There’s been a regrettable lack of discussion on the challenges of designing usable, engaging experiences for enterprise software. Often the business problems solved by B2B vendors were compelling enough that whether or not they were easy to use organizations were willing to put up with poor design. Companies purchasing the software have traditionally been more demanding of features rather than good GUI. The pace of change is also slower in organizations which means trends that impact B2C software take time to make their into their B2B counterparts. I think there’s also traditionally been a perception that management could simply tell people to use something or adopt new behaviours through policies, incentives, and punishments as it was considered part of the job. And when designing enterprise software, there’s usually a complex ecosystem of roles to support around planning, configuration, administration, deployment, and supporting the software.
After the purchase, organizations have the equally complex task of designing and deploying solutions based on that software within their own organization. And those responsible, IT (like B2B vendors themselves) have traditionally had a very technology focused mindset.
The socio-digital revolution, the experience economy, the rise of mobile, the impact of the changing demographics within the workforce, and the failure of so many enterprise deployments to reach their objectives call for a new focus on understanding people’s relationship with technology within organizations.
If we want people to adopt the solutions we design and deploy, we need to adopt new approaches to the design and delivery of those solutions. Approaches that start with people. This means shifting from treating people as rational users of technology (one-dimensional) to people with goals, hopes, dreams, and complex relationships (multi-dimensional). And finally, it means shifting from evaluating human performance as if people were cogs in a factory assembly line whose behaviour we can adjust through a simplistic carrot and stick reward system (one-dimensional) to researching experience and designing for behaviour change (multi-dimensional).
This requires a two-pronged strategy:
- Designing technology to adapt to people
- Designing for behaviour change in order to adapt people to technology
While these strategies may at first glance seem contradictory, they are actually both equally important and form a creative tension. If technology isn’t designed and deployed with people in mind, then it can be a frustrating failure. On the other hand, no matter how compelling the value proposition and how well designed, any new technology requires behaviour change. And while there are always early adopters who eagerly learn the technology and shift their behaviors to incorporate the technology into the way they do things, for most it’s a more complex challenge as illustrated by the technology adoption curve first defined in 1941 which, fascinatingly enough, was developed to illustrate the diffusion of corn hybrid seed (illustration from the excellent article Design Strategies for Technology Adoption).
These strategies call for a people-centric design and deployment approach that considers:
- values people hold and how these impact behaviour, decisions, performance, and adoption
- organizational culture in which people work and it’s impact on people’s behaviour
- people’s motivations and how these affect behavior, decisions, performance, and adoption
- activities people perform and how technology (products, business processes, procedures) can support, enhance, or change these activities
- goals and aspirations and how these affect the choice of the activities people engage in
- social relationships people have both within and outside of the organization, the pressures they exert and opportunities they enable, and how they’re transforming the way we work
- approaches to how we design and deploy solutions and how these approaches reflect organizational values and impact the resulting adoption of the solutions
- transformation in work practices we hope to effect through the technology so that we are designing for where thing are going rather than where they have been
- experiences and the ideas, emotions, and memories we hope to evoke through our solutions
- constraints of how our brains work and how to take these constraints into account when we design technologies, processes, services, or behavior change
Designing solutions that promote changes in the way people work requires us to look beyond traditional user-centered design (an approach most enterprises never actually adopted) to a people-centric holistic experience design approach which ensures that solutions are culturally relevant, emotionally engaging, easy-to-use as well as more readily adopted to promote desired transformations in culture and work practice. By placing people at the core of our thinking we can:
- Deliver more holistic, engaging experiences that accelerate the adoption process
- More effectively manage risk
- Ensure solutions achieve their business objectives by aligning people, process, technology, and content with business objectives
- Make organizations better places to work
- More rapidly transform business (see the recent discussions around social business design)