Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Usability FAIL

What on earth have I done wrong?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Things I'm fed up of doing in the 2010s

These are some productivity (for which read "Windows/Office") activities for which the case against was clear and present 5 years ago, or longer, and yet which persist. They're a mixture of training related and general points.
  1. Dealing with email. Need I go on? Irritating inbox limits, lost communications, spam, single line throw away comments, documents mailed to a dozen people on the same network. I despise email.
  2. Responding to people setting up meetings via internal email to tell them to send a freakin' invite. I've noticed a shift recently but honestly, this feature has been in Outlook for a decade or more. Does anyone stop to think when writing that meeting request email that if it's an invite, it saves company time if it is going straight to the calendar instead of each recipient who uses it having to add the same thing themselves?
  3. Fixing PowerPoint slides. I can't recall when I heard the phrase "death by PowerPoint". I think it was within a month of getting a training job. Messages about the stultifying powers of marching armies of bulletpointed "factoids" or, worse still, dense paragraphs of 14 point text lifted verbatim off the pages of notes in front of training or meeting delegates abound. I still regularly come across slide decks with logos inserted on every slide instead of being on the master, or even where each line of text on a slide is in its own text box (but not the default body text box from the template). 
  4. Explaining to people that they should NOT hoard all "their" files on their local drives but store them on the shared drive. If we are going to use a 20th century files and folder paradigm, lets at least throw away the lock and key unless we really need it. In each case someone has left us in the last year we have had to trawl through slushy drives riddled with file soup to locate critical missing files. Grrr.
  5. Demonstrating the basics of spreadsheet automation. Excel is magic. For me, it is the gateway to understanding how computers can be used by anyone to liberate themselves from pointless, repetitive tasks. It leads the way to programming even - each cell that reacts on its own to a change is a task saved. Yet still I see people sifting through tables of data and manually changing the colour of text to indicate something that a simple conditional formatting command would do for them. Or I see tables created that mix data types in cells that prevent anything useful ever being done to bring the data to life. Or are laid out in such a way that filtering can't be done. In short, which reduce spreadsheets to simple tables.
While the frustration felt in all these is entirely mine, as is the raised blood pressure, the lost productivity is across the board. Everyone is penalised for these failures. And they are all a result of the misconception that office productivity is not a thing for which training is required. Windows and Office look largely the same as they did 10 years ago and they are used in the same way. Thing is, a lot of the complaints I have here were being said 10 years ago too.

In larger organisations I have witnessed ad-hoc attempts to overcome these shortfailings - individuals lucky enough to work in an enlightened company, or perhaps one that has signed up to IiP, might be able to self-select to go on "Intermediate Excel" or something equally scattergun, but where are the systemic, root/branch attempts to modernise working practices with these basic tools?

In smaller companies, are managers even aware how they might be able to realise improvements but for someone to simply say "we need to change up how we use our computers". How much is small business in this country squandering through a lack of understanding the art of the possible? The number of times I have heard "we must work smarter" as a call to arms, yet small, smart changes at the micro level can't be taken because people don't know what they don't know.

Overcoming these sorts of things demand a campaign, not a course. But for a successful campaign those who would commission it need to understand what they are missing out on.

Are there things that make you wince when you think about the time that is lost? Are you an active advocate for improvement or simply a cog in a "course factory"?

Postscript: This rant came out of frustration I feel most days, sparked off by the farewell editorial of Tim Danton, departing editor of my favourite IT magazine, PC Pro (sadly the article doesn't seem to be on the website, only in print). If his co-workers can't get their head around progressive change in the workplace you have to wonder if anyone ever will.