Category Archives: software engineering

Including Communication and PR in the IT in Society Class

Communication and PR are an important part of innovation and change. People use social media and Wikipedia to understand reality to a large extent. Through these channels we create the truths.  (Or alternative truths :-o). Hopefully in parallel with other more traditional media channels. Even though communication and PR are very important for success, there are very few courses in the IT related programs at the university level that deal with this.

The students in the IT in society class has always marketed their work with an invitation to their presentation the final week, but this year we have put a more explicit focus on communication and marketing of their work.

They have one group of students who will work with communication and PR. It will be interesting to see what they choose to do! It will also be interesting to see what effects this will have on how known the course is, and how well they manage to communicate the results to media, other students, county councils etc.

We know that the students will submit an abstract to Vitalis and if they are accepted a few of them will go there and present in April. Last year the students did a fabulous job presenting at Vitalis 🙂

The Background to the IT in Society Class

Now we have kicked off this year’s IT in Society Class. There will be a series of blog post about this course this fall.

Some of the things that make this course very special are:

  • Region Uppsala act as a real client to the student project
  • We get a topic for the course from the client very year
  • It is a global distributed project.
  • The students come from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and from Uppsala University.
  • It is based on a pedagigical concept called Open Ended Group Projects

The IT in Society unit was introduced into the IT engineering degree program as a response to industry feedback collected using questionnaires and meetings prior to commencement of the degree program in 1995.  This input emphasized that scaffolding the development of teamwork and communication skills were high priority areas for our industry stakeholders.

Running this course unit has been a challenge every year since 1998, and it has been a quite inspiring challenge.   The open-ended group project idea suited this course unit well. But the (for the students, who had experienced a highly technical preparation in most of their other degree course units) unusual content (e.g. societal aspects) added complexity to setting up a productive learning environment.  Much effort over the years has been put into devising appropriate scaffolding to support the students, without compromising the underlying ideas behind the open-ended group project concept. There will be more info about this concept later on. 

There is a whole series of research publications based on this course. The most prominent one is Mats Daniel’s PhD thesis found here 

UCD Blog Post 3: Problems Encountered when Trying to Institutionalize User Centered Design and UX in Organizations

There are many problems encountered when trying to institutionalize user centered design (UCD) or user experience (UX) related work in organizations. My PhD was called “Usability, who cares? Establishing user centered design in organizations” (I defended in 2010) was related to this topic. It describes our work with the institutionalizing of UCD and UX work in eight different organizations. Some of the things I present in the thesis that makes it difficult to work with UX and UCD are:

User representatives as Adding Extra Value:

  • Working with user representatives is considered optional, hence indicating a perspective on systems development where user participation is not seen as a central part, but as something that adds extra value
  • One of the most prevalent perspectives affecting this choice is time and efficiency. A consequence of the efficiency perspective is seen in the choice of users for the role of user representatives. Here individuals who are used to work in systems development projects, and who know the methods and language used are preferred as representatives, in the interests of efficiency. Often the same people participate in different development projects, and in interviews, some individuals have described that they have not worked with case handling in years. Hence, civil servants become “IT workers” to the extent that this is considered a career path in the organisations. Preferably, the user representatives should also be skilled domain experts, as well as skilled users of the computer systems.

“You pick your dream team. You agree on a theoretical level that it is important to pick new people from the organisation, but when it comes to practice it is difficult.”

Work is Seen and Understood in Terms of Simple Steps and Procedures

  • The studies revealed that there is a gap between the users’ work and the discourse in the systems development. In the systems development projects, the civil servants’ work is frequently discussed in terms of simple steps and operations, that may be predefined and automated in accordance with clearly defined rules and regulations.
  • In complex cases where the computer fails to generate a decision and where human” judgement is required; it was seen as a problem that civil servants have to make decisions. These “human” decisions were seen as subjective and open to interpretations – which is the reason why the computer fails to make them in the first place – and the civil servants making the decisions were seen as incompetent

Usability is a Fuzzy concept

  • Several informants from the IT departments described usability as a vague and unclear concept.

“Usability is really difficult to talk about since it means one thing to me and something completely different to someone else.”

  • Usability experts are few and they felt that they seldom had enough time to do all the activities required. Several of the informants believed that this was due to lack of understanding of what usability is and what usability experts do, as this usability expert describes:
  • In one of the organisations, the internal procurer and the project manager of their sub-project in Satsa Friskt maintain that usability and UCSD are possible to address without any usability experts. Specifically, they estimated that the project would achieve an approximate 80% success if conducted by people without any previous usability experience or specialist knowledge in the field. This indicates a perspective on usability as common sense, as something that is easily incorporated in systems development. Few people in the organisations understand how much work needs to be done in their organisation to incorporate the ideas of usability, or as the project managers of another subproject said:

“This project just gets bigger and bigger [deep sigh]! “

 

Usability and UX are Difficult to Measure

  • Measurement of usability and user experience is a method much sought after in order to introduce and motivate user-centred design activities. Our research group developed a web based usability index method at CSN that resulted in measurements of usability and UX on three different occasions. During a trial period the questionnaire gradually improved in which questions were clarified and some even deleted.

Workshop on Education in a New IT system

I attended a workshop about education in the new economy system this week.  It was a very well organised workshop with representatives from all stakeholder groups involved in the education of the system. The discussion was facilitated by a workshop leader, and we discussed who would get education and and what the education should contain.

The workshop started with a presentation by me and Annika Björklund from the local Ladok project. I presented some general ideas from a study I did on economical staff and IT a few years ago, and Annika presented the ideas they are working with in relation to the Ladok project.

Annika has asked users what they want from education, and they said what is found in this slide:

  • Local support. How do we solve that?
  • Screen sharing with the support people
  • Courses that go deep into topics
  • Workshops where it’s possible to discuss your day to day problems with an expert.

workshop Ekonomi .png

I am very much looking forward to following this project. One part of the project will be rolled out in October, and the rest later on next spring.

UCD Blog 2: What can we do to make better IT systems?

There is quite a lot of evidence both made by researcher and companies such as the Standish group and Google that one of the key success factors when developing computer systems is user involvement.

If you want to work with user involvement in your projects there are many user centered processes to choose from such as UCSD, rapid contextual design, and participatory design. These processes vary some in their values and ways of working, but I have chosen to see them as complimentary and when used in practice they are all good in different ways.

There is even an ISO standard that defines user centered design for those who are curious.

User centered design processes are iterative, and you iterate either between all the stages of the process, or the last three stages depending on the complexity of the organization, the requirements and the system built.

The first step in these user centered processes is to understand the context of use where you specify the user and organizational requirements. This is usually done through using one or several of the following methods:

  • Interviews
  • Meetings with users
  • Workshops
  • Field studies
  • Vision seminars

After you have done work on understanding the context of use you move on to specifying the user requirements. This is usually done through using one or several of the following:

  • Personas descriptions
  • Scenarios
  • User Stories
  • Usability goals
  • Vision seminar documentation

When this is done, you work with producing design solutions of different kinds. This is usually done through using one or several of the following methods:

  • Paper prototypes
  • Wireframes
  • Sketches
  • Prototypes

The last step in this iterative design process is the evaluation of the prototype. This is usually done through using one or several of the following methods:

  • Expert evaluation
  • Prototype interview
  • Formal evaluation (in a lab)
  • Informal evaluation

Knowing how to use user centered methods, in what context and in what format is really a professional skill in itself, and I will not elaborate further on the topic in this blog post but recommend the books Rapid Contextual Design and Användracentrerad systemutveckling (in Swedish) for the curious reader.

The next blog post in this series will elaborate on the problems encountered when trying to establish or institutionalize user centered design and UX in organizations.

Visit at the University of Pretoria – Now My Research Batteries are Fully Charged Again with Inspiration:-)

My visit to the University of Pretoria was really great.

I am so happy I took the time to do this despite a full calendar!

I met Helene Gelderblom and her research group “UX in South Africa”.  They do research related to establishment of UX in organizations. This is indeed very related to the large majority of my research projects. See for example the blog posts on the SISU project and the blog post describing my PhD.

The whole visit was very well organized, and I had meetings with very many interesting people about their research in my areas such as research on eHealh, professional competencies, management and IT and why UX is not included in software development.

During the week, I did a seminar in one of their courses, see previous blog post. I also did an open seminar for the whole department, and participated in a workshop where we discussed their research studies. There were indeed many extremely relevant and interesting studies presented. I was impressed with the depth and quality of their work! This gave me inspiration, and also motivating to continue doing research in this area!! My research batteries are now fully charged again!

I also helped some with reviewing an application for funding. If funded the project would create a platform for their UX in South Africa work, including funding for traveling etc. I really hope that they are funded! They are so worth it given their ambitions and the quality of their work!

The visit resulted in a plan for a journal publication and trying to edit a special issue on our topic.

This weekend we also went on a safari together. The elephant experience was really something special. We go to see wild elephants just two meters away. Such an amazing experience!

UCD Blog 1: IT Projects are Seldom Successful, and IT for Work is Problematic 

The last few weeks I have done lectures related to IT and UCD in different organisations.  I will do a blog series about these lectures, and I will also write some words about the different aspects that have been discussed in these seminars. I start out by saying a few words abou the situation with IT projects and the quality of IT systems.

Many investigations conclude that a majority of IT projects fail and do not deliver on time, on budget and with a satisfactory result. According to the Standish group’s definition of success only around 30 % of all IT projects are successful. This means that around 70% of all IT projects deliver too late, with low quality or with unsatisfactory results. These numbers are really horrible!

If one look at the computer systems for work, the problems are obvious and enormous. This is for example reflected in the organisation Unionen’s reports on digital work environment for white collar workers in Sweden.  These reports are based on surveys to employees that are members of the union named Unionen. They are named in the following way (translated from Swedish), and I let the titles speak for themselves:

2008: Why does not it get any better ?
2010: A system error ?
2011: Always Connected – Never Relaxed.
2012: One step ahead and two steps back.
2014:- No Lighting in sight.

The IT systems in health care do not work any better, as can be discvovered when reading any newspaper. The headlines in the photo to this blog post show some of the recent ones that I could find, and here you see some of the problems in the headlines:

X-ray Care has Large Problems Due to New IT system

Mapping shows: Non-stable IT support in ambulance care

Windows update reason for enormous breakdown at the hospitals in Uppsala

Stockholm cleans up among health care systems – investing 200 millions

Collaborative Project with the Department of Finances

My research group, the  HTO group have just worked out a contract for a participatory research project with the finance department at Uppsala University.

In this project we will collaborate with the department of finances and do action reserach related to the following areas:

  • Usability mentoring about working in different roles with the aspect of digital work environments in mind.
  • Vision seminars about the future work with economy with a special focus on communication, development of competencies and deploymen of IT.
  • Education and the introduction of new IT systems.

We will be recruiting people to this project – so look out for the ad.We are looking for reserachers who have a PhD in areas related to digital work environments, and who are looking for a post doc position in a dynamic and growing reserach group.

🙂

Uppsala University Psychosocial Care Programme: U-CARE

Since not so long I am connected to “the Uppsala University Psychosocial Care Programme: U-CARE” as a member of an advisory group for the programme (programberedning). 

U-CARE is one of the Swedish government’s strategic research programmes and started in 2010. U-CARE studies how people with physical illnesses and their families are affected psychosocially, and what help they need to deal with various psychological problems. U-care are developing self-help programs for these disorders. They are also working to develop and continuously improve an Internet platform (U-CARE portal) through which it is possible to offer and study the effect of psychosocial support and psychological treatment.

You can find a very informing YouTube film about U-care here: https://media.medfarm.uu.se/play/video/embed/4392

A few weeks ago Helena Grönqvist visited our department to present their work with U-care and the how the programme has developed. You can find the seminar at the seminar series on “Current Challenges in Biomed-IT”

 

 

In this seminar Helena Grönqvist talks about that they forgot to include the users in a structured way when developing the U-care platform and that they ran into problems due to this mistake. She also talked of the problems they encountered using Scrum and Agile.

(Not including the users is really a very common mistake, and I have written a few papers on user are included in Scrum projects (You find some of them here at Reserach Gate). Such a common mistake!)

They have now changed their way of developing the U-care portal so they now have a cyclical process where the users are included and a part of the development.

Some of the challenges that U-care face in the future, according to Helena Grönqvist, are:

  • New technology changes what users want. Do they need to have the portal avaliable on different platforms?
  • Legislation and for example the professors’ privelege is a problem since they want U-care knowledge to be open access.
  • Implementation problems: It takes 17 years until their innovation is implemented in health care. How can we make things move faster?

I am really looking forward to continuing this work and I will keep you updated on the work. 🙂

My PhD thesis: Usability – Who Cares?

It’s been almost seven years ago that i defended my PhD that is a collection of eight papers related to the establishment of User Centred Design (UCD) in organisations when developing IT for work. You find the thesis in the university system Diva.

The fundamental idea on which the thesis work is is based is that future work situations, usability of systems, and users’ needs, must be considered when developing computer systems for work, in a manner which involves the entire organisation. Usability needs to be a part of, for example, the organisational culture, strategy documents, budgets, and methods for procurement. During my PhD work I participated in large action research (see blog posts about this) projects in eight different organisations.

It took me eight calendar years to finish my PhD education (!), but four years of full-time work since I got three of my children during this period. We have paid parental leave in Sweden, and I was off for a bit more than a year for each kid.  My supervisor Jan Gulliksen was very engaged, and the best supervisor I could get. Towards the end of the process I was a single mother of three boys, and with the support of my parents and collegues I managed to wrap things up.  This was not easy, as you can imagine. But somehow this very stressful life situation made the thesis writing the fun part of life! I honesly also think that the text became better since I just wrote down things I have learned without any aim of it being perfect or complete.

The thesis has three research questions:

  1. What happens when UCSD is introduced in a public authority?

I was also interested in the values and perspectives of people involved in the organisation as well as how UCSD can be introduced through new methods that affect the values and perspectives of the stakeholders including the system developers in the organisation. Therefore, this thesis also aims at understanding the following questions:

  1. How do perspectives of stakeholders in systems development projects affect the work with UCSD, usability and users’ health in the organisations studied?

The final question addresses the issues of how we can address the introduction of UCSD and change perspectives:

  1. What new methods can be used to introduce UCSD and to influence perspectives?

 

Many answers to the questions in the thesis are still valid today, and it is indeed very difficult to establish a human centred perspective and UCD in organisations. One can wonder why this is the case? Some of my findings presented in the thesis are presented as the problems with establishing UCD when developing computer systems for work:

Some organisational problems found in the study presented in papers Sandblad et al (2003) and Cajander (2007).

Organisational problem Description of problem
Focus on surveillance and control ·    Detailed supervision of work and work performance through computer system.

·    Some saw surveillance as contributing to productivity

·    Some expressed that surveillance implied mistrust from management level

Administrative work was regarded as trivial ·    It-professionals claim that they have a good picture of case handling and core business.

·    Administrative staff believe that their work is much more complex than is generally understood

 

Development of IT systems based on technology and process descriptions ·    Abstract models of work as flow diagrams guide the development of new computer systems.

·    This has lead to some inflexible computer systems that shape work

·    Situated nature of work (Suchman, 1987) not taken into account

IT-department and users – two separate worlds ·    Alienation between groups and little understanding of the needs of the other group
Usability in systems development ·    Little or no usability activities in system development.

·    Few usability goals in the requirements specification

·    Usability activities often limited to test

·    Usability perceived as a vague and unclear concept

I also explore some (at the time of the thesis) new methods to work with the establishment of UCD:

  • System developers doing field studies to see the context in which the computer systems they build is used.
  • Usability coaching
  • Usability Index
  • Management’s perspectives on usability
  • Collaborative policy writing

I hope that some of you who work with usability take the time to skim parts of the thesis!