To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I've been out of town since Wednesday, got back in this morning and am still kind of tired. We're getting ready to implement a new computer thing which has been implemented at another facility, and three of us on the steering committee decided we needed to go to that facility and see how they're using it and the problems they're having.

One thing that I can see is that I am going to have to be proactive in my role as specification writer. Once we implement this thing, it will be my job to go between all the lab and office folks and the IT department and ask very specifically for changes and bug fixes. We discovered that the person who fills this role at the other facility isn't getting much information from some of the staff because they're not in his department and he's not in their chain of command. The IT people and top management were surprised at this, because they thought everyone understood that his role in this thing is interdepartmental. But you know, that's just how people are. So I will make it a point to walk around the building and ask all sorts of people how it's going, if they're having problems, what could be changed to make things easier and more efficient, and so on. Another issue is that although everyone was trained, there was possibly too much training all at once. More than one person told me that when they actually sat down to do some work they found themselves staring at the screens and thinking, "Now what?" So some of the problems they're having may be training issues. I'll have to try to identify those too. Some people identified as problems things that others thought were the best features. People had different ways of approaching the same tasks, which is fine as long as everyone works in the way that's most efficient for them. But that may not be the case if there is not enough communication between users; for instance, if one person finds a really quick and convenient way to perform a task, but he never has an opportunity to show others in a group meeting.

Another thing is that the user interface is confusing and inconvenient. We have some ideas about what to do about that. The people at the other facility are not making use of a very flexible tool, and that is the export to Excel. The pre-saved report functions take too long and have the wrong information for many tasks, but you can export virtually everything to do with your specified data set to an Excel spreadsheet. They know that. The spreadsheet still has too much info and it's large and unwieldy. But you can set up a second spreadsheet to link to specific cells in the first one, pulling out exactly what you need to see and putting it in any order that makes sense to you. You can write a macro in that second sheet if necessary to format it further. You can save several of those second spreadsheets to various names that make sense to you, for various reports that serve different needs. Set it up so that when you do the export you save the exported spreadsheet to a predetermined file name, to which the report spreadsheets link, and then any of those report spreadsheets you open is instantly updated. I realize this may look weird to people who do IT, but for seat-of-the-pants users like me, it's very easy and useful.

We're also going to work on customizing data entry screens using a different application wherever possible. So I'm going to be fairly busy for a few months. Our go-live date is May 1 and it's going to be heck for a couple of weeks. Most of the actual bugs were found at the other facility and already fixed, but most people resist change and find it very stressful. (Not me. I guess I'm weird.) We kicked around the idea of doing some things those first couple of weeks to lighten the atmosphere and keep people from feeling too grim - like bringing donuts one day, a popcorn machine another, pizza for lunch, and so on.

So we'll see how it goes.

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