Jared Spool conducted a great interview with Kim Goodwin on scenario use as part of the design process. She had a lot of smart things to say that I wholly agree with, such as encouraging us to start out “solution agnostic” and at a high level, as well as her explanation of the differences between scenarios, user stories, and requirements documents. However, she made one statement that I take issue with.
One of the things I see people do a lot with scenarios is they document the current misery instead of imagining a better future. They’re really just saying, “Well, here’s how it works and what can we tweak?” They sort of use the present day as their starting point with a scenario instead of saying, “Look, imagine for a minute, and maybe it’s a big leap of imagination in some cases, imagine for a minute that we ruled the world, that we don’t have constraints. What would happen here?”
Now, I do agree with what she is saying here. If you are only writing the “Today” scenario, you are really missing the boat. But then she made a comment later on that took things too far.
Well, scenarios are not really about documenting what’s happening today, so I wouldn’t say that I ever use scenarios to explain today.
I use scenarios that explain today for two purposes. The first is to establish a common ground and ensure that I understand the users’ current context, tasks, processes, and tools. The “Today” scenario becomes a collaborative, communication tool that lets me tell my customer’s story back to them. A conversation ensues, during which we figure out what I got wrong and what they left out. In some cases, we even discover differences in the way people do things that the customer never realized.
The second purpose is simply as a point of comparison. Once you have a visionary scenario that inspires everyone, comparing it point for point with the “Today” scenario will bring to light any existing problems that were left out and emphasize the benefits of the new solution. It’s a technique I’ve been employing to great effect for fourteen years.