Here’s One of Your Challenges – Complexity of Tasks; Simplicity of Use


So, I read that the VA is using a computer scheduling system that goes back to 1985. 1985! That is one year after the 1984 Macintosh Super Bowl Commercial.

From Jon Stewart’s “takedown”:

“Our scheduling system scheduled its first appointment in April of 1985,” Philip Matkovsky, assistant deputy under-secretary of the VA, said. “It has not changed in any appreciable manner since that date.”

No wonder they are behind the times, and people are “behind schedule.” The entire system is “behind schedule.”

So, I called a woman I know who works in a medical office. This is an office with one dentist and one periodontist. They are both very good, very much in demand – the office is a beehive of non-stop activity. (She has worked at this office for a few years, but does not go all the way back to 1985). And I asked, “how many times have you updated, and/or fully changed, your scheduling system over the years?”

The updates — she can’t quite keep count. But, as the medical advances and technological advances become part of the practice, there is need for many more tasks for the system to handle – sending updates, x-rays to other doctors, multiple ways to contact patients – she flew through a list of tasks that sounded complex, numerous, and just a little overwhelming. And, remember, this is one office, not an entire VA country-wide network. So, for this one office, they have had to completely change computers, and software programs, a few times through the years (with two major changes, and many “less major”/smaller updates/upgrades).

In other words, she was pretty sure they would have great trouble functioning with the complex demands of their modern practice with a 1985 system.

And, as we talked, I learned that though the current software does more than ever before – and this is important! — it is pretty simple to operate and understand.

Complexity of tasks – simplicity of use.

We are all now pretty familiar with the VUCA world. My first exposure to this term was in the book Get There Get There EarlyEarly: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present by Bob Johansen (good book!). The term VUCA originated at the U. S. Army War College, the graduate school for Generals-to-be, and it is an acronym which stands for:

Volatility
Uncertainty
Complexity
Ambiguity

Yep, that pretty much describes the current world, and military, and business, and every other environment.

Here is one description of the “Complexity” piece of the puzzle: The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization.

In other words, as things get more complex, they feel more complex, and that leads to chaos and confusion. And we feel “out of control,” a rather common feeling in today’s workplace.

Somehow, in the midst of chaos and confusion, we need to help people not “feel” confused in the midst of such chaos. Quite a challenge!

Thus, the need to find ways to describe and navigate all this complexity in as simple way as possible.

So, maybe we need to conduct an on-going “simplicity check” in every corner of our workplace. Are our systems, our web sites, our processes, our forms, our structures, even in the midst of all their complexity, simple to understand, simple to navigate?

If not, we’ve got some simplifying to do!

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