more in depth. One of my main jobs as a user research manager is to prioritize what my team and I work on.
Strategic thinking is forward thinking
It seems like common sense to say, “Make sure you have a good reason for doing that piece of work.” But with the number of opportunities constantly coming at us, a single reason isn’t enough. Not if I want my work to strategically position me and my team for success in the future.
So, for any piece of work or prioritization decision, I run it through a simple prioritization model I call “Five Reasons for Doing Anything.”
I start out with results for the user and the business. Then I move down the list beyond immediate impact to factors that will help over the longer term.
When I find myself mentally checking off five or six reasons, I know I’m on the right track. If I only have one or two, I can tell this isn’t the best use of my time and energy.
The list isn’t magic or something you should print out and hang on your wall. It’s just an example of the kinds of things I think about when looking to prioritize — gaining new skills, offering new services, growing the team, creating new methods. It’s a place to start, but if you use this model, you’ll want to build your own list based on your business and the particular future you envision.
Nine reasons to playtest the Xbox platform
Example time! I have a long list of examples where I’ve used this framework successfully. But my favorite is bringing in new methods for testing the Xbox operating system.
A few years back, I transitioned from working on individual Xbox games to working on the platform (Xbox OS and services like Xbox Live and Game Pass). This included doing user research on features for gaming with friends, buying games, managing games collections — basically anything you see on the Xbox that isn’t games or third-party apps, such as the home screen.
My main design partner also came from games. Birds of a feather, we were both used to playtesting as a research method. (For those who don’t know, playtesting is a way to get attitudinal data in the lab, asking things like, “Is the game fun? Is it the right level of challenge and pace? Are the graphics meeting the bar?”)
At the time, we were mostly focused on behavioral aspects of the Xbox platform (e.g., can users complete tasks?). But we wondered if we could bring in playtesting to learn something more.
After some thoughtful discussion, we decided playtesting would be useful. But as you can guess, we had to consider this project in relation to many others, especially because playtesting is expensive and time intensive. That’s where the prioritization came in.
You can see that this project checked a lot of boxes. It would help us cross the streams of data and offer the business a new service. It played to the strengths of my particular team.
After a few years of applying playtesting to the platform, I’m happy and proud of how successful it has been. It’s moved from just the Xbox OS to other apps and features within the Xbox ecosystem. The team expects to run playtesting on the Xbox platform, and we playtest most features and apps before we ship.
A method for UX research — and beyond
I usually preach “Have Five Reasons for Doing Anything” as a way to prioritize and up-level user research. But this is a strategy anyone in any line of work can use. It can help inform decision making for new projects and help you evaluate your current project list to make sure it’s the most valuable use of your time and energy. I hope it’s as helpful to you as it has been to me.
If you’d like to see the video version of this story, please watch my talk from the Games UX 2019 Conference in Vancouver, BC. It contains some other great tips for thinking more strategically in UX as well.