I recently met with an executive who had very strong feelings about how technology played a role in the life of a business. The many executives that I’ve met have always had a personal stance on where technology fits into enterprise operations. Some have a tech background and like to get involved, while others want to keep it at a distance and hope it never comes up in conversation.

While it’s always nice to meet executives who care about technology, rather than look at it as the magic that somehow seems to always takes to long and never works right, I was once again disappointed to see that his views on technology fall into a broad misunderstanding that executives often have – that technology can be the driver of business process.

Instant Pushback

When I’ve experienced this approach, it usually comes from the business looking to technology to force, or “persuade through enablement”, a process change that achieves a specific business goal. Usually this means sundowning an existing process or tool in favor of a replacement, thus committing the users and the organization to doing things the new way.

This way is almost always bound to fail, as it assumes that you tech stack is smarter than the people in the field, actually doing the work.

Users in the field are intimately tied to the hands-on processes – including the materials, tools, and people – involved in a workflow. They’ve massaged and revised these processes (often on an individual and non-standardized level) through years of experience and learning. Asking them to abandon any part of their process in favor of something that was built, in an effort to force a change, will likely be met with criticism. Forcing it will fail completely.

“You will, or you won’t get paid”

I was once part of a workout in Budapest, where I represented the engineering side of a product pilot to a group of experienced users. The overall theme of the 4-day workout can be summed up in a simple snapshot in time, where one of the workflows was being presented by an IT manager to a group of users who very vocally weren’t having it.

The presentation came to a head when one of the users flatly said to the IT manager “That’s just not how we do our job!”. His response, which I’ll never forget, was “You will, or you won’t get paid.”

When I asked him about it later, his explanation was simple: “Once we go live with this and force them to use it the way it was built, we’ll save $7M a year in productivity”.

Predictably, the following year, the engineering team started rebuilding that particular module in the app from the ground up, because user feedback was so painful.

A Great Way to Waste Money

No product is going to be successful if the users feel it clashes with the way they work. They want their job to be easier, not harder; intuitive, not problematic. Technology should enable that, and enhance their work, not hinder it. If it gets in the way, as our initial release did, it will just become another thing they have to work around.

And they will work around it.

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