My brother is a really good programmer and I always gain a lot of insight into the software and tech world from him when we sit down and talk (which isn’t often since our wives don’t appreciate us enjoying ourselves like that, but I digress). One of the things he told me about developing an application or website is that it’s really hard to know the user’s response to the website. What might seem completely obvious to the maker (designer, programmer, etc), might be completely different from how a new user to the website or application sees it.
This makes common sense once you think about it. When you’re creating the application, you spend so many hours working on it that the layout and location of things are embedded into your brain in a way that it just feels natural to know where to go to find something. New users don’t have this same training embedded into their brain and so they look for very different things.
My brother suggested to me that one of the best ways to solve this challenge is to sit back and watch a user use your program or website. The insights you can glean from the experience are amazing. The great part is that it’s not a hard thing to do either. It takes a little self control to sit back and let them “solve” their problem on their own, but it’s well worth it.
I heard something similar from a CIO at the CHIME Fall Forum last week. They said that they regularly had their tech people shadow a doctor. They then recounted how shadowing a doctor was so valuable since their analysts could see first hand how the workflows they’ve embedded into the system aren’t working effectively for the doctor. You can see first hand how the doctor flips and flops between 3 screens over and over again and how the workflow would be so much more effective on one screen.
You can’t expect your users to report the issues above. First, they are able to accomplish the task, so it doesn’t feel like a system deficiency. Second, they’d have to know that a change like that was possible. Third, most of them are too busy to actually report this type of issue to IT so it can be resolved.
This is why shadowing a doctor (and let me add nurse) is so valuable. You get to see first hand what’s happening and find specific ways you can make your users’ lives better. Plus, it has the added value of showing those doctors and nurses that you care. Sitting in the trenches with these doctors and nurses is a powerful indicator that you want to know what’s going on and care enough to be there with them to see it first hand. Although, don’t ruin that benefit by shadowing the doctor and then doing nothing. Make sure you learn from the experience, make the change, and then communicate the change back to the users.