Getting Back to IT Basics

It’s up to you to make the focus on user experience a priority for your team. It’s up to you to create an awareness in your team about the importance of working side-by-side with business colleagues on the system issues that are most important to them.

Let's agree on a very basic premise to start: Users judge IT systems from the top down. In other words, based on:

  • The front-end interface, i.e., the look and feel.

  • Their experience navigating through the system and using it to perform their work WITHOUT any training.

  • Whether or not the functionality they envisioned automatically appears at just the right time in just the right way.

  • The data accuracy

  • The speed and responsiveness of the system.

  • Whether or not they need to call tech support even though they never attended training.

  • Everything else that went into building the system and delivering it to them.

In short, it's all about the user's experience with the system.

They don't give a hoot about all the work that went into building the back end of the system--the guts of it all. They couldn't care less about the data model, the special interfaces or the customer de-dupe algorithms your team spent months perfecting. All they care about is their experience as users. And if that experience feels awkward or unintuitive to them, then they will conclude that there is something "wrong" with the system.

Let's put aside for the moment whether or not the way users judge systems is justified and appropriate. (We all know the answer to that anyway.) Let's not jump to a defensive position because of the user communities' unrealistic expectations. Let's, instead, admit that IT doesn't always do the best job when it comes to engineering a crisp and engaging user experience. We don't typically spend enough time understanding how the system fits into the users' workflow. And finally, working within the constraints of time, budget and the software package we often sacrifice user engagement and experience on the alter of "the perfect is the enemy of the good."

In the vast majority of cases there is great room for improvement in the user experience, unrealistic user expectations notwithstanding.That gap between the desired user experience and where things are today is exactly where you and your team have the opportunity to engage with the business community.

The answer is found in the battlefield, not in HQ

Given how important user experience is to your business colleagues, I guarantee you will find an open door and warm welcome when you tell your colleagues that you want to work on improving the user experience of the systems. The first step in the process? To get your people walking in the shoes of the users; to get them to experience firsthand what the users experience. No secondhand relating of problems. No change requests. I'm talking about real-life, side-by-side, user experience evaluations. Send your IT staff out into the workplace as if they were anthropologists sent to document human behavior.

This article was originally published on 08-23-2011
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