At heart, I’m an idealist. I want to see the best in people. I always hope things will work out when times get hard. And I try to leave my mark on the world – leave it a better place than I found it. That last point may sound more grandiose than I mean it to. If I can help one person, or put a smile on a single face, then I feel like I’ve done my bit.
I’ve tried to take this mentality into my entire career and I can remember the exact moment it started. Back in 1998 as a 16 year old, I spent two weeks on an IT helpdesk. I got the place through nepotism, which isn’t great, but my dad knew I liked computers and could help me out. After the two weeks, I had to stand in front of my class and explain what I did. 20 years on, I still remember that short talk I did as if it was yesterday. I stood proud at the top of classroom and told everyone how I just wanted to help people. I got such a thrill from fixing a problem that someone else had and I wanted to do that for the rest of my life.
I got my first desktop support gig in 2006, just after graduating university and it was the realisation of that pursuit I started 8 years before. I was finally able to help people by fixing their IT issues… And get paid for it too! I absolutely lived for the “thank you” I got at the end of a job. The novelty of fixing paper jams and reinstalling MS Office wore off eventually, at which point I found myself working in the project department. Here, I was given the opportunity to deliver new capability, smarter tools and more powerful ways of processing information. All of a sudden, I wasn’t helping people on a one to one basis, but on a larger scale.
The project briefs were always based around revenue and ROI, which to be fair is the only way they would get signed off, but I never forgot about the human element. It’s vital to get a system’s back end efficient and reliable, but it’s just as important to make it an enjoyable experience for the user. I’ve first hand experience with products that were functionally very capable and technically excellent, but fell apart because people refused to use it. It doesn’t happen straight away, it takes a little time after go-live. Users go in with good intentions and then slowly, the cracks start to appear and the software get’s swept under the table. This is a critical situation to be in when the forgotten software drives reporting as it’s a one way ticket to bad data. The kind of bad data that I’ve seen time and time again when migrating old systems.
The trick to avoid this, is to not only think about the technical delivery and the “business goals”, but to remember that a human being is going to use the solution I deliver. The ease of use and friendliness of that interface can really affect a user’s emotional response to carrying out a task. While that statement may seem outlandish to the sceptic, consider the actions you take to turn your television on
- You pick up the remote
- Press the power button
- Select your channel/TV show
It’s a fairly lightweight experience that at best can take a matter of seconds. Imagine if every time you had to:
- Plug the in TV
- Press the power button on the set
- Pickup the remote
- Enter a PIN on the remote
- Enter the exact channel number
- Enter the volume number
- Select your subtitle preference
The outcome is largely the same, but if you have these extra clunky steps that are mandatory, you’re just making a crappy experience.
The same goes for software (on premise or cloud). You need to think about what the user will want to do, when they’ll want to do it and what’s the least number of steps you can make that happen.
I was recently asked to create a form that would allow residents of a council borough to report a missed bin collection. On average, an old form like this would require filling out 9 fields on a page. There’s no intelligence to the information, it not checked or verified for validity, it’s just submitted. No one wants to fill out fields on a form if they don’t have to. It’s annoying, time consuming and if they’re distracted, they can get some details wrong. The replacement system I had as my starting block (Salesforce) thankfully knew who was logged in at the time of reporting a missed bin, so I was able to come up with a solution that took only two clicks and not a single field to fill in.
Improving the simplicity of use increases the chance that a solution will be used. And while management will predominantly be interested in the data that comes out of any system, it’s the users whose day I want to make as easy and enjoyable as possible.
Just like turning on a TV.