What is the Human Workflow? It is my passion. It is the process by which actual users– real humans want or need to function in order to get certain tasks done. And it is one of the most ignored concepts in the business world– whether in product development, sales, customer support– whatever.
So the project was mapped out, the technical requirements were defined, and the engineers went to work mapping all the TFBS and designing little icons that would appear in the genome browser tool. Lots of time and resources were poured into this project that also involved some very elegant engineering, and when it was shown to scientists at the end of the process, what they saw were literally millions of dots scattered over the genome– so many that it was impossible to make any sense of them. The tool could zoom way in so that you could start to distinguish individual TFBS, but now you were so far “inside” one of the genes, it was hard to keep context of what you were looking for.
This is just one example of a great idea, and elegant engineering being applied by really smart people, but with one missing piece. The reality check of what the end user would likely experience (thousands of dots in a small area) that would not be useable. Had the human workflow been more thoroughly considered, valuable time and resources (people and money) could have been saved, and a better product delivered earlier. In the end, I’m not sure the product was ever successfully launched.
It’s sort of the old “VCR syndrome”. It was a great new technology, and was engineered really well, but little thought was put into the backgrounds and abilities of the intended user base. Their human workflows were largely ignored. The steps for setting up and operating the VCR seem like they were written by engineers for engineers.
It seems that as soon as someone comes up with a good idea, we dive down into the weeds, get all caught up in individual details, and forget the target market. Real people for whom that little invention is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle.
A really good example of properly taking into consideration human workflows– and specifically addressing the VCR problem is the universal remote designed by Logitech. These guys recognized that VCRs, along with their complex programming are only one part of the real human workflow, which is “I want to watch a movie” which involves cooperation between the VCR, TV, and audio system (if you have one). So they invented this very cool single remote control that you plug into your computer. It asks in plain english what stereo equipment you have (with a database of tens or hundreds of thousands of makes and models), how you have them connected, and then “what tasks do you want to do?” So if you say “watch a movie on my VCR”, it asks which devices you want to use (TV, VCR and Receiver), then it programs the remote so that all you do is push one button and the remote turns on and off all the appropriate equipment, sets the volume and other controls to work the right devices, and all you do is sit back and enjoy your movie. That’s paying attention to the Human Workflow.
The real key to success in almost anything in which interacting with others, or creating products for others is involved, is in seriously considering the workflows of those you’re trying to help. That’s what I’m calling “human workflows”. Our whole society seems to enjoy living in separate siloed environments. One agency within the local, state or federal government doesn’t know what the other agencies are doing– as it relates to the same issues. Same thing in our businesses. Many research institutions have completely siloed groups that are roughly organized by isolated technologies, or disease areas, or geographic locations. A proteomics group, a gene expression group, a clinical group, a bioinformatics group– all working in their own ivory towers. And this is despite the fact that the real knowledge- the real insights almost certainly will flow from the cross-analysis of information from many if not all of those siloed operations.
What we’ll be talking about in this blog is how effective solutions to the real challenges we face in our jobs requires an awareness and keen consideration for human workflows. We’ll talk about specific examples, the kinds of skills that help keep those workflows in focus, and how to take advantage of this awareness to become more effective.
I’d like this to be as interactive as possible. Let’s take real case studies you all experience, and see how considering the human workflows would positively impact a good solution to your challenges. I think this is going to be fun. As I said, I’m passionate about this topic, I know it’s important, and, more significantly, I know from first-hand experience what happens when it is ignored, and when it is used effectively.