Are End Users Really That Dumb? The Story of Alice.

This is a true story documented in The Super User (R)evolution by Michael Doane and yours truly.

Don’t just read it, take it as an action item to make sure this isn’t happening in your organization!

Alice (alias) was the senior experienced sales order processing specialist for a company that, in a survey regarding End User competency, rated its user group support “world class”. In order to dig deeper into a company with this claim, we traced system use on the part of End Users across their most important business process: order fulfillment turnaround. The company manufactured widgets for the high-tech IT market and was paid a premium for on-time and right quantities deliveries and their Just-in-Time customers’ factories had that dependency.

According to their sales order configuration, any order under $10,000 directly entered by a salesperson was automatically passed from sales to manufacturing and distribution, thus streamlining the orders-to-cash process. Alice was responsible for reviewing all orders over $10,000.

Since large orders are the life-blood of any company, it may be presumed that Alice would check these orders the instant they came in. Upon review, we found that Alice received no special prompting when a large order was in the queue. This would not have been a problem except that Alice did not check her incoming sales screen on a regular basis. Instead, she waited until the end of a working day to review and approve the largest orders her company had received that day. As she put it, “I found it was more time-efficient to do a batch run at the end of the day rather than one at a time.”

When she told us this, we asked, “When you received your user training, did they explain to you your role in fulfilling a business process?”

She replied, “I don’t know what you mean by business process.”

Thus, Alice had fulfilled her business function to the letter while holding up untold sales orders by up to one full day in the orders-to-cash business process. While Alice was trained to the functions of sales order monitoring, she was not aware of her role in the all-important business process.

It turned out that the large orders constituted 60% of the client revenues and that the average delay was a half working day. Thus 30% of the company business was delayed by up to one full day because of poor training. The algorithm we applied told us that the real cost was in the millions.

While you might naturally think that Alice should have been aware of this glitch, it should be noted that none of her coworkers, including her immediate supervisor, ever reviewed her role with her. The company that claimed its user base was “world-class” was actually “run-of-the-mill” with a collection of users who knew the features and functions but were clueless about the relative business processes. Should the design have included a prompt when a large order was awaiting review? Perhaps. But no prompt would have been needed if Alice had been clued in to her role in the business process. The elimination of such “prompt” or “alert” requirements is one excellent example of the virtues of teaching the business process to users.

The story of Alice illustrates the influences of a single misinformed user on the orders-to-cash business process. But Alice was only one of several End Users involved in the process. What if there are delays or errors made in any of these other process steps?

  1. Pricing
  2. Client master record creation or update
  3. Sales order entry – order acknowledgment
  4. Materials purchase request
  5. Purchase approval
  6. Sock receipt
  7. Production planning
  8. Production (itself a major business process)
  9. Packing & shipping
  10. Invoicing
  11. Payment posting

In this basic scenario, up to eleven End Users are responsible for effective business process fulfillment. Any one of them could be a second Alice.

So the answer to the title question… NOPE, they ARE NOT! End Users come to work every day wanting to do the same great job as you and me. But they can’t do it alone., supporting Business Process EXECUTION Excellence!

3 thoughts on “Are End Users Really That Dumb? The Story of Alice.

  1. Good day
    I am sitting in a Super User function. To me it is very important that end users understand the entire process. Not only the little part that is their function. If you do not understand the business process it becomes very difficult to do your job optimal. You have to understand what influence a mistake may have on a further function down the line in a process.
    A good example for me is the following: We follow the normal sales process but we use TD costing to pay our external transporters. If you make a mistake early in this process it will accept your transaction as valid, but it can cause an issue when transporters have to be paid. At the stage that the transporter must be paid a month has passed already. It is then to late to correct the problem that the user in the beginning of the process made.
    One can also not give proper support to end users if one does not know and understand the entire business process.

    • Hi Corne,
      First, let me thank you for your work as a Super User… it’s more critical than has been given credit in the past.
      Next, thank you for your comments on the post. You are spot on. Companies will see great returns on the investment of end to end process training. The problems from a lack of training are most often swept under the carpet and not attributed to the lack of proper training.
      With an increase in the voice of the users and Super Users, we can push this agenda in the right direction.

      Be SUPER!

  2. Pingback: “They’ll Figure It Out” is not a strategy | SAPinsight Blog

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