How IT nerds are sabotaging your workday – 3 things to learn

Mikko LaaksonenTechnology is meant to make our lives easier. This applies just as well to pre-historic tools made out of pieces of rock, a bit of leather and wood as it does to modern IT tools. Information Technology (IT) is purely about that, making lives of people easier.

Having set the context, I will get back to telling how nerds are sabotaging your workday in practical examples a few paragraphs below.

So, what does it exactly mean to ”make our lives easier”? How do you measure ”easier”? And how does ”easier” relate to productivity? Surely tools are also meant to boost productivity!

Well, there are conventional quantitative metrics, such as how many calls a customer service agent can process or how many parcels a courier can deliver, and so on. Then there are more qualitative meters such as how photographs can be enhanced, how soundtracks or special effects for films can be edited and so on.

Whatever the metric used to evaluate the quality or quantity of work, there is always a person doing that work. That person is usually referred to as the ”end user”. Sounds a bit soulless, doesn’t it?

Let’s go back to the original idea of what nerds (IT professionals), as the providers of modern tools to these end users, should concentrate on. I argue that IT professionals should not concentrate on aforementioned conventional metrics. That is for the purchaser and administrator of the system.

IT professionals should concentrate on the end user – and more specifically on the end users’ flow.

In order to create an outstanding tool, the creator of that tool needs first to understand the task which the tool will be used for. Secondly, but at least as importantly, the user of the tool needs to be understood. Preferably the user of the tool will be consulted before, during and after the development of the tool.

The objective should be maximizing the end user’s flow while using the tool. Wikipedia defines flow as:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

You know those moments, when you are for example writing text, painting or improvising music and the work just flows. Or in sports, when the running just feels so good you don’t want to stop or nailing a skiing slope perfectly, with a seamless rhythmic flow. Or those days when everything just falls into place, like a jazz band playing completely in sync, in flow.

This is exactly what productivity is about. True human productivity equals flow. Therefore, if we want to maximize productivity, we should be maximizing flow. And from my personal experience, the state of flow is a very engaging and rewarding state to be in. In the state of flow, work becomes enjoyable, enhancing the quality of work and motivation.

Now, imagine that when painting a great picture, your painting suddenly goes all blue and you have to start all over again. Or during a great band session your drummer just freezes and loops just a snare drum sound. Maybe during your dream skiing run your skiing boots just decide to unlock, requiring you to stop to lock them again.

Similar situations happen daily or even more frequently to millions (or more) office workers around the world. That is a manifestation of how nerds are sabotaging your workday, in some smaller or bigger way, every day.

Avoiding this would translate to higher productivity (optimized flow), happier employees and could eventually even lead to less stress, better health and longer careers.

I am not sure how to measure flow. Maybe the results of flow are easier to measure, as described earlier, as the conventional metrics or productivity.

In any case, I propose that the key here is communication between the nerd and the end user. Problems that can interrupt one’s flow can be surprising and cannot be guessed by someone not familiar with current tools and processes used for the task. It could be as trivial as having connection problems with a wireless mouse, or printer problems. It can also be more sophisticated, realted to the user experience (UX) design of the software.

It is absolutely vital to understand these three aspects in order to develop a truly useful tool:

  1. The person who uses the tools being developed
  2. The task(s) for what the tool will be used
  3. How the user can maximize flow and what are the greatest obstacles to overcome

What do you think? I would love to hear your comments on how nerds are sabotaging your workday and how we could be maximizing Your flow 🙂


Add yours
  1. 1

    As a IT nerd I have to say we do what managers tell us to do. So if you want changes ITIL, GDF etc, Should be followed. Now management gets an idea it is built, it does not work good and it is built anyway. Not really end-user friendly and who gets the fall ?

    Accusing nerds to be cause of poor end-user flow is just wrong, Product, team or organization is good as management is.

    • 2
      Mikko Laaksonen

      Good and valid point. I did purposely make the point in a provocative way 🙂

      I agree that this issue has to be identified by developers and managers — as well as the customers (buuyers and end users alike)!

  2. 3
    Harri Turtiainen

    Fully agree that by maximizing the flow you maximize the productivity. And fully agree that millions (and way too more) office workers end users/employees face daily problems with their PC’s which does exactly what you brought up: kills the flow.

    CIO Insight published recently an US survey where 29 % respondents said that biggest productivity (flow) killer at office work are daily computer problems. And interesting point was also that 53 % tried to solve the problems by themselves or with the help of their colleague i.e. they do not call to Service Desk. And then “Nerd” (or IT professional) is not involved.

    So this is where I do not agree with you. “Nerd” is not who to blame. They task is mainly to put out the fire (fix the problem). They are part of the support process. And today’s support processes that customers use and service providers provide to customers does not recognize those daily, systematically occurring problems that end users face, which kills the flow and thus kills the productivity.

    Glen Koskela, CTO End User Services at Fujitsu’s International Business brought this up quite well recently: “Why are end user computing services still often measured using traditional SLAs? Customer satisfaction is controlled by user experience.” And It think here is the point! User experience, even in basic level, in not measured as a continuous process (and here I do not mean yearly end user satisfaction surveys). And this should be pretty much real time operation.

    Real time measuring would start bringing fact based information on those daily problems that users face at their work. And that collected information should be analyzed to understand systematically and repeatedly occurring problems which then gives inputs for IT to develop (not only to fix) the end user environment so that less and less of those daily problems occur. This leads to less need to go to fix the problems by IT support professionals which makes is possible for end users to do their job without disturbing interruptions which makes it possible to reach to flow.

    End result: way more productive end users. And happier people!

    Great subject and happy to see that the importance of end users satisfaction in IT is increasing more and more to the forefront!

  3. 5

    NERD can be also the actual people who make your daily applications. Not only IT support as mentioned.
    I have seen several projects forced through even if we nerds as end-user also are complaining this is wrong, there is better way to do it.
    Then product is coded and published. Users does not like it, coders take the hit for management mistakes.

    I can see writer is development manager, I would suggest to look in the mirror before pointing any fingers.

    *Normal* workers are not listened never, and *bad stuff* only flows down.

    Need to quote something ”Leaderships is not a position or title, it is action and example”. Pointing fingers is not good action or example in my opinion.

    • 6
      Mikko Laaksonen

      Pointing fingers is not nice, but generates a stir, which causes discussion.

      I hope that this blog post reaches also other stakeholders, not just ”nerds” (which I think I am also:))

  4. 7
    Harri Turtiainen

    True. ”NERD” in this blog seemed to point more to software development direction than to IT support. And I pointed my comment more to how end user IT is managed today. So a bit different aspect.

    But still Mikko brought up an important point: problems that users face kill the flow and problem is wide.

    There are millions of different software available in the market. As been involved in software development also the reasons for bad software behavior can be various. Sometimes software itself causes problems, sometimes factors outside the software can cause the issues. Software development is very unpredictable as basically every customer environment is different. Lots of moving parts.

    And then we come to same key factor that I pointed in my first comment. PC user experience should be measured as a real time operation. This also reveals software that continuously cause problems for end users. And then the question is if the problem can be identified and fixed permanently or if that software should be replaced.

    • 8
      Mikko Laaksonen

      I think that the winners of software dev are picked by how well they support this ”flow” of end users. I have developed a vision for the required components for this, which I might post about later 🙂

    • 10
      Mikko Laaksonen

      Joo tämä on kiinnostava keskustelu myös – joskin ei koske suoraan ICT-työkaluja.

      Itse hoidan asian niin, että kun tarvitsen työrauhaa (esim blogin kirjoittamiseen;-), teen sen etänä, esim. kotoa käsin. Kännykkä hiljaiselle, pikaviestimet ja sähköposti kiinni ja pelkkä tekstinkäsittely kehiin.

  5. 11
    Mikko Laaksonen

    Just to make it clear, the term ”nerd” here is defined from the end user perspective so it covers pretty much the IT industry as a whole. Not just developers 🙂

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