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Using walkthroughs to prevent web experience meltdowns

November 29, 2010
at 6:38 am PST

This past weekend, I enjoyed a couple of very straightforward and simple online shopping experiences. But, unfortunately, I also endured some really bumpy ones. Which led me to wonder: Doesn’t everyone in the digital world know about doing walkthroughs before a launch?

Walkthroughs are a very simple way of previewing experiences so you know what they’ll be like when you go live. They’re like a dry-run of the experience that you can do early in the development process.  Here is how it works:

    1. Figure out the common paths through an experience. (For instance, one that I saw this week on a consumer site was to sign up for a promotional program: It started with an ad, led to a landing page, which went to a Facebook page and on to a sign-up form [which turns out is too many steps, but that was the flow, so that is what you would walk through].)
    2. Mock up a placeholder page for each step. If you have a small team that’s in one place, you can just draw with pencil or pen; if your team is more distributed, pop some fake screens into PowerPoint or another online tool so you can share via WebEx.  If parts of the web site or mobile screens are already built, use those.
    3. Then, in a small meeting, have someone pretend to be the site visitor, and step through the experience. Make sure someone takes notes about missing steps, messages you want to get across on specific screens, what the main calls to action should be, etc.

      The picture below shows what it’s like if you walk through the steps posted on a wall. We sometimes do it this way at Cisco, although more often we set up WebEx Meeting sessions so and walk through web pages or PowerPoint mockups. But the idea of walking through sequential steps is the same.

      A walkthrough is a great focusing exercise because it gets everyone to focus as a team on what the end customer will see, and a lot of petty or political issues melt away once everyone is focused on the end experience. On a big project, you should walk through many key scenarios and repeat until you get it right.

      I can’t remember a walkthrough I’ve done where something wasn’t caught. And catching problems before launch is much better than having thousands or millions of people experiencing them live.

      Enjoy!

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