Love it or list it

Authors: Monica Granfield
Posted: Wed, November 12, 2014 - 2:57:45

Have you ever tried to coordinate a project, a group of people, their activities, and their progress? Or organize your thoughts or what needs to get done? What has been your most efficient tool?

For me it's most often some form of a simple list. 

All kinds of systems to help individuals and organizations get organized and improve efficiency have been created over time. From pads of paper with checkboxes printed on them, to magnetic boards with pre-canned task components, for kids and adults alike. Paper planners and systems like Franklin Planners have stood the test of time. The digital age has brought a slew of complex products for targeted industries or personal use. All come with the promise of organizing, tracking, planning, and even projecting work; resourcing; generating analytics; optimizing for efficiency; and having hordes of free time to have coffee with friends. How many deliver on this promise?

From professional to personal use, there's a productivity product out there for you. I have had the pleasure of evaluating some of these tools, using some of these tools, and yes, even designing a tool to help boost communication, organization, and productivity for users. The dynamics of organizing people and activities is not easy and can quickly become complex.

I have witnessed the initial flood of enthusiasm over the promise of accomplishment they bring and then watched the enthusiasm fizzle out and the use of the product simply fade out over time. Too often these tools to boost productivity become a full-time job for at least one person in an organization. I have also witnessed users struggle with the use of these products. Sometimes users are successful using portions of the product; other times products are so complex and hard to grasp that hours of training and use still fails in making them successful. The vast majority of users become confused and use only the top few features that will meet with the expectations of management. Management is often quiet about how productivity tools enter an organization, with little feedback from the people who will use them.

Many of these products try to emulate a conceptual model, rather than how people work or what they need from a product. If you are not familiar with the conceptual model, learning the product will prove to be a challenge. One product I used tried to emulate the conceptual model of the Agile process. However, there are many interpretations of what the Agile process is and how to implement it. Also, Agile typically includes software development, but not other related disciplines such as documentation, UX, marketing, or hardware. Roles in disciplines not included as part of the process in the product are retrofitted into the conceptual model. The users in these roles don’t understand the model, get frustrated learning or managing the product, and then start the decline into becoming a non-user.

Rather than struggle with a tool that doesn't meet the needs of the group, organization, or users, it becomes easier to just resort back to a good old-fashioned organizational tool such as a list. Most of these lists end up being created and managed in a spreadsheet or documentation program, which are more familiar to users, therefore making it easier to successfully manage your people and activities such as tracking changes, sorting, filtering, and simply checking something off when completed. No complex processes where you assign tasks and stories, or forward users to a new phase of a project. No logging in, no trying to find who owns what and who did what. No time wasted trying to figure out how this glorified list with the complex system of built-in features works. All you need to do is glance at the list, with its glorious titles, headers, columns, and rows, all there right in front of you. Prioritize the list, reorder, highlight items, cross something off and ta-dah... you are done. Now you can go and have coffee with your friends.

If an application that is meant to organize and increase productivity becomes too complex and hard to use, the abandonment rate will rise. Organizations will abandon one product for another and, if all the while their users don't love the product, the users most likely will slowly and quietly resort to listing it.

The simplicity of a list is all that is needed to keep me organized and boost my productivity. Lists play a key role in tracking what needs to be done, keeping inventory of issues, and tracking and assigning who needs to do what, when.

Sometimes the simple and straightforward solution just works. If you don't love your productivity tool, do you list it? 

Posted in: on Wed, November 12, 2014 - 2:57:45

Monica Granfield

Monica Granfield is a user experience strategist at Go Design LLC.
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@Kate (2024 07 09)

It has been my pleasure to assess a few of these tools, utilize a few of them, and yes, even build a tool that will help users be more organized, productive, and communicate.  See: building a retaining wall nz