The Mechanics of Politics in IT: Part 1

Last year, the government of Quebec asked Cognitive Group to do a heuristic evaluation (expert evaluating usability with a list of usability heuristics) and usability testing of their web portal. First, heuristic evaluation is not reliable because:

  1. Experts cannot assess terminology choice and evaluate task compatibility. Terminology and task compatibility account for the majority of usability problems. To my knowledge, the only effective approach to evaluate terminology and task compatibility is through usability testing and field study.
  2. The importance of heuristic (guidelines) depends of the context of use. For example, is the user going their once in a lifetime? Or is he a power user going there all the time on a mandatory basis.

As I always do, I complied telling the client I will do heuristic evaluation with the help of informal usability testing instead of pure heuristic evaluation. That way, I don’t loose time explaining clients why they are wrong. I asked a few colleagues or friends to act as subjects for the informal usability testing who could be representative of the audience.

Following the evaluation, I found the design of the portal was poor but I was not surprised, I have often seen bad design throughout my consulting practice. As usual, most usability problems were associated with confusing wording, task compatibility issues and funky use of interaction techniques. Up to now nothing unusual. I went on presenting my findings. But, while presenting, the client constantly interrupted me saying this or that; we cannot change it because it is a decision from the upper management. In some cases the minister himself got involved in the design choices.

Only later, after the formal usability testing where all users failed on all tasks, I got the client to admit the design was poor. At that point they had no choice but accept my recommendations. This situation is painful because it places the management in a bad position. They were involved in poor design decisions.

More recently, a client in the airline industry told me he does not want to hear about usability because everybody has a different opinion. They often end up asking the CEO to decide. Again, I will have a very challenging consulting project because it might show the CEO made the wrong decision. Of course, I will try to find ways around it but nevertheless, it is not easy.

For many organizations, design (user interface design, user requirement, and functional specifications) is a painstaking process involving fierce battle between stakeholders. When they do not agree, they escalate to upper management for decision.

Escalating design decision that otherwise should be taken by the design team is a sure recipe for politics. If decisions are wrong, it will be uncovered sooner or later. Then, you will be in serious trouble.

How to prevent this?
If you’re an executive, never get yourself involved in detailed design aspect. Keep yourself at the goal level and let your team design solutions. If your team tries to get you involved in design deadlock, it is because they have not done their homework or they lack expertise. Your project manager might say there is a deadlock; he needs your help to move forward. He will try to reassure you by saying he will fix the usability issues later. Don’t believe that, it will never happen and you will get stuck with a poor design for years. Stress it to your team you don’t care if the screens are blue, white or yellow as long as users were able to achieve their goals rapidly, without hesitation and errors. Get an external usability company to evaluate the design of your internal team so you will get an objective assessment of the design. Don’t worry about the susceptibility of your people, there is an easy way to manage that. If you don’t show leadership, you risk to be stuck with poor design for years if not forever.

Never forget, usability equals productivity. The first reason why we use technology is to improve productivity, so good design is extremely important.

If you are member of a project team, base your design decision on facts instead of opinion. How? Learn usability best practices, build a prototype and test your design with users with usability testing. If you do not have this expertise, don’t hesitate, get and external consultant in usability.

One thought on “The Mechanics of Politics in IT: Part 1

  1. The Franchise Revolution of our Political System

    Here’s the News before the News:

    To save our Country, we’ve got to transfer the franchises of both the Democrat and Republican Parties to the New Democrat and New Republican Parties! Or we could call them by other names.

    I speak in terms of New Democrat and New Republican Parties because we should not just chunck our valves and go with other unproven models (parties) that won’t get us to the Whitehouse. The point is that both Parties are not representing us any longer.

    We should keep the same successful platforms yet actually have the leadership subscribe to the platforms instead of promising us the sky and then plundering us instead!

    Having said all this, we need to believe that we could actually field 545 People to represent us…. See the forwarded message below. Please send this out to everyone you know…this is the beginning of the Franchise Revolution. We need leaders to start drawing-up the New Party Constitutions today.



    Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years.

    545 PEOPLE
    By Charlie Reese

    Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them..

    Have you ever wondered, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we have deficits?

    Have you ever wondered, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we have inflation and high taxes?

    You and I don’t propose a federal budget. The president does.

    You and I don’t have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does.

    You and I don’t write the tax code, Congress does.

    You and I don’t set fiscal policy, Congress does.

    You and I don’t control monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Bank does.

    One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.
    I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered, but private, central bank.

    I excluded all the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason.. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman, or a president to do one cotton-picking thing. I don’t care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it. No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislator’s responsibility to determine how he votes.

    Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.
    What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of a Speaker, who stood up and criticized the President for creating deficits.. The president can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it.

    The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating and approving appropriations and taxes. Who is the speaker of the House? Nancy Pelosi. She is the leader of the majority party. She and fellow House members, not the president, can approve any budget they want. If the president vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they agree to.

    It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 300 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted — by present facts — of incompetence and irresponsibility. I can’t think of a single domestic problem that is not traceable directly to those 545 people. When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise the power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist.

    If the tax code is unfair, it’s because they want it unfair.

    If the budget is in the red, it’s because they want it in the red ..

    If the Army & Marines are in IRAQ , it’s because they want them in IRAQ

    If they do not receive social security but are on an elite retirement plan not available to the people, it’s because they want it that way.

    There are no insoluble government problems.

    Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power. Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exists disembodied mystical forces like “the economy,” “inflation,” or “politics” that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.

    Those 545 people, and they alone, are responsible.

    They, and they alone, have the power.

    They, and they alone, should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses.

    Provided the voters have the gumption to manage their own employees…

    We should vote all of them out of office and clean up their mess!

    Charlie Reese is a former columnist of the Orlando Sentinel Newspaper.

    What you do with this article now that you have read it………. Is up to you.

    This might be funny if it weren’t so darned true.
    Be sure to read all the way to the end:

    Tax his land,
    Tax his bed,
    Tax the table
    At which he’s fed.

    Tax his tractor,
    Tax his mule,
    Teach him taxes
    Are the rule.

    Tax his work,
    Tax his pay,
    He works for peanuts
    Tax his cow,
    Tax his goat,
    Tax his pants,
    Tax his coat.
    Tax his ties,
    Tax his shirt,
    Tax his work,
    Tax his dirt.

    Tax his tobacco,
    Tax his drink,
    Tax him if he
    Tries to think.

    Tax his cigars,
    Tax his beers,
    If he cries
    Tax his tears.

    Tax his car,
    Tax his gas,
    Find other ways
    To tax his ass.

    Tax all he has
    Then let him know
    That you won’t be done
    Till he has no dough.

    When he screams and hollers;
    Then tax him some more,
    Tax him till
    He’s good and sore.
    Then tax his coffin,
    Tax his grave,
    Tax the sod in
    Which he’s laid…

    Put these words
    Upon his tomb,
    Taxes drove me
    to my doom…’

    When he’s gone,
    Do not relax,
    Its time to apply
    The inheritance tax..
    Accounts Receivable Tax
    Building Permit Tax
    CDL license Tax
    Cigarette Tax
    Corporate Income Tax
    Dog License Tax
    Excise Taxes
    Federal Income Tax
    Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
    Fishing License Tax
    Food License Tax
    Fuel Permit Tax
    Gasoline Tax (currently 44.75 cents per gallon)
    Gross Receipts Tax
    Hunting License Tax
    Inheritance Tax
    Inventory Tax
    IRS Interest Charges IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax)
    Liquor Tax
    Luxury Taxes
    Marriage License Tax
    Medicare Tax
    Personal Property Tax
    Property Tax
    Real Estate Tax
    Service Charge T ax
    Social Security Tax
    Road Usage Tax
    Sales Tax
    Recreational Vehicle Tax
    School Tax
    State Income Tax
    State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)
    Telephone Federal Excise Tax
    Telephone Federal Universal Service FeeTax
    Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Taxes
    Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge=2 0Tax
    Telephone Recurring and Non-recurring Charges Tax
    Telephone State and Local Tax
    Telephone Usage Charge Tax
    Utility Taxes
    Vehicle License Registration Tax
    Vehicle Sales Tax
    Watercraft Registration Tax
    Well Permit Tax
    Workers Compensation Tax

    STILL THINK THIS IS FUNNY? Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, and our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.
    What in the hell happened? Can you spell ‘politicians?’ And I still have to ‘press 1’ for English!?

    I hope this goes around THE USA at least 100 times!!! YOU can help it get there!!! GO AHEAD – – – BE AN AMERICAN!!!

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