Failure demand and value demand

Today’s lesson is not about how long it takes to drive to Newquay and why it rains when I am driving but not when my partner is. That would be yesterday’s lesson (and that would explain why I didn’t post yesterday). The surf was quite impressive in Newquay. As always, I wish that I’d gone down into it rather than stayed up on Pentire Point with the wind trying and failing to get me off my feet and face-first into the gloopy mud.

Today’s lesson is from John Seddon, and it’s about what work is worth doing. He splits the work people have to do into value-demand and failure-demand. Value-demand is when your customers/clients/ citizens ask you to do something for them that you want.
Failure-demand is when your c/c/cs ask you to fix something for them that they didn’t want.
So, selling someone a piece of software that does the job they want is a value-demand. Responding to a support call is a failure-demand.
Registering their details, is that a failure-demand or a value-demand? I think it’s a failure-demand. Most customers don’t want to fill out their details unless they can see the point. Yes, they’re happy to provide a delivery address, that enables you to give them something they want. They may or may not be happy to register the software, depending whether they can see the benefit. They want to provide the minimum of information to do so. I.e, if you hang your marketing questionnaire on the registration document, they want want to complete it. And every time they make a mistake filling out a form and you ask them for more information, that’s a failure demand. You’re not asking them to fix their problem, you’re asking them to fix your problem.

Back in the days when I used to train people in using software, we used to provide a questionnaire so that people could comment on the training. At the end of it was a comment box, asking people what sort of training they would like. Some people wanted online training that they could access as and when they wanted. Some people wanted a member of staff to come and sit with them and help them through the problem. They didn’t want training, they wanted a good fairy.

There is a question. If someone wants help are they asking:
1. Please can you make this problem go away (that’s a failure-demand)
2. Please can you show me what to do in this situation (that’s a value-demand)

Many of our current problems are because people are in situations that they don’t want to be in in the first place. The usability problem is how do you design things so that they help people not to be in the problem in the first place?

Sometimes that’s done by changing the product’s interface. Sometimes it’s done by changing its function. And sometimes it’s done by changing its marketplace. The water pouring down on the West of England this December would be highly desirable in other circumstances. Unfortunately, the only desirable aspect I can think of at the moment involves a steep slope and a mud-slide (followed by a bath, a fire, and a lot of washing).

The smell of brandy lingers

Coming down to the kitchen this morning, there was a definite odour of brandy. This may have been from the left-over Christmas pudding (flamed in brandy) or the sundry articles involved in flaming. The new Christmas experiment this year was playing Snapdragon. We didn’t research how to play, so merely put raisins on a plate, poured flaming brandy over them and then snatched raisins out of the flame. There was a certain excitement in watching raisins re-ignite. Apparently we should have put raisins in a bowl of brandy and then set light to that. Oh well, maybe next year. We still have some brandy left, and it’s not high on my list of liquids for easy drinking.

I am feeling slightly jaded this morning, and pondering the pleasures of doing things that are difficult and entertaining and challenging. Playing music and singing, well, all the arts in fact, are not improved by making them user-friendly. User-friendliness is about tools rather than skills.Many human pleasures involve setting oneself challenges and putting barricades in one’s way (otherwise called rules).

I went to the public library before Christmas to stock up on reading material for the festive period. I was very entertained when I realised that my heart had leapt in excitement – not from the new Barbara Kingsolver or Martin Amis, but when I saw a newly returned copy of John Seddon’s Systems Thinking in the Public Sector. Just what I needed. Admittedly I’ve read the new Barbara Kingsolver and am in the middle of Rupert Everett’s second volume of autobiography, but I’m sure that once the mince pies have been digested, I’ll be telling all my friends about how to set up systems in a better way – because usability applies to organisations as well as objects. Yes, my new year’s resolution – do a blog post on systems in my company and how to improve them.