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Consistency Inspections 

What is it?

Consistency inspections ensure consistency across multiple products from the same development effort. For example, in a suite of office productivity applications, common functions should look and work the same whether the user is using the word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, or database program.

Consistency inspections begin with a usability professional analyzing the interfaces to all of the products and noting the various ways that each product implements a particular user interaction or function. An evaluation team then meets, and using the usability analysis as a basis, negotiates and decides on the one golden implementation for the usability attributes of each product.

How do I do it?

Form an inspection team, drawing members from each development team for all products covered in the inspection. These members should have the authority to negotiate for or against different design elements, and the power to change their product's design at the review meeting. Have a usability professional analyze each product as to its user interface, taking care to highlight areas that are vastly different from other products. This initial document will serve as the basis for the team's discussion during the meeting.

During the meeting, the team discusses the user interfaces to their products in terms of the usability professional's document, and for each element, comes to an agreement on what that element should look and work like in all of the products. This agreement must be unanimous by every member of the team, and buy-in from each product's development team (buy-in for their representative's decisions) should be procured prior to the convening of the meeting.

Keep a running tally of the changes to be made and decisions agreed upon. Any issues that cannot be resolved quickly should be "parked" and discussed at a later, more focused meeting.

When should I use this technique?

This technique is best used in the early stages of development, when initial development work has not progressed to the point where products that require extensive changes to ensure consistency will not require total overhauls. The ideal time for consistency inspections are when design documents for each of the individual products are almost done, and before any actual work on building the products has commenced.

Who can tell me more?

Click on any of the following links for more information:

Wixon, Dennis, et. al., "Inspections and Design Reviews: Framework, History, and Reflection," in Nielsen, Jakob, and Mack, R. eds, Usability Inspection Methods, 1994, John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY.  ISBN 0-471-01877-5 (hardcover)

Nielsen, Jakob, Usability Inspection Tutorial, 1995, CHI '95 Proceedings

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