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The myth of the trained user

Author: Michaela Kauer-Franz

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Sep 2023

Has it ever happened to you that people completely overestimated your abilities just because of your position or education? This used to happen to me very regularly. At almost every student party, the question “So, what do you do?” came up at some point. As soon as I then answered “I study psychology.” I was confronted with many interesting and not always flattering prejudices. From “Then you must have your couch with you,” to “Uh, then you can read minds,” and “I have to watch what I say now,” to “Wow, then you must be really smart, because it’s really hard because of the high NC,” I heard it all (usually several times per evening). In fact, I don’t have a couch with me, of course. And I can’t read minds either (here I’m still undecided whether that makes me happy or annoyed) or am more “sensitive”, “therapeutic” or “clever” than other people who haven’t studied psychology. Of course, I have a certain information advantage and probably a lot of practice in dealing with other people, but that doesn’t lead me to brilliantly handle every situation. Unfortunately.

However, we generally seem to give experts in a field extreme credit. On the one hand, that’s good and right; on the other hand, it also often makes life much harder for the experts than it needs to be.

In many projects that we carry out with clients, interviews are a fixed part of the project. Usually first with the project managers and the planners and only later, once we have understood the objectives and the idea of the project from the customer’s point of view, with the later users. I always experience the biggest discrepancies between the project planning and the users when the users are experts. I don’t mean that these people have to be “supermen” who have written reference books somewhere and are quoted by others. You are often considered an expert if, for example, you have completed a difficult training (e.g. you are a pilot) or have years of experience in using a certain tool (e.g. Microsoft Excel). And then something quite astonishing happens during project planning: The people in charge do not want to simplify the result too much under any circumstances. Why? After all, we are dealing with experts. They understand this already!

Every time I hear this approach, I have to grin. Imagine you are a baker, and for breakfast you are given water, flour, salt and yeast instead of rolls. After all, you are an expert! Of course, you could then make your own delicious rolls out of it. But the effort would also be much greater, and I’m afraid in most cases you would take the easy way out and eat anything else. Or imagine you were a software developer for mobile devices and instead of a graphical interface your smartphone had only a command line. After all, you know how to use it! Sometimes that would be totally handy, especially if you wanted to do something that couldn’t be done through a simple app. But in most cases, you’d probably be annoyed that it’s so cumbersome to do now again and takes you much more time than necessary.

And that’s exactly what happens in most of our projects. We talk to the experts and they wish that there is finally an application that helps them to do their job and is not unnecessarily complicated. In all the cases we have been involved in, without exception, there is a content-related task in addition to the operation of the software that the experts would like to concentrate on. And they have less time for it than they would like, because dealing with the software eats up time and resources. And in all cases, the experts are incredibly grateful afterwards if you manage to develop an application that supports them in their task and is easy to use without taking them for fools. Simplifying applications is never about doing away with expert knowledge. They are welcome to leave the technical words, abbreviations, etc. in the application. But they should try to support the expert in his process. What does the expert do and when? What information does he need at what time? What input does he need to make and when? And then offer him exactly that. In the technical jargon in which the expert feels at home. If you manage to do that, you’ll end up with happy experts. And, excitingly, happy planners and project managers, too. Because they are suddenly praised by colleagues and clients. Because suddenly there’s enthusiasm for an application that was only cursed about before. Because they suddenly feel good about themselves. I experience such a project completion as a win-win-win situation every time. For the users, because they actually have an application that supports them. For the clients, because the application is easier to sell or represent. And for us, of course, because good work usually spreads by itself. My recommendation to you: the next time you develop an application for experts: Forget about being an expert.

Best regards

Michaela Kauer-Franz

P.S.: If you want more information about a specific expert project, I can recommend our case study on the Lufthansa project.

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