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Positive Reinforcement

February 23, 2009

I’m keen for my application to keep the employee interested and involved in their job, perhaps even in the gaming sense I’m keen for my application to reward the employee for their positive behaviour. Now while this could sound rather sinister, as does the creepy behavioural title of this post, that’s not my intention, so I’ll try to explain.

In my previous job we used an ageing piece of software called ClearDDTS to track defects and change requests. This had a very simple feature whereby it emailed you when the status of the defect or change-request you were working-on changed. So if the defect went through test successfully, you’d get a mail, or if the defect was finally closed once the customer had approved it, you’d get a mail. The email was useful for example if your defect had been re-opened so you knew to look at it again, but other than that I feel the potential was under-utilised.

I’d like to use similar techniques in my application, but not only to keep people informed of the status of their previous (or upcoming) work, but also to keep people interested. Ideas from modern social media crop-up here too – these days, staff are often spread around the globe and I know only too well how annoying it can be receiving an email or a call from someone you’ve never even heard of, asking you why something you’ve done works the way it does.

Before I go any further, I’m not building a social networking tool, nor am I building a defect tracking system. The software I’m focused-on is designed in part (it has many facets) to aid communication and collaboration within large enterprises, and part of the purpose is to track work done on (and changes made to) software.

As some examples of the kinds of things I’m thinking of: I’d like to see the user informed when work they’ve done goes into test, I’d like them to know who is doing that testing, what that person’s bio is and what they look like. I’d like to see the user informed when the work they’ve done is delivered to the customer, I’d like them to see any customer feedback, a log of what occurred during the installation and who performed it. I’d like to see the user informed when someone else in their team takes their changes to incorporate into their own work. I’d like the user to be able to see the work of those around them, so they can understand at a glance how it impacts them. Most of all I want this visualised in a gui. Part of this is a news feed (how very Facebook), but I’d also like a visual representation of it.

I’ve been thinking about this on and off for a while and it led to a 4:30 or so wake-up one morning with my brain buzzing randomly about the standard Organisation Chart. That led to these thoughts. The video may be slightly jokey, but my point is serious. The Org Chart tells management how many people they manage, but it doesn’t describe to the individual their daily communication, or their responsibilities, or their worth. Let’s face it, if you’re at the bottom of an Org Chart, where most are, you’d be forgiven sometimes for thinking that the work you’re doing is just a drop in the ocean.

If the Org Chart demonstrates to you how insignificant you are, how much benefit would there be to providing an employee with an ever-changing, constantly up-to-date diagram of where they sit in their organisation? What impact does what they do have? Lots, generally. When you fix a defect in a piece of software, how many other people work with what you do? How many people are impacted before it goes out the door? The fact that you introduced a bug, or forgot to document something clearly, how many people did this negatively impact? What were their names? What do they look like? Where did they go on holiday? (You can mention this when you contact them to apologise.) How much better would I feel if I could see visually the good that came of what I did today, and when it’s negative, perhaps it would improve me as an employee to know.

Some of this wasn’t a problem in the ‘old days’ when people generally only worked with others in the same room, but large companies now are run across many countries, and many of us work daily with two or three other countries. I think this is genuinely great for the individual, it’s one of the most wonderful things about my previous job, all the people from so many different countries that I worked with, it’s just that companies haven’t yet evolved to take any other advantage of this other than the reduced cost.

The Org Chart has no place in my application, but I feel a visual representation is important. I’m imagining a diagram that shows you, and your work, and your links to your peers (whether local or remote). I’d like this to be active and clickable so the user can drill down, or scroll around and find out a little more about their peers – who they are and what they are working on.

To my mind this will give an employee not only an idea of what is upcoming for them and what has happened to the work they’ve done previously, but it will also give them an understanding of what is going on around them, and a sense of worth and position in their organisation. So while the title of the post could be seen as creepy, I’d rather the emphasis was on the word positive rather than the word reinforcement, and the ideas thought of as a benefit to the everyday enjoyment of the employee, as well as, as a benefit to the organisation they work for.

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2 Comments
  1. Glad to see the video didn’t look like you made it at 04:30 after stepping straight from your bed!

    Nice concept though, to show the value or importance of the software that one works on – both in a positive, feel-good way and also as a cautionary approach to risk-averse hacking that might lead to bugs.

  2. Matt permalink

    I was sorely tempted to record at 04:30 believe me, but I decided against risking waking my partner up. Would have been funny though!

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