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How do I address user error?

Many people do not read instructions. They may enjoy reading what they want to read, but instructions are not one of those preferred works of non-fiction that come to mind. When was the last time you read instructions? Why? There is often the assumption and expectation things will be easy to understand and easy to use. When we download a new software application to one of our devices, do you see piles of instructions, guides, or manuals? Not likely.

And are we expecting other people to read instructions as well? Newsflash: many do not read instructions even if their lives depend on it. Some manufacturers in certain sectors include instructions to supply warnings, notices and legal documentation attempting to limit their liability in the case their product or service is (was) used incorrectly and disaster occurs. An example of this was a product mailed to homes as a free sample. This sample came in a small packet and included an image of a lemon on it. People instantly assumed it was lemonade mix, so they mixed it with water and drank it without ever reading what it said on the packet. The organization received countless calls and complaints from potential consumers who got sick. Most of them did not read the fact that this was dishwasher soap with a new lemon scent and an added citric acid cleaning agent. Reading is either clearly overrated for the masses or a means of separating the people who want to be informed from those who are too lazy/busy to bother.

Some manufacturers do not even include instructions anymore. Why? The product or service should be easy enough and users should just want to use it. They expect user adoption magically happen with some high hopes.  Maybe that works with some mobile devices and some of their respective apps through simple, smart design. Never mind the precautions, warnings or issues that could arise. What could possibly go wrong? Users are smart enough to just know how to use it, right? Well, if you add some humans to any equation, you will get some inconsistencies, variables, and yes… errors. Sure, we can blame the:

  • poorly designed user interface (usability testing can help identify these issues)
  • lack of forethought in the system implementation, so everyone must think like the person who created it (user testing can help identify these issues as long as they walk through all the processes and note what/where is a miss)
  • the whoops on the real world which avoids the end-to-end walk-through of a solution to be sure it works

One organization had a lot of user errors, so they started focusing on the tasks that caused the user errors and tracked them.  This could identify system flaws needing correction.  Here is how to start on the path of accountability. Every instance an error happened:

  • the user was tracked by name (who)
  • the type of error was tracked (what)
  • the frequency of the error was tracked (when)
  • where the issue was occurring in the system was tracked (where)
  • what the user did incorrectly to cause the error was tracked (why)
  • the recommended changes to the process were communicated and documented (how)

Every time an error happened, a template email was sent to that individual user and their supervisor which included:

  • their specific error
  • the impact of this error to other users and the system (there often was one)
  • a recommended fix (for the user to complete)
  • a set time frame to fix the error properly (one to two business days)
  • a follow-up to be sure it was completed and the error log to close out that particular instance of that error.

Before implementing this error correction, the policy was fully documented and shared openly. As soon as this process started, error rates dropped significantly.  That is the effect of accountability. Prior to this, accountability was not visible. Note that errors do not completely disappear because “perfection” is not a realistic goal for any organization. There is room for improvement for users, processes, and likely the system.

How to have MORE errors

There are the counterpoints to all this…

  • Assume too much or just assume everything will work the way you expect it to (just like the world will continue to revolve around you)
  • Ignore all issues you encounter. Do not verbally mention nor document in writing the issues for anyone to know about.
  • Do not test thoroughly or just ignore all testing completely  (The testing fairy is coming soon. Just don’t wake up from that dream)
  • Do not verify any information down the exact character. In fact, just do not check on anything at all
  • Do not follow specific instructions. Do not have clear, up to date instructions. In fact, do not have any instructions at all (see assumptions for similar results).
  • Do not explain how nor why something works nor even IF it actually works. People are just supposed to know this simply by osmosis or being born with this information.
  • Do not have a simple, easy to use GUI. If you really try, you could skip having a GUI completely. 
  • Ignore all usability experts and their literature. Why would you want anyone to actually use the system your company paid for?
  • Believe everyone works and thinks like you (revisit assumptions again)
  • Be sure to have extra slow processors to make people believe the system is frozen or non-functional. It might be acceptable in some people’s mind if a simple process with a few bits of data take a half-hour to two hours to yield the results requested.
  • Be sure to blame the end-user when the system is not working, but it is best if the results are inconsistent just for that added bonus.
  • Confusion is always welcome. With open arms.
  • Do not document anything. When working with other companies, trust everyone freely and believe that they will document everything for you, understand it all your way, and do not share this documentation openly.
  • Believe everything (including coding) is really easy and it will automagically be completed overnight flawlessly. Every day. With no documentation nor specifications. Nor testing.
  • Every IT department can read minds. They have an app for that.
  • Eventually, everyone can read your mind.
  • Trust everyone. What could possibly go wrong? You do not need any verification either.
  • Do not plan ahead.
  • Do not train users. Ok, maybe once and believe they will remember it all. 
  • Do not supply any ongoing support for your user community. They will figure it out.
  • Errors go away if you ignore them enough. Errors do not multiply when you do this. Errors are so much fun. Dream of getting more over time and it will happen in reality.
  • Never take any vacation nor breaks. It will not catch up with you in any way.

I only wish these were all so ridiculous that these did not ever happen nor were even thought of. Sadly, they actually do. Too often.

How do you address user error?


Is the journal dead?

Over the last few months of 2010,  several sources have mentioned and even confirmed that a particular periodical about Digital Asset Management (DAM) has ceased publication. Some deny this in disbelief. Some believe it will be reincarnated like a phoenix out of the ashes. or not.

Many DAM Professionals have generously contributed (for free) written content on their knowledge about DAM which this periodical published over the past several years. The same periodical was made available at over US$700 (the undiscounted US price) for 6 issues per annual subscription. Sounds like a deal for someone aside from the readers and the writers.

While charging over US$1 per page, I can not imagine why this journal would cease its publication in today’s digital market. After all, readers…oh wait. Never mind.

Anyhow, DAM Professionals have been able to share their own knowledge at their own great expense and then have prior articles available online at a fee per article. Hopefully, these articles will continue to be available online but the stone tablet… I mean paper edition may cease to exist.

Some say the journal will take the form (like a phoenix) of an e-zine in 2011 and likely be called something else. And…is it still the same thing then? This e-zine may be offered for a faction of what the journal cost. Imagine that. They may have found the last nails for that coffin to bury that idea.

How else will we read or even write about Digital Asset Management aside from books?

Let us think for a nanosecond. What are you reading right now? A blog.

Blogs don’t matter. No one reads blogs anymore. Blogs are dead. Explain why this blog has more unique readers than any periodical about Digital Asset Management ever had as well as many of the other dedicated blogs about DAM. Shall we continue ignoring the impact of the monthly or sometimes even daily information shared by this medium (blogging) on the field of the Digital Asset Management? What other medium does this today?

In full disclosure, I was interviewed by this particular periodical. It took one year to get published. Not 6 months as they said it would. They “forgot” to while I reminded them every few months. This might be considered fast…if the standards were set by cave men carving stone.

If you didn’t pay for it, remember it can’t be any good. One of their editors asked me if I could ‘wrap up’ some of my blog posts into an article for the periodical. I checked to make sure if I understood them correctly. They wanted me to take my blog posts (which I write and share free of charge), spend my time writing their article for their journal (uncompensated), they would publish it (I would remain still uncompensated) and they sell free content back to you as a subscriber of this journal. So they profit from the work and knowledge of others who provide this for free. Who in their right mind still does this in today’s digital age? Here is an idea: If it’s free, it stays free. If it costs, all should be compensated for creating the end result.

Blogs don’t have a good reputation. Reputation comes from the creator of content and/or the value of content itself. Reputation does not come from the channel (such as a blog) which simply a vehicle for the message (whether it is fact or opinion) nor what the channel (such as a journal) charges for its content. In case you need to be published for the sake of your work, explore more cost effective ways than custom publishing and trade journals. You can do it yourself for free nowadays and you can market it more widely and better (using social media) than those you have paid to deliver and market your content today. Who buys content based on who published it rather than the value of the content itself or the writer’s reputation? Content still rules.

After heavily filtering my response, I reminded the editors they were still sitting on the interview they did with me and I declined their offer to ‘wrap up’ any of my free blog posts for them to profit from or re-publish.

If you blog, you don’t have to wait for anyone to publish. You can leave the greedy, the pathetically slow and the technically un-inclined to fail without your content and knowledge.

I am not bitter.  Just continue paying lots of money to get free content that was regurgitated into another form. It is your money.

Both readers and writers deserve better.

Is the journal dead? I have more nails and a shovel if someone needs them.