Chief Guinea Pig October 12, 2009Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
Tags: Customer Service, Interfaces, Users
As technology penetrates every aspect of the business world, those of us in IT find ourselves deploying tools more and more frequently. These tools are more tightly integrated to everything our users do. In days gone by, we provided green screens for data entry and green bar for rudimentary reporting. Now we control every aspect of communication, including voice, email, and text messaging, and provide interfaces to every system in the business.
Most shops do a lot of testing before rolling out new stuff. Typically, testing begins on the IT side of the house and ends up on the user side, with qualified end users signing off before something goes into production. Is there a place in that process for the CIO?
I think there is. I think I have a responsibility to know how our systems function and what the overall user experience is going to be. I’m the first to admit that I am not qualified to test the business processes behind these systems, but I do think I have a voice in the general experience.
Generally, I consider myself the primary guinea pig for almost everything we deploy in my company. I usually try out each new laptop, many new phones, and almost all user interfaces that we develop. I try to see how these tools would impact a typical end user. Are they easy to use and understand? Do they have confusing options or weird configuration choices? Would users be confronted by tedious, pointless interaction sequences?
In short, if I were an end user, would I be happy with the device or system? I feel strongly that I should never ask a user to use a device or participate in a process that I have not personally experienced.
In conversing with other CIOs, I find that some do not wish to engage at this level. They don’t have time to go through this process and don’t feel that they are qualified to make a reasonable judgment. However, most of them do have trusted coworkers that fulfill the role of guinea pig for them. They value the testing experience; they’ve just outsourced the task to someone else.
There have been times I find myself doing the same thing. Some new phones are only available on other carriers; I’ll find someone I trust to see if the phone is acceptable. Some business processes are beyond my reach (or security level), but I’ll find someone else to give me the unvarnished truth about a new system.
CIOs should be operating at a strategic level above the details. That altitude, however, does not absolve of us from having the ultimate responsibility for the quality of everything we deliver to the business. Ironically, our distance from a tool or system gives us a different perspective from the developers who toil so closely with it. By being closer to the forest than the trees, we can often see problems that are overlooked by the tactical developers and testers.
Although it may drive your developers to distraction, simply asking “why?” as you walk through an interface or use a device may ultimately create a better experience for your end users. And that, regardless of your preferred level of engagement, is what our job is all about.
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