Monday, 14 February 2011

Reflections after the "Stupid Bloody System (Jävla skitsystem in Swedish)" seminar

Last week I attended a seminar at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Sweden. The title of the seminar was "Jävla Skitsystem" or in English "Stupid Bloody System". It was facilitated by Jonas Söderström who has written a book with the same title as the seminar. The sub heading of the seminar was "Cognitive stress from today's fragmented digital work environment - the users' view" which in many ways sums it up quite good.

In the seminar Jonas talked about how users get frustrated by badly designed IT-systems and how that can be a major influence of stress in the work life. I think we have all experienced how some systems we use in our work can be quite frustrating to work with simply because of the way they are designed. Jonas gave us some examples of systems that were just plain stupid.


Just to give you one example he showed an image of a button with a big red cross on it and asked us what would happen if he clicked the button. The responses he got was "Close down", "Erase", "Exit". The correct answer, however, was "Create a new document". Well that wasn't very apparent!

As I said he showed a number of these examples, but however funny those examples were, that was not the important point in the seminar, at least according to me. Because most people can probably live with a system that has some of these strange designs. But how many people only work in one system? We have systems for reporting our time, reporting holidays, signing up for trainings, going through e-learnings, and on and on and on. If we add up these systems we can quickly realise that if all these systems have just one element of strange design a whole lot of strange things are coming our way. One stupid design in each system quickly adds up to a whole flood of stupidity, and we have to spend time, effort and sometimes even money to swim through this flood.

In the book "The new Learning Architect" by Clive Shepherd (2011) there is an example from research done by market intelligence firm IDC saying that:
I wonder how much those seven hours could be reduced if the employees had smartly designed IT-tools at hand?

When we work in all these systems and they work in different ways we get frustrated. If CTRL+O means Open in one system and the same shortcut means Close down without saving in another system, you can imagine the frustration for the user. The fact is that these badly designed systems may very well be one of the main casuses for people having to leave their jobs due to work-related stress. Jonas showed a number of graphs to back this up and it's actually a scary view.

So what can we do about it? Well first of all we have to put the user in focus when designing new systems. For too long the only thing that has really mattered have been technical demands and business demands. I seldomly hear about IT-projects who has the user demands in focus. We have to understand that in order for an IT-application to become an IT-SYSTEM there has to be people using it, and these people have certain needs that the application has to fulfill, otherwise people will either be frustrated and stop using the system. Or they will be frustrated and find work-arounds. And what has the application achieved then?

Another thing Jonas pointed out as important is my field of expertise, Learning. We have to make sure that the user of the system gets proper training in order to be able to work efficiently in the system. I agree and disagree. Yes of course I think it is important to support the user of the system with learning, performance support, on-the-job learning and all that. But in all honesty: Learning is not the way to fix a crappy system.

A few years back I was in a band and we were going to record a demo (no it's not available on YouTube). The sound engineer who helped us said one thing that applies also to my above, namely: If you have crappy sound going into the mixer, you will have crappy sound going out as well (Crap in - Crap out).

I found the seminar really inspiring and thoughtful. I realised a number of strange things in systems I use daily that I hadn't really thought about before. And I also realise the importance of having the user in focus all the way from the start in IT-projects. In this work I think that we L&D people can play an important role. Because our experience of working with people in focus and understanding the needs of the people can help the IT-projects. I have written a previous post about this that you can find here .

If you know Swedish make sure to check the book out and also follow Jonas on Twitter (@Jonas_Blind_Hen). You can also check out the web page: http://javlaskitsystem.se/ and there is an English version as well: http://javlaskitsystem.se/english

I would love to hear your stories on stupid systems that you use in your everyday life, please feel free to leave a comment. Think of it as a way to relieve stress.

Thanks for taking the time,
Mattias
"...employees are, on average, losing seven hours per week searching, resolving queries, and interrupting colleagues for assistance with procedures"

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