2.25.14 Portal Environment Usability Services


  1. This IRM provides the guidance for using the correct usability testing methodology within the IRS portal environment. It also describes the services offered by the IRS - Ogden Usability Lab in Ogden, Utah for usability testing in all portal environments.

  2. This standard is to be used by all IRS personnel and contractors for understanding and performing their responsibilities in regard to portal usability testing. It is also intended to provide the basis for establishing organizational interfaces between the Web Services Division (WS) and its IRS counterparts.

  3. If there are any questions or if you need additional guidance in portal usability services, contact Web Services at 202-283-3500 or the IRS - Ogden Usability Staff at 801-620-4060.


  1. The following references were used to develop this standard.

    • Usability.gov, http://www.usability.gov/.

    • Web Services Division web site, http://ws.web.irs.gov.

    • IRS-Ogden Usability web site, http://usability.web.irs.gov.

    • C&L Division web site, http://cl.no.irs.gov/intranet.

    • IRM 1.1.12, Chief Information Officer.

    • IRM 2.5.2, Testing Procedures for System Developers.

    • IRM 2.25.18, Project Initiation and Approval.

General Exceptions

  1. This standard does not address information available as online help or through the user or system documentation provided with a licensed version of the software tools. This standard does not address applications installed on IRS PC workstations, such as the Microsoft Office Suite or Norton Utilities.

Web Services Role in Usability Testing

  1. Web Services enforces a consistent usability testing environment in the IRS portal infrastructure.

  2. Web Services, Web Development and Hosting Office, is responsible for the direction and coordination of all usability testing in the IRS portal environment. All usability lab testing will be conducted at the Ogden Usability Lab. Mobile lab equipment is also available for field usability testing. These services are conducted under the auspices of Web Services.


    The requesting project incurs the cost for both usability services and field usability testing.

  3. Refer to IRM 2.25.18, Project Initiation and Approval, for information on how to request work through Web Services.

IRS - Ogden Usability Services

  1. The Ogden Usability staff provides a variety of usability services specifically intended for product development and are well versed in the four phases of the Usability Methodology described in Section These services include:

    • Usability project planning – Ogden Usability staff can facilitate and consult with development project teams on where to apply usability activity on their project lifecycle.

    • Task and user analysis – Ogden Usability staff can facilitate and consult with development project teams on what methods to use for gathering and analyzing data for projects. Training is available for this activity.

    • Prototyping – Ogden Usability staff can facilitate and consult with development project teams when building prototypes. Training is available for this activity.

    • Usability inspection – Ogden Usability staff can conduct inspections and consult with the development project teams during evaluations. Training is available for this activity.

    • Lab testing and remote field testing – Ogden Usability staff can conduct all testing and consult with the development project teams during integration. Training is available for this activity.

Usability Methodology

  1. The usability testing methodology is based on conducting usability activity that coincides with the enterprise lifecycle. All lifecycles are based on high level activities as shown in the following four phases:

    1. Architecture Milestone 2 (MS2) - Analysis Phase.

    2. Architecture Milestone 3 (MS3) - Design Phase

    3. Integration/Deployment Milestone 4 (MS4) - Construction Phase

    4. Operations/Support Milestone 5 (MS5) - Implementation Phase.

  2. It is the development project’s responsibility to ensure that all usability activities are completed.


    There may be circumstances in a development project where certain usability activities may not be necessary. To determine if you qualify for a waiver contact the Ogden Usability Services at 801-620-4060.

Architecture Milestone 2 – Analysis Phase

  1. Usability activities within MS2 consist of usability planning and usability stakeholder meetings. These usability activities are described in this section.

  2. Usability Planning: The development project determines when and where to incorporate the usability methodology into the project timeline for IRS web projects and applications. Usability planning involves defining and managing user-centered design activities that will take place during the development of a product. A usability plan report is created, which details the scope of selected usability activities and defines actions and time-scales required to implement them. Usability planning should be carried out for all development projects, but in particular development projects purporting a high degree of user-centered design. Benefits include:

    • Ensuring that usability work is co-coordinated and not performed in a piecemeal fashion.

    • Providing clear visibility of what usability work is going on and what its overall aims are.

    • Enabling priorities to be assessed, and facilitating the efficient allocation of resources.

  3. Usability Stakeholder Meeting: The development project sets up usability stakeholder meetings. This meeting is a strategic way to derive usability objectives from business objectives, and to gain commitment to usability. It also collects information about the purpose of the system and its overall context of use. Benefits include:

    • Ensuring that all factors that relate to use of the system are identified before design work starts.

    • Bringing together all of the resources relevant to the development project, to create a common vision.

Architecture Milestone 3 - Design Phase

  1. Usability activities within MS3 consist of usability requirements meeting, task and user analysis, evaluation of existing systems, design guidelines, and low fidelity/high fidelity prototyping. These usability activities are described in this section.

  2. Usability Requirements Meeting:The development project sets up a workshop attended by users and developers who identify usability requirements that can be tested later in the development process. Benefits include:

    • Highlighting the importance of usability early in development.

    • Providing concrete objectives for usability.

    • Providing usability criteria that can be tested.

  3. Task and User Analysis:The development project conducts field studies and site surveys by gathering data through user observation and interviews to determine how the product will be developed so the IRS user needs are met. Task analysis analyzes what a user is required to do in terms of actions and/or cognitive processes to achieve a task. A detailed task analysis can be conducted to understand the current system and the information flows within it. These information flows are important to the maintenance of the existing system and must be incorporated or substituted in any new system. Task analysis makes it possible to design and allocate tasks appropriately within the new system. The functions to be included within the system and the user interface can then be accurately specified. Benefits include:

    • Providing knowledge of the tasks that the user wishes to perform. Thus it is a reference against which the value of the system functions and features can be tested.

  4. Evaluation of Existing Systems: The development project performs an evaluation of an earlier version or competitor system to identify usability problems and to obtain baseline measures of usability. Benefits include:

    • Identifying problems to be avoided in the design of the new system.

    • Providing measures of effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction which can be used as a baseline for the new system.

  5. Design Guidelines: The development project sets up guidelines for user interface design. Design guidelines summarize good practice and provide useful high and low level guidance on the design of usable interfaces. Adherence to specific guidelines can be specified as part of the usability requirements. Designers and developers should then familiarize themselves with the relevant guidelines, and expert evaluation should be used to check for compliance with the most important guidelines. Benefits include:

    • Guidelines that embody good practice in interface design.

    • Following usability guidelines that will improve the quality of the interface.

  6. Low fidelity (LF) (paper)/High fidelity (HF) (Interface mockup) Prototyping: The development project sets up a prototype that supports the preliminary design concepts. User feedback during this phase ensures that the IRS developers are developing the project correctly, at a reasonable cost, and are on schedule. Benefits include:

    • Detecting potential usability problems at a very early stage in the design process before any code has been written.

    • Promoting good communication between designers and users.

    • Quickly build/refine paper prototypes, thus enabling rapid design iterations.

    • Requiring minimal resources and materials.

Integration/Deployment Milestone 4 - Construction Phase

  1. Usability activity within MS4 consists of usability inspection methods (heuristics) and iterative performance based usability lab testing. The development project is responsible for conducting all inspections and testing. These usability activities are described in this section.

  2. Usability Inspection Methods (Heuristics): Heuristic evaluation involves having a small set of evaluators, usability consultants, or development peers, examine the interface and determine its compliance with recognized usability principles, called the "Heuristics." It provides a systematic inspection of a user interface design for usability. Benefits include:

    • Providing quick and relatively cheap feedback to developers. The results generate good ideas for improving the user interface. The development team will also receive a good estimate of how much the user interface can be improved.

  3. Iterative Usability Lab Testing: Lab testing determines the overall performance of the product through product integration. Performance testing is a rigorous usability evaluation of a working system under realistic conditions to identify usability problems and to compare measures such as success rate, task time, and user satisfaction with requirements. Benefits include:

    • Identifying major usability problems that may not be revealed by less formal testing, including problems related to the specific skills and expectations of the users.

    • Obtaining measures for the users' effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction.

Operations/Support Milestone 5 - Implementation Phase

  1. Usability activity within MS5 consists of implementing the product into the IRS production environment. At this point the product goes live at the IRS and all users with the correct rights and permissions can access the product. The ownership of the product transfers to the department responsible for that product.

  2. User surveys are a means of finding out how the software application or web site is likely to be used by a specific set of users, and who these users are likely to be. The answers user surveys provide must be relevant to the issues that are important to the design team. User surveys are traditionally carried out by post, but increasingly, the Internet is used for this purpose.

Usability Activity through the Four Milestones of the Enterprise Lifecycle

  1. Figure 2.25.14-1 shows usability activity through the four milestones of the Enterprise Lifecycle of usability methodology.