Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What tail is wagging the "user happiness" dog?

Needs of various corporate departments vs. usability ...

"I was in a Quality Review Board meeting at Sun, shortly after our division went Six Sigma. I started listing solution ideas for some big customer problems in my area. The woman running the meeting said, "Oh, we can't talk about solutions today! We're weeks or months away from that... we're still in the data gathering step." The Six Sigma tail wagging the customer happiness dog. September 2004: I was in a meeting at O'Reilly, emphasizing the importance of code annotation for reducing cognitive load. A production person said, "Nope, sorry, our software won't let us do that." The production tail wagging the reader happiness dog. And then there's the all-too-common IT department that makes its life easier at the expense of employees and users. Don't get me started on the Accounting department...

You can't swing a poodle in business without hitting a tail-wagging-the-dog scenario, where some process, policy, procedure, or program controls user happiness. Where we become slaves to the needs and demands of the IT department, efficiency, accounting, PR, legal, marketing, next-quarter's results, Upper Management, etc.

We've heard all of the justifications and excuses. Worst of all, these decisions are nearly always made by people with the least amount of contact with Actual Employees, let alone actual customers. Imagine working at a place where Customer Advocates -- internal evangelists for what users need -- wielded as much power as the IT guy. Where the software developers (and other employees) have the power to use the tools they need to best serve the users, even if it's a pain in the ass for the sys admins. (No offense to sys admins--I'm talking about the misguided and/or too-far-removed-from-customers ones, not the clueful.)

I'm not dissing Six Sigma or IT or Accounting or Production or Policies or Procedures or Process or whatever. I'm just saying we have to be very, very careful about who wags who, especially during that critical phase when a company transitions from a small everyone-does-everything start-up to a bigger company. Users are often best served when everyone from the manager to the developers to the accountants has to spend time on customer service and support. But when that's no longer realistic, we must work hard to make sure that nobody in the company forgets who we all really work for--the users."    (Continued via Creating Passionate Users)    [Usability Resources]

The User Happiness Tail - Usability, User Interface Design

The User Happiness Tail

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