We know your job is hard, you don’t have to show us


Some years ago, I attended a internal presentation where one group was teaching another group how to use their new feature. This particular feature was a "Just plug in the things you want, click the Apply button, and sit back and relax while we figure out how to do what you asked" type of feature.

The presentation leader showed some examples of the feature in action, and gave some clear, concise guidance on how the feature should be used, guidance like "Use Pattern A when the user is faced with a choice between two clear options, but use Pattern B when the situation is more open-ended." So far so good.

The next part of the presentation was given to the feature's lead designer. The lead designer called out some design principles that the feature adhered to. For example, "Notice that we always position the Widget above the Frob."

But then the lead designer started getting into details that were basically a fifteen-minute way of saying, "Look how hard our job is." The designer called up the graphic design software, showing off the bazillion buttons and sliders and switches that the designers used to fine-tune the colors, gradients, and shading. The designer then went through the animation storyboard templates and showed how each of the carefully-plotted curves achieves the desired visual effect.

Once we reached the "Look how hard our job is" portion, the presentation ground to a halt.

The lead designer lost sight of the fact that all this information about how hard the feature was to design was not actionable. The attendees did not need this information in order to use the feature effectively. It was just showing off for the sake of showing off, and it basically wasted everybody's time.

Comments (10)
  1. EMB says:

    The worse part is when I go to a presentation like this and forget my knitting tools.

  2. j b says:

    And then again, you have these cases where you have prepared a ten-minute presentation of what the user really needs to be concerned about, but after two minutes, one of the hacker types in the audience insists, with vigour, to know all the nitty-gritty details of everything.

    Sometimes, you manage to postpone that sort of questions to the end, to allow everybody else to leave the room, but sometimes you try to cut people short by giving a simplified answer – and it doesn't work, the hacker insists on hearing more details, immediately, then and there… I've been through this uncountable times, even though when preparing my presentations, I do my uttermost to prevent it from happening again.

    So, it isn't always the presenter's fault.

  3. cheong00 says:

    I've once been in similar situation.

    There was a new application we're going to launch to users. Each of my team members are given 5 minutes to talk about the part we involved. For me, the function I'm responsible to is a simple "click this button and the program will generate Excel document filled with computed analysis data for you" one. So I have a hard decision – either give out a one minute talk that just hit the button and flip through the pages generated or make it a 30 minutes boring one involving going through the formulas on whiteboard.

    In the end I'd chosen to go with the 1 minute version, mostly because I don't enjoy give out talks at all. :P

  4. Anon says:

    For the record, most people DON'T understand that the job is difficult. They believe everything is magic.

    Until it comes to their own job, of course, which is the most difficult thing in the history of mankind.

    Sometimes it is important to remind them that no, those buttons don't just magically appear in the correct location.

  5. T. West says:

    I'd tend to agree with Anon here.  In many organizations, failing to ensure that people know your job is hard is a quick way to have the department removed or outsourced.

    I'm from a culture that considers blowing one's own horn rather gauche, but after being berated by management for 10 minutes because "it's not the job of management to ferret out how good you are.  It's your job to tell them!", I've learned that sometimes, you *do* need to explain how much work it was to make something easy to use.  Even if it's useless from a "use" stand-point.

    Of course, lights also went on when a co-worker pointed out that the simpler something is to use, the easier it is assumed to create.  He specifically made his interfaces slightly clunky to make his users appreciate the software more.  A little conversation with the users convinced me he was right.  The fact that they had to invest a little time and effort made the software more valuable in their eyes.  (All within reason, of course.)  Sadly for my plans of retiring early, I still can't bring myself to deliberately do so :-).

  6. TOC it to you says:

    @j b. I'm guessing you either never learned the fine art of telling someone to *off, or you actually love telling us the details.

  7. Anon says:

    @TOC it to you

    I'm guessing you never learned the fine art of customer retention! It is rarely possible to simply dismiss That Guy, because That Guy is going to go tell a ridiculous number of people about how rude your company was.

  8. Tim says:

    "it's not the job of management to ferret out how good you are.  It's your job to tell them!"

    Well, it really is management's job to figure how good you are. That's basically the main purpose of their job! That's some pretty egregious buck-passing. If you go by the quoted philosophy, you're just going to promote the people who are the best at self promotion.

  9. T. West says:

    > If you go by the quoted philosophy, you're just going to promote the people who are the best at self promotion.

    Which, if you read any sociology papers, is exactly what happens.

    Let's be honest, management is usually at the mercy of the techies to let them know who is doing what and how hard it is.  If the techies are concealing how much work they're doing or who are the real aces (i.e. being total team players), then how would management ever learn?  And if they don't know, they can make some very bad decisions.

  10. John Doe says:

    About the title, we don't know how hard your job is, but neither do we care, need to know or can do anything by knowing. So, you still don't have to spend our time showing us.

    If we need to know it's hard, just state so. Unless you're defending a thesis, you don't really have to prove/explain/expose it to everyone in the room.

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