Resisting Usability Reviews

By Brad Wieners  |  Posted 2004-07-05 Print this article Print

If usability offers so much potential, why does it seem like theres still resistance to doing usability reviews? There is resistance. It comes in many different ways, and often its from the highest-level executives who dont even realize how bad their intranet is, because they dont use it themselves. Ill just pose a very simple challenge to your readers: When is the last time you did your own expense reports, as opposed to handing it off to an assistant to do it? If you had to find out, you know, the rules for getting reimbursed for taking a client out for lunch, and how to actually take the receipt from the restaurant and enter it into the system—it may involve many steps.
Well, most executives never actually do those things, and so, therefore, they dont realize that many of these steps can be quite cumbersome. So, you really have to go on the intranet, not just to check it out, "Does it look good?," but to actually accomplish a specific task. So, thats one really big issue right there.
Then, a second issue is that the people who work in IT departments, even if they do try these things themselves, they dont necessarily recognize how difficult the processes are for mainstream employees. For someone in the IT department, the intranet may make a process much, much easier than it is for, lets say, an attorney in the legal department who might have a very high hourly rate, but who is not particularly a computer person. The third barrier is that even when it is accepted that something needs to be done to improve usability, it often falters on more political barriers. Within the organization, its not always clear who is in charge of [the intranet] and can say, OK, were going to make it this way. Very often, its a very distributed responsibility, and so a lot of people have to be brought on board, and they might drag their feet, or say thats not their problem this year. And if you have to get 50 departments to do it, it never happens.

It becomes a major coordination problem.


Last fall, you published your most recent survey of "Best Intranets." Any surprises from that research?

You might say that the lack of a clear technology platform was in some ways a surprise because you read so much about this and that solution being supposedly the way to great intranets. In fact, when we go and talk to those companies that have done great intranets—first of all, they all use something different, and, second, all of them say of whatever [technology] they happen to be using, "Well, we had to make a lot of changes ourselves to make it really work for us." So, I think there is a big contrast between advertising and reality, and that these technologies are not all there yet. You really have to take responsibility yourself if you want to get a good solution.

Another thing that was quite striking was that several of these best intranets had reduction of e-mail as being one of their priorities in their project, finding ways of taking information away from e-mail and sticking it into a more kind of organized and searchable space on the intranet. It was probably because you can provide better features on the intranet than you can an e-mail reader, but its also partly because people are just getting so buried in their e-mail, weve got to take things out of e-mail if at all possible.

The goal used to be the opposite: to put things into e-mail.

Thats right, and people have done it too much. Now, weve got to retract.

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