The Human Scale of IT

The documentary “The Human Scale” included an interesting tidbit: Building roads can lead to more car traffic, but the converse was true – adding pedestrian space leads to more pedestrians in place of cars. The fact remained that people will go the most convenient route available, preferring the simplest, fastest and most social solutions.

How do the lessons of architectural design and civil planning for humans relate to IT?

• People will follow current paths and processes and fight to retain them, because they are familiar, unless they see a significant improvement in performance or service.
• Tech support needs to be socially supportive, not just technically adept. Your customer service satisfactions will improve if you include courtesy, compassion, consideration and kindness with IT services.
• Always map your existing flows before you try to design new ones; you’ll risk destroying the common spaces and working processes if you blindly bulldoze the functional but less than ideal in the pursuit of perfection.
• Humans will reach out to other humans for help before they’re rely on an AI, unless the AI does it right and quickly.
• Flustered users will prefer to talk to a sympathetic and helpful human, and they’ll love the option to call someone directly once they discover such a route, regardless of formal process.
• Nostalgia for the way it used to be will remain years after you make the change.
• If you change the layout without giving users a map, they will hate it.
• If you create traffic jams (insufficient support during rollouts, insufficient ways to reach tech support when problems arise), you’ll generate disdain – and people driving on the sidewalks to get around the traffic jam.
• If you create a new route that proves popular, you’ll face resistance to removing it even if it was intended to be temporary.
• Casual and intermittent contacts are what lead to the creation of friendships and social connections in the real world, and they are what lead to significant innovation and knowledge transfer in the professional and online worlds. Facilitate knowledge transfer and interaction through your online forums, data repositories and so forth as much as possible.
• Heavily used paths are the most important ones to maintain, even if they aren’t as glamorous as the perfect process or those used by the elite users.
• Don’t make major changes to communication routes, networks and other systems without consulting with your users unless the alternative is a total shut down, which you know they’ll hate. For example, many developing nations are pushing development of roads and cars, ignoring the fact that many people use bikes and rickshaws; then they complain about traffic congestion and ignore the needs of those left behind because they can’t travel across 8 lane highways safely.
• Develop multi-use platforms where you can easily support many people instead of federated systems that fragment data and complicate support.

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Filed under: An IE in IT

About the Author

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Tamara Wilhite is the IE in IT blogger for the IISE. She is a Six Sigma green belt with experience in IT, PDM software, the defense industry and recycling industries.