2005-08-22

Always Remember the End-User


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At work we're converting to Excel-based timesheets for all of our residential site employees. It's a good plan - money's tight and those sites have been grossly over-staffed. We need to figure out how people are spending their time.

Notice however, that I mentioned "Excel-based" and "all ... employees" in the same sentence. This is a daunting challenge. It's hard for some of us to remember, but there are still hordes of people out there who are taxed just figuring out how to turn the computer on.

So, we had a few people develop this new miracle spreadsheet. Problem is ... they didn't finish the job. Not really. We have a sheet we'll be sending out to all of the employees, but it's a weak, spaghetti-code of a spreadsheet. When they ran into problems at several turns, instead of thinking it through and coming up with a user-friendly solution, the burden was put on the end-user to either run through some confusing extra steps, or to just accept confusion.

In training we spent a half-hour walking the admins through how to get two worksheets open in the same window, but felt that teaching copy and paste was too much for them. Which one of those things would have a better chance of sticking because it will be used more?

Sadly, you see this kind of thing all the time. Computers and tools like Excel can be made to do just about anything you want. You can take a manual system and code in the fixes and work-arounds so the human beings involved won't have to deal with them. Instead, more often than not someone slaps together a solution that is no less confusion or cumbersome than the pencil and paper system it replaces. But, it's a new kind of confusing and cumbersome and we can pat ourselves on the back and tell others how we're "modernizing."

As the point of contact for one and a half sites, I'm bracing myself for Thursday when we deploy this thing.

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