Agile UX in the Field: Reaping Understanding, Rewarding Conservation
Farmers and ranchers who voluntarily follow conservation practices can be awarded subsidies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a process typically heavy on the administrative side and full of complexities. In an effort to reduce time and waste in granting these subsidies, the USDA brought Spire Digital on board to lead a rapid agile UX design process that resulted in a beautiful enterprise web application as the solution. Working together with agriculture professionals and the USDA, Spire delivered an effective user interface for farmers, ranchers and regulators, and uncovered even more insights than they originally expected.
The USDA’s conservation branch spent the vast majority of its time behind the desk drowning in paperwork, and not only needed to streamline the process of granting subsidies, but also to get back out in the field where their time was better served. They needed a powerful enterprise application that could log the various criteria required for the subsidies, and specifically address the challenge of plotting latitude and longitude coordinates for land units, which fell on the shoulders of farmers and ranchers to discover and record. Additionally, the application had to accommodate over 2,500 regulatory and functional requirements while being extremely intuitive.
The application began first and foremost as a user experience design project. Spire sought to become subject matter experts and sent their user research team into the field, where they discovered that farmers and ranchers did much of their work using maps spread over the hoods of their trucks. A light dawned, and Spire recommended using maps in the new interface—a suggestion that was well-received and soon became the focal point of the new application, breaking all the design patterns everyone had initially assumed. Spire also acted as consultant and agile coach to a team of 321 USDA developers, organizing cross-functional teams of designers, end users, system architects and engineers in order to balance the users’ needs with the challenges of enterprise application development.
USDA’s custom application now gives agriculture professionals the right kind of tools to plot and save their land coordinates—making that part of the subsidy process much more user-friendly and familiar to their everyday worlds. But at a high level, the USDA succeeded in its goal when Spire was able to distill the needs and information from a large number of stakeholders into an easy-to-use solution that met all 2,500 business requirements for the federal regulators and conservationists using it every day.