Enterprise Human Factors…001

13 11 2007

There’s a lot of talk I come across from some very very clever people in the UX, UCD, BA, WebTech spaces that revolves around doing user centred work.

Including user centred work and themes during the software delivery lifecycle (SDLC) is a great thing. I’ve been involved in many key works doing exactly that, right from being the designer, to being the antagonist pushing to get the concepts in place. It’s all good stuff really, getting user research down as being a standard part of the process for developing software, getting rapid prototyping in all its forms in to the way of life, was and still is a great way to spend the day.

But am I really fixing anything? is the source of the problem resolved?

In some ways, while designing the software to help the users is fixing one problem, being that the solution provided at the end of the day is usable, easy to work with, likable even…. is the task that it has to perform sharing those traits?

Lets look at the eTax system from the ATO. The software itself is designed relatively well, not how I would do it, but well enough. Admittedly they have a hard ask posed to them, no one likes doing their tax, they just want to get the cheque at the end of the day. Well I do anyway.

The ATO software is designed relatively well, it’s easy to use (ish) and relatively well positioned in terms of providing good support to novices. Plus I know from personal experience, the ATO invests heavily into it’s user centred design concepts and work, and they have truely top class people on board doing the work.

But, are they addressing this one:

“Are human factors considerations implicated across all facets of our business?”

When policy is created, is the real world impact of the decisions being made at that crucial point in time being considered? What will happen to the Australian public if we generate just one more form for them to fill in? Are we generating a cost for the public through the generation of that form? What is the cost to the public of filling in that form, and is that something that the ATO needs to consider?

Small companies / organisations have less of this issue, but let’s look at this one.

Say there is a reporting requirement for all Australian Residents to fill in a simple 20 data element form, which confirms their postal address. This form conceivably could take no more than 3 minutes to fill in, lick the envelope and put in in your bag to go to the post office tomorrow.

Now for the unseen overhead:

– two minutes to read the envelope, swear about having to fill in another form, find pen and load the requirements of the form into the brain.

– three minutes to fill it in, pack it for posting and whack it in your bag.

– 10 minutes to locate a post office box, post it, and recover from your detour on your way to work or way home.

So the total spend is 15 minutes to do all of that.

Spread that across all mature adults in Australia (i.e. over 18) 15,917,876 X 15 minutes = 3,979,519 Hours spent across Australia.

Now imagine if that were to be paid back at the minimum average hourly rate of Australia, being $12.42/hour.


OK, so that little calculation is rough as guts, but the point being that with large organisations / enterprises, small changes can have large ripples across their user groups. In the ATO’s case, all of Australia.

I’ll say at this point, ATO are keenly aware of this fact, and go to great lengths to limit this kind of effect occurring.

Large enterprises can take that concept of careful consideration of the user base to form not only support or rationale for doing or not doing something, but even for discovering what activities they should be undertaking to meet the needs of the communities they serve (or wish to serve).

The concepts behind benefits profiling being the keystone for delivering an organisations plan can and perhaps even should be created in part through considerations of the humans who will be affected by the desired benefits.

In software development, humans are intertwined into the design and indeed the final output. These concepts can be applied to an entire organisation, how it operates, what benefit it delivers, how it measures success, and how it supports itself into the future.

Perhaps if organisations adopted some of the human centric concepts that occur at the implementation layer of an enterprise, they may be able to significantly improve their success and ease of operation.

Remember consideration is not about constraining change, it’s about optimising and embracing that change.

Thanks to the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the numbers.




One response

15 11 2007

Working in government and managing reasonably high-traffic sites I am *keenly* aware of how seemingly minor changes (either technically, or business/policy affecting technical implementation) can easily multiply out to massive proportions once they reach the public; and I also have worked with people who simply have no idea or concept of this ripple effect and it can be quite frustrating to have to keep bringing this “minor” element back into the equation of decision-making … the element of the hundreds of thousands of users who are going to be affected.

If you could have all those users sitting behind your desk watching you work … you wouldn’t be able to so readily ignore them šŸ™‚

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