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Three projects, many lessons

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My message from this is exactly how important end-user experience truly is. My CEO views the time of his staff as money, and abhors spending the wrong person’s time on the wrong project. He would prefer to do other things with his time, but he considers, even in a manufacturing company, a functional and easy-to-use application experience so important that he will spend his time testing templates.

The last project is the finally finished ongoing catastrophe known as our mobile replacement. We ditched a set of truly awful Treo 700Ws for a shiny new Blackberry server and associated smartphones. After a few failed starts I took over the project. I offered our mobile users the choice of any phone our carrier offered - so long as it was a Blackberry. There of course had to be one user who, three quarters of the way through the provisioning cycle, told me we needed to get everyone iPhones. I pointed the users in the general direction of the Storm 2, and they have since been quite happy.

The event sticks out for me because the user was not impressed by the iPhone because it was Apple, or the phone was hip. Rather it was because at a tradeshow they caught a colleague watching the Canucks getting beat on an iPhone. The concept of being able to stream video on a cellular network had never occurred to them before this. They saw it first on an Apple, it was evangelised by an ardent fan, and thus Apple “invented” it.

In this way Apple has “invented” everything of use in mainstream computing. From being the only computer for design, to inventing the MP3 player, smartphone, tablet computer, video conferencing and now, apparently, 3G streaming. When introduced to non-Apple alternatives, the people crying loudly for Apple gear seem shocked that it already existed in a previous form. The lesson I took from this is that users don’t care about the technology. With the exception of a few loudmouths on the internet, nobody cares that this was made by Apple, Sony, Microsoft or anyone else.

Users care about what a product can do. They care about how easily that product can do it. Users care about looks, but not as much as ease of use, good documentation, presentation of features and fantastic marketing. What’s more, good businessmen care about these things too; this is what makes their company tick, and what makes them money.

So from watching other projects unfold, I have taken to heart the idea that IT must be about more than the technology we use to solve a particular problem. IT must even be about more than the problem we are solving and what it costs to solve it. IT is solving problems using technology, but it is also managing user expectations, knowing when to throw wetware at a problem and yes, doing IT truly well does require a certain amount of flair.

IT is about business - and an enormous chunk of business is nothing more than user experience management. Next, I'll be telling you how I'm putting this management into practice. ®

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