Watch out for ‘consumerism’ in your enterprise applications
I can clearly see ‘consumerism’ not limiting itself to free market economies but creeping into well-guarded enterprises as well. In many large enterprises, CIOs have made successful attempts to implement full-scale ERP systems to automate a number of business processes. But they have miserably failed to get business users to accept and use the implemented system. Apparently, ’employees as consumers’ are now taking ownership of their own productivity and experiences very seriously. They push back or reject systems that are poorly designed, do not serve their needs in the right way, or, have very little experiential value.
I remember, a few years ago application managers leading application development projects cared negligibly about the user experience of to-be systems. A human factor designer would spend time and energy justifying his role in the project. However, times are changing fast and organizations have become more responsive and empathetic to their employees. I say this because I see how more and more organizations now understand the power of engaging with employees early in the process to understand their needs deeply before a system is delivered to address it.
Addressing consumerisms requires a critical approach
The most innocent, and perhaps a prevalent mistake we make in order to address the enterprise consumerism is to identify people needs either by anticipating their future actions based on what they tell us, assumption of their needs, or interpretation of responses differently. Just because users say they need a certain feature does not necessarily indicate that they would use it.
I recently worked with a group of sales managers to design a sales management system. A majority of users complained about lack of collaboration and communication practices between the sales team members. This initial response was understood as a need to design and implement a sales collaboration tool that allows team members to share active client pitches, relevant documents, best practices, pricing methods, etc. However, further study revealed that, because of internal competition, sales managers did not like to share much about their clients and their individual style of closing deals. This was directly linked to their bonus payouts and growth in the company. The real need was to see all the active prospects to ensure that the same client is not approached by two sales people (at least not for the same need) to avoid personal conflicts and embarrassment.
Lean user research is a way forward
Traditional user research practices have tremendous value for anyone trying to build something new. However, in commercially competitive environments, expecting ambitious results instantly has become a business imperative. Hence, stakeholders (sponsors, engineers, products managers, etc.) can’t wait for researchers to complete the long-haul research projects perfectly. They don’t have the time and patience and therefore don’t do them or, ask for them, and if they do, they almost never wait for the results.
Thus, a different approach to UX research is required; an approach that is more lean, nimble, and collaborative. To begin with, the lean user research approach should have salient features like:
- Time bound, goal driven and outcome focused
- Focus on people and their stories and not in-depth knowledge of their role, job, etc.
- Smaller iteration of knowledge gathering and learning and not aiming at finding insights and nirvana in first few iterations
- Does not rely on in-depth, lengthy questionnaires
What are your thoughts on it?