Are you Engaging or Enraging your Users?

I am still amazed at the number of CIOs and Technology leaders I run into today that think their job has something to do with technology.

It doesn't.  At least not in this century.

As a technology leader, you should spend much less time on actual technology (that's why you hire and empower smart people) and spend much more time on how your user's interact with the technology "solutions" your team provides.

When I first started in this industry (a loooooonnng tine ago), computers started arriving in offices as the realm of computing was liberated from the air conditioned room in the basement and distributed to various desktops across the enterprise.

Quickly following the arrival of computers on desktops was the following cartoon... faxed between frustrated users of the new technology.  (There was no email in those days...)

Press Any Key to Continue...

I don't know who created this cartoon, but it certainly summed up the frustration we were introducing into people's lives.

But this was in the early 1980's.

There's been a lot of innovation since then, and a lot of opportunity to fix the things that frustrated users.

So why was it so easy for me to locate this cartoon that is still making the rounds?

As IT leaders, we have focussed on the wrong areas.

In today's consumer driven BYOD world, our users have been conditioned to have choice in their personal technology. When they come to work and are 'forced' to use the system designed by IT, their frustration level can rise exponentially.  It's not their fault that they expect things to be intuitive and easy to use.

I recently attended a conference where Patrick Lencioni (Author of Five Dysfunctions of a Team) gave one of the keynotes.  He highlighted the difference between changing your airline ticket on SouthWest airlines vs. an unnamed (cough "United" cough) competitor.

With SWA it was "I'd like to change my ticket please."  Representative quickly reviews core objectives of SWA (Make customer experience better...) and responds "No problem!"

With the other airline it was "I'd like to change my ticket please."  Representative goes to terminal and starts typing... Click click clickety click click click clickety click backspace backspace backspace clickety click click click clickety click clickety clickety click click backspace backspace backspace backspace backspace backspace click click clickety click clickety clickety click.... etc.  and says "Sorry, we can't do that."

If you want the whole story, check out Lencioni's new book The Advantage about organizational health and why it is so vital to your organization's ability to thrive in chaotic times.

Maybe it's just me, but I feel that we as technology leaders have focussed more on the "clickety click click" than the response to the question of whether it advances our organization's core goals and objectives.

When was the last time you sat down with people who used the systems and technology your team has implemented?  Do you actually use the systems in your department that you make mandatory for everyone else in the organization? (See post on Eating Your Own Dog Food)

If you are developing new systems, when do you engage your user community?  At the start of the project when you "gather" "user requirements"?

When do you see them again?  When you "deliver the system"?

This is a great recipe for disengaged, or potentially enraged users.

I'm a huge fan of a modified Agile methodology for software and system development.  It engages the users early and often... and continues right through each and every phase of the project.  It is more about defining expected outcomes than "requirements" and seeks to provide measurable improvements (as defined by both the organization AND the actual user community.)

We recently rolled out a modification to MS SharePoint and OneNote.  The integration that my team deployed both added significant functionality for our teachers and students, but also got rid of a number of time consuming operations.  When we presented it to the core project team (with representation from the user community), they actually applauded.

When we presented to the whole teaching community, they applauded the development team.

In all my years I have never seen the user community actually applaud the programmers.

It was a great moment, and a great lesson on the power of engagement.

So let me get back to my first point.

As an IT leader, have you put User Engagement as one of your key objectives this year?


  1. The ability to 'let go' of technology seems to be a rare trait in current tech management. I believe that part of the problem is having a IT manager that is expected to manage the day to day as well provide representation at a higher level. I suppose this is the argument for why a CIO needs to exists in all corporations of any size(maybe a future post idea,"when you know you need a CIO"). Unfortunately, this view has not been accepted at the board level of all corporations.

  2. Wow, this is really impressive response from your user. Congratulations!

    Hopefully this isn't too sensitive... but on the flipside, what do you consider to be the users' responsibilities?