I am a young UX specialist. I have worked on a few real projects at university, but I was not really that invested in them, there was not so much real pressure to get them right.
For the last year and a half, I have been working on my first real job. It is a greenfield development at a government institution. While they got me mainly as a developer, they chose me because want me to use my skills in software engineering and UX.
My only source for gathering requirements so far has been the product owner. I always thought that she is very committed to the project, dedicating lots of time to it. Everybody on the team (me, a fulltime junior developer, and my boss who has a project management role) developed a very good relationship with her, and I always had the feeling that we four are working together towards a common goal.
Last week, I started doing usability tests. And after the second test, I was so full of bad news that I decided that we have to delay the other tests. I called a crisis meeting while I was still completely distressed (now I notice it was a mistake).
What I learned from the tests were two problems: first, the users are encountering so many issues that my estimation of how much work is needed at the design level is way too low. Second, our users don't want our application. If they were to use it, they would find it too much work for too little return. But they are actually actively opposed to documenting the kind of information the application needs from them.
In the crisis meeting, I informed the team of the problems, and expected that we will start working together towards somehow patching the situation and finding a solution which can be implemented in the little time we have left, triaging other parts of a real solution into the "next release" list. Instead, both my boss and the product owner said that we should change nothing and just continue working according to the "original plan". They are both surprised that I am so committed to system success.
Regarding the second problem, the product owner said that she is creating this database for the users, and if they are "too selfish" to enter information into it, that's their problem, she doesn't care if a single record lands into it.
As for the first problem, I told them that my original plan had not been "do work on the UI until it looks like a concept I have ready in my head" but "do work on the UI until the users have a reasonable rate of task success". So I can't just continue my work and meet the deadline; rather, I will probably need to cut out some of the more intricate features (which cause the most confusion) and need the OK from the product owner to remove them, and a brainstorming on how we can keep the usefulness of the application without these intricate features. She absolutely refuses to cut out features, and says that I have to deliver the software as she wants it, and if the users are too dumb to use it, she doesn't care about that. We were both so wound that, without the project manager's balancing moderation, this would have turned into an ugly interpersonal conflict.
My project manager supports the idea of delivering as-is, because she is afraid that any large change so late can cause us to miss the deadline.
I understand the position of my boss, and I have to do what she tells me anyway. But I have a really hard time doing it, because I don't know how. My criterion for declaring my work completed has been forbidden, and I have no other. I am somehow trying to adjust to it, but it is hard not doing what I believe needs to be done.
As for the product owner, I cannot find understanding for her position, no matter how hard I try. If she doesn't care for system success, then what does she care for? Why did she initiate the project in the first place? What goal are we working towards?
I see now that I am much more committed to system success than I had thought. It is a combination of
- pouring lots of effort into the application,
- the puppy eagerness of this being the first project I really care about
- my still somewhat low professional confidence. This is the start of my career in UX, the first time I apply the indecently large amount of theory I have poured into my head, and if this project fails because it turns out to be both misaligned with users' needs and to have an unusably bad design, then I will feel inadequate for my chosen line of work, and
- feeling responsible for the usability of the system, thinking that as a UX person, I have to advocate the users' position when other stakeholders want to conveniently forget it.
Seeing that I have four strong motivators, I doubt that I can bring myself to a point where I am indifferent to system success the way the product owner and the project manager are. But without such indifference, each hour I spend putting lipstick on the pig is torturing and demotivating. I calmed down on the weekend, but I already know that 9:00 on Monday morning, I will be entering a cognitive dissonance zone.
What can I do so I can see this project through to release without worrying myself into a mental disorder?