Building the Corporate User Interface

September 20, 2014


A while back I did a talk on the subject of “Hacking the Organization”. It was largely inspired by Jim McCarthy’s talk at a local Open Space. Listening to his talk I realized that people who have programming skills AND insight into processes have a unique opportunity to reprogram the organizations that they work in. This reprogramming can be done in a few different fashions:

Changing the processes: Changing the way people work by introducing new methods, practices and protocols

Changing the systems: integrating the systems to make reporting, operations, and other business processes work more smoothly

Blending the processes and the systems: Changing the way people work and the systems that they work with so that they support each other – making people more alive and engaged in the organization. It’s merging the people and the machine to enhance each other.

In fact, in the lean/agile community, we have become very adept at creating relatively high functioning teams using practices that have evolved significantly over the last few decades. Technology has evolved at an even faster rate, with the web, mobile and other technologies creating opportunities for collaboration that never existed just a few short years ago. Modern teams have the opportunity to revolutionize the way people and systems work together.

Those of us who can code and who are interested in improving the process to benefit everyone are the magicians who have a uniquely powerful opportunity to create real change in organizations. That’s not a bad thesis, right?

Well, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we are not simply trying to change the organization for the pure sake of change. We strive to make the organization more “user friendly”. Our changes aim to make the organization into a place where people can express their work as joy and express passion for what they do. It should enable that sort of engagement, which forms the catalyst for genuine innovation and products that people love.

What would an organization with a good user interface look like? That’s easy:

  • It’s fun to use
  • It has functions we care about and are easy to find
  • We can clearly see how to do what we need to
  • When we take action it is effortless and feels natural
  • It’s responsive, giving users rapid feedback to their actions

What could we do as organizational hackers to achieve these ends? We could introduce ramification to corporate operations. Turn in your timecard promptly and level up! Create electronic systems that make it easier to reward or thank our peers for their work. We could create dashboards that provide visualizations for corporate operations. We can make this information universally available, even omnipresent for everyone in the company from the CEO to the janitor. We can make our work visible so that people can make educated decisions about what the most important work is that they can be doing. All corporate activities should be self serve and provide immediate feedback.

Wouldn’t that be awesome?

We can do that. We don’t have to ask for permission, we can just do it. Link the sales reporting system to a dashboard. Go ahead, do it. Pull in some transaction metrics and do a little simple math to demonstrate the average dollars per transaction. Automate the HR system so that with the press of a single button you can initiate hiring someone – automate all the paperwork. You make the work easier for everyone. You not only save yourself time, but you save time for everyone else who does that work now – from now on! This kind of savings can multiply very quickly.

The coding really isn’t that hard – most back office systems have pretty sophisticated APIs that enable the possibility of this kind integration. All it takes is someone with the will to make it happen. Guess who that is? You.