Re: Procedures - when do users jump? (was How much...?)

Subject: Re: Procedures - when do users jump? (was How much...?)
From: SusanH -at- cardsetc -dot- com
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 10:01:54 +1100

I once worked with a software development/writing team that faced the
failure of a field test for their product because the users had used the
installation procedure in the same way as many (and I would suggest a
majority of) users do.

The procedure was long. As soon as the users felt they knew what was going
on... they stopped reading the procedure and "proceeded" using the famous
"winging it" strategy. The documentation people as well as the developers
were really disappointed because "THEY ONLY HAD TO FOLLOW THE PROCEDURE AND
THE INSTALLATION WOULD HAVE GONE LIKE CLOCKWORK."

I read an article some years ago now that reported research into how men
and women responded to procedures. The research indicated that men resented
procedures because they felt a sense of disempowerment and that women were
more accepting. Hmmm... never warmed to that research although I accept the
tendencies it uncovered. Following a procedure is a little like having your
driving companion giving directions as you drive. You may even arrive at
your destination, but you don't feel you made any decisions. It is not an
empowering experience.

Now, it doesn't really matter what I read on this topic because my
overwhelming experience of users is exactly that of the software users
mentioned in my opening paragraphs. The more user interfaces offer
opportunities for learning by exploring, the greater the tendency users
will have to "jump" out of a procedure as soon as they feel in control.

I know myself that I ONLY follow a procedure step by step when something
goes wrong the first time around (= when I jump!)

So what does this aspect of user behaviour say about numbers and procedure
steps? For me, it says...
1. Give value in EVERY procedure step.
2. Eliminate steps that do not give value.
3. Minimise the number of steps.
4. Only provide procedures where they really are needed.

There are, of course, other ways of helping users to achieve a sense of
being in control and therefore being able to perform. The user interface
might suggest the work flow and you only need to explain the "why", "when",
"why not", "what also", "what next" and "what if" issues around the user
task.

When I want to illustrate how disempowering procedures are, I just go back
to the set of procedures in Microsoft Word Help that are supposed to enable
the user to set up an alternate Heading style such as Appendix A. Following
the procedures step by step achieved nothing because they gave me NO
understanding of what the dependencies were for setting up a heading style
that would enable child headings to inherit the numbering.

In the end, whatever we choose as our stratagem, we have to make it usable
in terms of user behaviour and we have to aim to make users feel in
control.

Susan Harkus





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