Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How to spot technology-centric thinking

I hear questions such as the ones below being asked all the time:
  • What should we have on our intranet startpage? 
  • How do we get people to read corporate news on the intranet? 
  • Should we have comments to news? 
  • What features should we have on our collaboration platform? 
  • When can we have blogs and wikis? 
  • How should we use SharePoint? 

Often, the people who ask these kinds of questions think they have a user-centric mindset, that they put the needs of the users first, but what they are saying is actually evidence of the opposite.

Questions such as the ones above are evidence of technology-centric thinking, and as such they are more dangerous than they might sound at first. We really don’t help to make it easier for users to do their job by asking these questions. We might get all excited about a new feature, tool or design, thinking it will really help to increase the users’ productivity, but unfortunately the opposite often becomes true; for every feature we add, we add to their burden. The simple reason is that we use the wrong starting point for our questions - the technology.

(photo from stock.xchng)

The questions we should be asking are such as the following:
  • How do we help users create workspace awareness? How do we help them know what is happening and when it’s their time to contribute? 
  • What information do users need in different situations? What information would be relevant to them? 
  • How can we help users share their opinions, ideas, experiences, knowledge with each other? 
  • How can we help users do their job whenever they need to, wherever they are? 
  • How can we help users who collaborate communicate better within their teams as well as beyond? 
  • What kind of technical capabilities do users need to perform their tasks?  

The bottom line is that we need to take the user’s perspective as our starting point. The best way to ensure that we really do is to define and ask the right questions. We should stop asking questions about intranets, SharePoint, mobile devices, blogs, and wikis. Instead, we should ask ourselves and others what users need in order to do their job in different situations. Only if we do that we will be able to provide technical capabilities that help them do their job in a better way and make better use of their talent and potential. Until that happens, the great productivity potential that exists in improving knowledge work remains untouched.


  1. This is a fundamental of all business - asking better questions about the user experience. It not only makes the work more effective, it helps teams make decisions faster and cuts down the learning cycle. It also requires that you remember that a) the customer doesn't always know what they want, so you have to be Steve Jobs-like and make some presumptions on their behalf, b) we think long-term customer outcomes, not just the initial experience.

  2. Hi Alan, thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you - because I know it works. I have previously written on this topic and my personal experiences from practicing the Steve Jobs-approach (which I did before I knew that was his approach):

    Don't listen too much to users - observe them instead

    What Users Say They Want Isn’t Always What They Need

  3. dealing with customers is hard sometimes, but what is important is that we to get the right answers. how we will do that? simple, ask the right question to get the right answer.