Monday, March 29, 2004

Knowledge Worker Usability

Jakob Nielsen's normally excellent Alertbox this week is about
Productivity in the Service Economy . He argues that usability principles applied to interface design should be applied to the whole task of the white-collar worker to boost productivity:
"While intranet usability provides substantial initial gains, workflow usability can go much further and will save millions of jobs."

He goes on to say
"For intranets, we know that good design can double employee productivity... people using the worst 25% of intranets required 99 hours per year to perform typical employee tasks, whereas people using the best 25% of intranets accomplished the same tasks in 51 hours per year."

The problem is that measuring intranet tasks is possible because the task is finite and with easily defined success criteria. The vast majority of a knowledge worker's day typically involves fuzzily defined tasks and outcomes. e.g. "Produce a sales presentation" as a task could take hours to weeks, and there are many degrees of success. I was alarmed to hear him still talk about business process reengineering being needed to redesign workflow. All the big gains in knowledge work are outside definable (and hence optimizable) workflow. Which is why the difference between the best and the worst intranets - about an hour a week - won't really make much difference.

No comments: