Weeknotes #10: July 27–31st, 2020

This was a fun week! I got to dive in and speak to people about their jobs and what they’re trying to get done, what’s important to them, and where things are less-than-ideal. In short, some of the foundational work that feeds good decisions!

The Transport Canada mandate is “make our transportation system safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible.” Oversight is a major component of that, and we have inspectors that focus on aviation, rail, marine and road safety and security (as well as things like the transportation of dangerous goods). This is important stuff, and we want to ensure that our oversight staff (inspectors and others) have the tools they need to do their work safely, confidently and efficiently.

In order to serve them best, we have to have a sense of what their job entails, end-to-end. This week I got the chance to connect with a half-dozen inspectors involved in marine, rail and aviation safety to learn more about the work they do, and what tools, people and environments they interact with.

One inspector shared something that’s stuck with me ever since:

A statement from an inspector. He stated that an inspection is one or more of the following: interviewing, reviewing (documentation), observing, and testing

I thought this was an elegant way to think about the work they’re doing, and it occurred to me that ux researchers could also be considered inspectors.. those are the activities I do as well! Although the purpose seems different.

Although at this 10,000 ft level these are some very common activities, the details of a particular inspection make all the difference.

I’m still working on how best to share what I’ve learned this week, but one thing that’s been on my mind is “the inspector’s bag.” In my mind, it’s a solid bag, like you’d imagine a doctor that does home visits may carry. In that bag is everything they need to bring with them to conduct an inspection.

DocCheck Doctor’s bag

There are some generic materials all inspectors may need, but there’s also differences depending on the circumstances. Some marine surveyors I spoke with mentioned hardhats, safety googles and safety shoes. An aviation safety inspector mentioned a reflective vest and ear protection.

As we’re looking to help our inspectors, we can either give them MORE to put in their bag, or we can try to take things out of the bag. We may identify new tools that could help them, but what’s the trade-off? Are we adding more weight (and for some inspectors who are walking around, this is a literal ‘added burden’), or are we replacing existing items in the bag?

There are a lot of niche products and services in the tech industry: products that do one thing, very well. But if we want to replace an item in the bag and not just add to the users’ load (physical and cognitive), we need to really be sure we understand what the user values about their existing solution. Some of the attributes may not be immediately obvious to the outside eye.

An aside: as I’m writing this, I’m reflecting on the four forces of progress. What is compelling or hindering someone from making a change? For more, see http://jobstobedone.org/

The four forces either encouraging or discouraging progress

One beautiful example from this week: I was speaking to a marine inspector, who said he’s still using carbon paper for his reports. Carbon paper, y’all! But he explained: he needs to provide the ship captain with a copy of the report at the end of the inspection, and that ship may be about to leave Canadian waters. So although there may be newer (better?) ways to document findings, he needs a solution that doesn’t just document but also provides physical evidence of the findings. Carbon paper does that for him.

When we’re looking to replace solutions, we need to solve for all the ways it helps the user get their job done. Otherwise, we’re not truly offering them a solution.

But! This doesn’t mean we should just blindly offer feature parity to round out our offering. Please, don’t! Ideally, you would want to try to streamline the user experience. Can you simplify the number of steps? Eliminate barriers? Automate things so the user doesn’t have to expend that energy at all?

Because at the end of the day, we should be trying to reduce the load of that big ole bag we expect our inspectors to carry. To reduce that burden so they can focus more on doing their work, and less on how to carry, balance and maintain the tools they need to do so.

Sr UX Specialist with Canada Revenue Agency, former web dev and product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Plant-powered marathoner. Cat mom.