I was talking with a friend the other day who also works in SAP. He related a story that happened to him not too long ago where a user complained that a pop-up text box was not working properly. This user was quite adamant that the program was defective. He was also quite rude to my friend saying “You better get somebody down here to fix this right away”
Being an SAP professional, my friend first thought “Well, what version of SAPGui is he working on?” He called his user and went through the steps to identify which version of the GUI the user was on. The user was on the correct version. He then asked the user if he would attempt to execute the text box from another computer. The user was unhappy with the suggestion. “You mean I have to wait for somebody else to come in so that I can use their computer?” My friend explained that if we eliminated the possibility of an error on his system, that is if he were able to execute the text box on someone else’s computer, we would identify his computer as being the source of the problem. Somewhat mollified, the user did this. He called my friend back and reported that the problem still existed. The text box appeared that he was unable to enter any text into it.
At this point my friend really wanted to see for himself if there was an error. He zigged and zagged to the user’s office (which was all the way across the massive building) and asked if he could see the problem as it was being executed. With great heaving of sighs, the user once again logged on to SAP, and executed the task that was giving him difficulty. When the text box popped up, the user started typing but nothing was showing up in the text box. Then my friend sat down at the user’s desk, executed the same task pointed his mouse in the text box, clicked, and typed in some text. It was all good! When the user started to execute the task again and again started typing in text, it was clear to my friend what the problem was. The user was not moving his mouse or cursor and clicking into the text box. Luckily my friend was gracious enough to laugh with the user about the silly little issue. The user ended up being able to complete his tasks, my friend learned a little lesson.
I think the lesson was this… Sometimes in IT we can get complacent about our vast knowledge of all things technical. Or at least what we consider our in-depth knowledge. After all, we’re the ones who write who write these programs, we test them, we test and try to break them. And so we’re surprised when somebody says that our work is no good. But nothing really compares to the experience of going to somebody’s desk and sitting down next to them and seeing what it’s like for them with their hands on the mouse and the keyboard. This may give you a whole new perspective on how your programs workflows reports etc. are being used, how users are being trained, and how we can improve their experience.
Perhaps this is just a lesson in empathy. If my friend was able to go to the user and sit down with them and see his frustration at being unable to complete this simple task, then could he put this lesson to use in other areas? Would he be able to sit in a contentious meeting, and listen not just to what people were saying, but what they really meant? Would you be able to put aside preconceived notions of what the solution was and instead use empathy to understand the problem in the first place?
Well I don’t really know the answer to these questions. My friend is going to report back to me in a few weeks. I know I hope, and he hopes to, that it this seemingly insignificant blip on the radar can help both him and his customers in developing better systems.