National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) Portal Project
Enhancing the usability of the NRAS Portal for Approved Participants of the Scheme
The National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) is an Australian Government initiative with the objective of encouraging investment in newly constructed rental dwellings, and improving the affordability of rental accommodation for low and moderate-income households.
The NRAS Portal Project was initiated in response to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) audit recommendation which suggested improvements to the usability of the NRAS User Portal.
I led the project as the business owner and worked with the IT and UX team using an agile delivery method and ensuring that the Portal meets the Digital Transformation Agency’s Digital Service Standard.
Initial usability testings of the original NRAS Portal was carried out in April 2017 with three local NRAS Approved Participants (APs). As the business owner, I observed the usability testing to ensure no bias or interruption. Through this observation, I found it very insightful as I discovered issues that I was not aware of.
From the usability testing, it was obvious that further user research was required with other APs in other states and territory across Australia.
At the discovery phase of the project, along with a member of the UX team in July 2017, we conducted 17 site visits and two phone interviews with twenty-three NRAS portal users from 19 NRAS APs.
We engaged with users through a think-out-loud contextual inquiry method and asked users to complete a System Usability Scale questionnaire.
The UX team member led the contextual inquiry, while I observed and took down notes throughout the process.
Before starting the contextual inquiry, we asked users questions around the main tasks they do on the portal and their general experience with the NRAS Portal.
Through the contextual inquiry, we observed the users performing various tasks on the Portal. As the user performed the tasks on the Portal, we asked that they think-out-loud as they go through the tasks.
We discovered that usability of the Portal was poor as indicated by the ANAO. The Portal navigation was not intuitive. The workflows within the Portal was poor. Submissions of claims and tenant demographic information were longwinded requiring a lot of double-handling and double-entry.
There was not much flexibility in the Portal which created duplication of processes. Once the information was entered, there was no way to edit it. The only way around was to delete and re-enter the data.
Performance of the Portal was also poor and it took a long time to do a simple task.
Taking all of these into account, as the business lead, I worked with the Regulations team, UX team and IT team to prioritise the enhancements noted by the ANAO, the approved participants, and the business area.
Wireframe and Prototyping
The UX team created the wireframes using Axure. A low fidelity wireframe of the NRAS was sent to the 19 organisations that participated in the contextual inquiries. Feedback was communicated to me as the business owner and they were taken into account to ensure enhancements met the business requirements as well as user requirements.
Throughout the project I work closely with the UX Team, the developers and the tester to ensure that the user requirements and business requirements are communicated well.
What I learnt
I learnt a lot throughout the discovery process. Observing the contextual inquiries was very beneficial for me as the business lead. I got to understand the frequent issues and pain points encountered by the users.
The contextual inquiries also confirmed the findings from the ANAO and indicated that enhancements to the Portal were required.
Through the whole project, I also learnt that UX is really important as all the problems we had with the Portal was due to not considering users experience and requirements. I learnt to empathise with users and have an open mind to look at the Portal from the users’ point-of-view and not to be biased because of what I know or thought how the Portal should work.
I also learnt collaboration and having a multi-disciplinary team was important and very useful for the project. As the business lead, I worked with the UX team, the developers, and the testers. I learnt to understand how to communicate with the developers and designer as they come from a tech background. The language used was different to the one used when communicating with the portal users.
As the project was held using an agile methodology, we held daily scrums to provide updates on the progress of the project and any blocks that had occurred. I gained a thorough understanding about the requirements of working in an agile environment.
Here are some of the things that I have learnt through working on the project:
- Taking into account UX before launching a new system is crucial. The issues encountered in the NRAS Portal was due to the system being designed without considering the users in mind.
- Communication is very important, including tailoring your communication style to the audience. For example, I made sure that my communication style was tailored differently when I talked to users compared to when I was communicating with the developer.
- Think through the problem and try to understand the problem before focusing on the solution.
- Collaboration with a multi-disciplinary team was very useful.
- Empathise with users and take in their point-of-view.
- Have an open mind and watch out for personal bias.
- You need to see how the users use your product.
- Test your design with users and keep reiterating.
- Learn to really listen.
- Always be curious.