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July 16, 2010

Common Sense Expert

by Marina

I was thinking about some of the projects that I am working on at the moment, and it occurred to me that a lot of the problems that I am dealing with are not usability or user experience problems. They are common sense problems.

I thought to myself¬† “They don’t need a Usability Expert. What they really need is a Common Sense Expert!” It would be pretty funny if this position actually existed in an organization. I think it would save some companies a lot of money. Imagine hiring process for the Common Sense Expert. What kind of questions would you be asked?

It’s easy for someone new in the organization to spot things that don’t make sense. That’s because people who’ve been with the same company or worked on the same project for too long become too close to their problems, so they keep repeating the same things over and over without realizing that those approaches never worked.

If you keep doing what you are doing, you’ll keep getting what you are getting.

I am always amazed how web projects always shine the light on how companies are organized, or should I say, disorganized on the inside – internal politics, poor organizational structure with little to no communication between various groups, archaic processes, policies, legacy systems and technologies that have not been updated in 20 years are all being exposed, when you start a major re-design process. From my experience, the bigger the organization is the bigger is the internal mess is.

Here are a few real-life examples to give you an idea of what I am talking about:

How many times customer information should be entered into the system?

The correct answer would be only once.

However, this is not always the case.
I worked on a project, where same customer information was re-entered 4 times.

  1. First, user would register online and submit their personal info.
  2. This info would then be sent to the Customer Service department, who’d print it out, check for duplicate accounts, and if none found, re-enter customer information into the company’s database.
  3. At the same time, sales department sell a service to the same customer, but since they have a separate database, they create another account for the same user and manually enter their personal information.
  4. If customer hasn’t paid his invoice within 30 days, Customer Service department would then pass a list of those accounts to the Collections department. They too have a separate database, that is not connected to any other databases within the organization. So they create yet another account for the same user.

The Result:

  • Due to the human error, customer’s information is sometimes lost or re-entered incorrectly, even though they’ve entered it correctly in the first place.
  • Customer’s personal information printed on paper, including credit card numbers, are laying around people’s desks and being exposed to anyone passing through Customer Service department.
  • Since each department maintains their own database, very often sales department is trying to sell more products and services to the customers, who have been black-listed and flagged as Non-Paying Customers by the Collections department. (meaning we didn’t want to do business with them anymore)
  • All 3 departments are overloaded with the manual work and have to keep huge staff to do the work that could be easily automated.

How many Job Boards do you think one organization needs?

Well, the answer might surprise you – as many as the number of the departments within the organization!

Imagine that you have several departments, which are providing exactly the same type of information – job postings for their departments. However, since none of them actually talk to each other, each of them independently builds a solution to display jobs on separate sites and introduces several processes for the end-users to apply for jobs.

Each department in their own little world is trying to improve maintenance of jobs data and the admin work related to that. The solution they introduce meets their internal needs.

But it’s obviously costing the organization as a whole – efforts are being duplicated, multiple applications require ongoing support etc…

Users of the site are not benefiting from this either – they have no clue why jobs information is scattered all over the internal and external sites. Sometimes they are not even aware that there other places to check for jobs… and why would they? They simply assume that all jobs are displayed in one place.

“Large organizations tend to be compartmentalized, with each group looking out for its own interests, sometimes to the detriment of the organization as a whole. Information resource departments often fall into the trap of creating or adopting systems that result in increased efficiency and lowered costs for the information resources department, but only at the cost of lowered productivity for the company as a whole.”¬† – Bruce Tognazzini,

Do you have Dream Killers or Common Sense Office at work? Lol
(If you can see video below, pls check it out on Youtube.)

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