On Sunday, Helsingin Sanomat, the leading newspaper in Finland, published an excellent article about futile work tasks. Journalist Anna-Sofia Berner had asked from readers to post stories about their work tasks that seemed to be useless, due to bureaucracy or to the fact that somebody else does the task also etc. The conclusion was that there are a lot of futile meetings, reporting or work tasks due to poor organisation or – poor information systems. For example some teacher had to report to a system before a lecture the topic of the lecture, and then after the lecture again the contents of the lecture.Some of the reported futile work tasks were clearly related to system requirements not meeting user requirements. Like one teacher had to inform individually all the parents of the students, who needed an extra lesson and then fill in a web form of each student, last time the teacher had used 28 minutes for reporting after the 45 minute extra lesson. Probably the end users had not participated to system requirement formulation phase, and the developers had not included a possibility to fill in this form for several students at the same time. User participation has been found to be an influential way to develop user-friendly systems.
The other issue is that possibly form filling could have been skipped totally in the work process, if the processes had been redesigned. One classic mistake in information system development is not to redesign the process, but just to ”automate” it. In some cases poor systems even redesign the work processes, an example comes from the university.
Each spring all the teachers write a short description about their courses and include information when and for whom the course is going to be taught etc. This information is given to secretaries and assistants, who then enter the info to the study guide system. For facility management reasons, a teaching schedule is then formed for each term, and the teacher sends the basic information (which was mainly in the study guide system) of the courses to another administrative person, who then develops a teaching schedule for the term. Before each teaching period, the teacher sends the basic information + the schedule info to another administrative person, who then can enter the info for course registration feature of the study guide system. Then after students have registered to courses, teacher sends them information about the course practicalities after the list of registered students have been downloaded from the study guide system.
Why the already entered information (plus some extra info) is not used automatically as a basis for teaching schedule and course registration development? Perhaps users have not been listened, or the different parts of the system have been developed separately or it just automates the old process. Several other explanations can be thought of too.
Last year, the university decided to listen end users and asked for improvement suggestions for the study guide system. Let’s see how it turns out. There are of course plenty of other futile tasks here, as in any organisation, but that is another story. Resistance is futile, we have been assimilated.