Saturday, August 07, 2010

Smarter than you think

Since January of this year, I have been privileged to be a part of a beta test group for Instant Text, the expander software we medical transcriptionists use at our hospital. (For you non-MTs, expander software is our major tool in transcription to increase production, accuracy, and lessen the wear and tear on our hands, wrists, and fingers). The Instant Text folks were working on their new version 7, and asked for beta volunteers. I had never beta tested anything before, and I loved using their software anyway, so I jumped at the chance.

What an experience! I had to check for bugs, typos, and incompatibility with our other software platforms, but I also got to offer suggestions and feedback! I got to say, "This works well but could be improved," or "I don't really use this feature, and I don't think it's really necessary." One of my suggestions was actually adopted - and I feel as a group we beta testers were taken seriously, given a voice, and performed a valuable service for the company (as well as ourselves), helping to design the product to be the absolute best product of its kind on the market.

What a concept, huh? Finding out what users want and need, discover how they use the product and how to design a product to meet their needs! Actually taking time to ask questions and listen to the responses! Testing for bugs and everything else that could go wrong BEFORE you put it on the market!

As soon as the beta was over, I had mixed feelings. I felt bereft that the testing was finished - but also, I felt I elated that I had been present during the labor and birth of a new software. I also thought a lot this week about other companies and other products on the market, and wondered how extensively they were tested in the real world. I thought about all the recalls I hear in the news every day and wonder if products were rushed to market to make money as fast as possible without adequate testing for possible problems. Even going further, forgetting testing for bugs and quality control and that sort of thing, how many products in our society are actually given input from real people who will use the product? For example, I can't really believe that our TV remote control was ever tested by ordinary people. Maybe you have a remote that is clear and easy to use, but ours certainly isn't. I realize my opinion is only that of one individual, but there are just some things I use which push me to say, "What the heck? Who designed this piece of crap?!!"

I was impressed that in the case of Instant Text, we spoke and they listened. There was give and take, back and forth, compromise, clarification, and if they couldn't implement something on our "wish list," they took the time to explain why. We were constantly in touch with the programmers, and they with us. We could read the opinions and ideas of the other beta testers and comment on those. We all used the software in our everyday jobs in every possible situation, and with our feedback, the engineers were constantly improving and honing each facet of the product.

I believe there are many of us out here - regular people - who are insightful, intelligent, resourceful, and creative, who in our jobs or business dealings or even primarily as consumers, become just worker ants - with a specific job to do, here's how it's done, no time for questions, no time for feedback, just fill your spot in the economy and do an adequate job and everything will be OK. We hear, "Just buy (or make) the product and deal with it. Trust us. We know best." Where is there room for "I have a better idea!"? Where is there space for "I think this could be made more user-friendly!"? Where is an area for creative minds to tell the upper echelon in the company, "I want to do my job as efficiently and accurately as possible, and here are my ideas for accomplishing that!"? The best person to give input on improvements and changes in any job situation is the very person who does the job on a daily basis. No, we are not experts, some of us don't have college degrees, we're not influential or powerful people in business, most of us haven't written a book or had a research paper published. But we are in the trenches, day in and day out. We know what works and what doesn't. We can anticipate problems. We are smart, and our ideas have value.

The folks at Instant Text listened to me for over half a year. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been involved. Other corporations, designers, engineers, food producers, product manufacturers - are you paying attention?

1 comment:

Cuidado said...

Sounds like a good experience.