Rob was complaining this morning on Twitter about how much he hates the company's time tracking system
. I think about HR applications from time-to-time, mainly as an example of how *not* to develop an application.
Every HR time tracking application I've ever seen or used has the following problems:
- It is antiquated. Probably designed between five and ten years ago and purchased at a ridiculously high cost, the business cannot justify the ROI to upgrade or replace the system.
- It has amazing usability problems. I imagine these systems being built to some spec by an overseas sweatshop under contract. While technically they work, they rarely work well.
- It frustrates the crap out of thousands of users every day, but then again, who asked them?
The trouble with these systems is that the end-user, as a stakeholder, is rarely considered in the design or purchasing decision.
These applications tend to be the perfect storm of poor design. They are sold to CEO's, HR execs or Finance execs who see them as a necessary evil. These execs know little about the underlying technology, and are ill equipped to do the requirements analysis necessary to clearly articulate their needs to the vendor. They maybe consult their IT people, but then those guys have their own agenda (deployment and operations). They definitely ask the Accountants what they need--since they're the only part of the business that actually has anything to gain from the data the system will collect.
In any system there's a bunch of stakeholders in the mix. In this case the role that will make the purchasing decision, and a few stakeholders who will directly or indirectly use the system (i.e, finance, IT, and the employee). The irony of HR systems in particular is that the user who is most affected by the system in their day-to-day life is rarely consulted or studied in the design or purchase of the system.
Let's say you have a company of 2000 employees. Let's say these employees only need to enter their time once a week, and it only takes them 4 minutes to do it. That's 6933 hours of labor time that's going to be spent in your company each year--just entering time. One would think that those employees would be considered as the single most important stakeholder in the design and purchasing decision of such a system.
So what tends to make these systems so miserable, isn't so much the specifics of their design as much as the fact that the stakeholder who's life is impacted *most* by that design is rarely consulted.
In our business we have a number of stakeholders who need to be considered when designing our products. Not the least of which is ourselves (how will this advance our goals?). We also need to consider our sales channels (what allows them to compete?), our target purchasing decision maker (who's often not the end user), and the end user themselves (whose entire waking life is going to be spent using our product).
What's disastrous is when any of the stakeholders are left out of the design process--or when the priority is wrong. HR systems get this wrong all the time, and it's a shame because it makes Rob's life miserable.