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The Impossibility of Making Everyone Happy

Training a class this week reminded me of the delicate nature of change.
Mar | 18 | 2009

Mar | 18 | 2009

In the words of 80s rocker Bryan Adams, “One man’s nightmare is another man’s dream.” As it applies to systems, I couldn’t have said it better.  Training a class this week reminded me of the delicate nature of change. As vendors ostensibly improve their applications’ functionality and user interfaces, every end user is not going to be happy. Within the same organization and across different ones, different people deal with different system-related changes in vastly different ways.

Types of Front-End Changes: A Very Simple Breakdown

All changes are not equal. (Are they ever?) Three main factors drive end-user acceptance of vendor changes:

  • The severity of the change – For example, changing “social security number” to “social number” to account for international audiences is pretty minor.
  • The frequency with which end users interact with altered programs – A rarely used purge program or “exotic” report can be entirely rewritten with little impact on end users. However, a change to a journal entry or employee form will affect many end users immediately.
  • The amount of time since the last major tweak End users typically have little patience if they just had to acclimate themselves to a major functional change. If invoice matching was completely rewritten in  two years ago, then more major changes today are likely to anger end users. You’ll often hear the refrain, “Can’t (insert name of vendor) make up its (expletive-deleted) mind?”

Now let’s place the types of end users into categories, starting with the most docile.

The Adapters

“Que sera, sera” is this group’s model. They understand that vendors will constantly noodle with their systems. In their view, it’s the price of admission for buying or renting a system. These people often hold no emotional attachment to a system’s appearance. If they do, they will quickly let it go. Whether these end users are pragmatic, indifferent, or both, they move forward understanding that their jobs will change. They “keep on keepin’ on.”

The Optimistic

Unlike The Adapters, The Optimistic attempt to balance their initial skepticism with the benefits of the new presentation layer or application changes. They realize that they have signed up for a generic application and, more often than not, benefit from increased functionality. If these end users ultimately do not see the changes as a net positive (or some of the changes are deal breakers), then The Optimistic may move to one of the following two groups.

The Outraged

The Outraged will fight tooth and nail over the “features” of the new version. I referenced this group in a post last month. For example, many functional end users were none too pleased a few years ago when many ERPs finally made their web-based versions their UIs of choice. Quite a few end users devoted to their traditional “desktop” applications clung to their old, reliable versions.

Many times, The Outraged don’t give a system’s changes much thought.

Many times, The Outraged don’t give a system’s changes much thought. They are almost offended that, after years of working with a system, now they have to relearn how to do things or, at the very least, modify their internal processes and documentation.

The Creative

Unlike The Outraged, The Creative tend to find ways around things they don’t like. Given software vendors’ relatively recent introduction of add-on tools allowing for easy cosmetic changes to many programs, forms, field names, and the like (without altering the underlying source code), creative end users attempt to keep what they like and kill what they don’t. Of course, The Creative can quickly become The Outraged if their organizations do not own-or intend to purchase-these add-on tools.

Simon Says

Wise end users should not get used to any one application or UI for too long. To quote from “Tom Sawyer” by Rush, one of my very favorite songs: “He knows changes aren’t permanent. But change is.”

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