Academic journal article Review of Business

True User Involvement: Successful System Design

Academic journal article Review of Business

True User Involvement: Successful System Design

Article excerpt

The education, experience, and the common sense of system analysts and designers tells them that user involvement when developing a new system is essential for success. So we invite the user to participate with us in the analysis and design process, talk to users and user managers, and with walkthroughs and reviews of flow charts, make sure that our representation of information flows, etc., are as accurate as possible. This produces better information needs and wants, so we can proceed to produce the system specified by this activity. But is this true user involvement? We suggest it is not and that great rewards await those who go beyond these routine "textbook" steps.

The kind of user involvement described above, though practiced widely, can, at its best, expose the user. At its worst it accomplishes nothing; after all the users are busy doing their own jobs, attending meetings, travelling, and doing those things that make the company work. System analysis and design is like programming, best left to the specialists anyway. Right? Wrong! Opportunities for significant contributions abound for the system designer who applies true user involvement to produce systems that are truly integrated with the user and the users' work. Is it possible, then, that we have interpreted the phrase "user-involvement" wrongly all these years? Or possibly stopped too soon in our interpretation? Perhaps it should mean more than exposing the user to the design process. Maybe true user involvement means involving the designer in the user's work process so that he or she can move from reacting to crises to proactively designing systems that support total user productivity. So that we may better understand the reasons for these questions and attempt to find some convincing answers, we illustrate using a manufacturing plant in the southeast.

A Case Study

This particular plant has six major machine lines producing various company products. These machine lines were maintained by a staff of 150 mechanics on a three shift basis. The mechanics were having trouble getting parts for repair and preventive maintenance from the stockroom which stored 18,000 parts valued at $9 million. These parts are of two types; company-unique parts made for one of the six major machine lines and generic parts such as bearings, o-rings, fasteners, and air cylinders. The unique parts were identified by a drawing number and the generic parts by the manufacturers' number. Generic parts were also assigned a consecutive number by purchasing, such as OR1010 which stood for 1,010th O-Ring entering the system. The stockroom staff of 12, over the three shifts, was young and low in seniority.

A Problem Solving Opportunity

Problems had only surfaced recently so that the analyst was curious about how they had developed, and explored the history of the system. The previous stockroom personnel had been recruited from the mechanics' crew and probably were older mechanics who wanted to be in a less strenuous environment. The numbering and access system, such as it was, evolved to fit these circumstances; these people didn't need a numbering system. They brought with them years of experience on the machine lines, they also possessed detailed knowledge of the machines and could discuss repairs, suggest alternative parts and warn against potential problems. They were, in fact, consultants as well as stockroom clerks. Things reportedly worked smoothly for many years -- until the "system" changed. "System" means not just the numbering and access system but the bigger environment within which the detailed system must function. Over time, the machine lines grew, the number of parts stocked grew, and the experienced stockroom staff retired.

So a new system came into existence. New staff were recruited from traditional stock clerk candidates, and were lower paid and less experienced; no one could justify putting senior mechanics into the stockroom. The fact that this was a new system was not recognized. …

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