They say you learn something new every day.

I went for lunch the other day with some friends I use to work with. It was interesting talking to them about work. I’m a manager now, and so my viewpoint of things has changed.

As always, we were complaining about management decisions. I realised, as they spoke, that, actually, many of their complaints were invalid. Either, their complaint was unfair (it wasn’t their manager’s fault) or was a non-issue.

I’m amazed, actually, at how bad people are at identifying whether a problem is significant or not. As humans, we seem to get fixated on a problem, and not view it in relation to other problems. For example, I have a colleague who once spent all day trying to save £10, when there was another problem he could have fixed, which would have taken half a day, and saved £10,000. As it was, he saved less money that his salary: so he incurred a net cost to his company when he was trying to save money. Basically, most people are bad at prioritisation.

There are two things it’s made me realise. 

  1. Identifying significant problems and solving those is a rare skill.
  2. If you listen to what is actually bothering people, you’ll often find that their complaints are quite insignificant, and you could make a few simple, cheap changes and make them happy.

On the subject of point 2. Someone a know was upgraded from our corporate build of Windows XP to Windows 7. When they got the new version they asked “where’s solitaire?” It turned out that the new corporate build had had it removed.

Let’s remember, this was a several million pound project to upgrade all of the computers to Windows 7. Yet for this user, what mattered more than all of this was solitaire. Had it been put in, he’d have been happy with the process. As it was, he was not.

Sometimes, we spend too much time solving problems that people are unaware of, and leave things that seem insignificant to us, but are big things to our users. 

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