Why a traditional IT project is like an elevator

I have never re-designed an elevator. But the elevators in the building where I work were recently redesigned at the same time that I was working on some website re-designs. It struck me how similar the process was.

The arrow points up; the elevator goes down

Since the upgrade of the three elevators in our building, the indicator triangle above the middle elevator has pointed up when the elevator is about to go down.

The analytics department studying the impact of the button pointing up may determine that the user experience hasn’t been greatly affected. Users, after all, are adaptable. Although a few people may have gone up when they intended to go down, they have adjusted their behavior. Essentially we have all learned that if we push the button to go down and the middle elevator arrives, it will point up but go down. New people may accidentally go the wrong way but they end up going down.

I think anybody in marketing would have no problems explaining that this was in fact a successful upgrade. People just needed some time to adjust to the new, superior interface. Any complaints are just resistance to change.

As a user of the elevator I want to get down five floors as quickly as possible so that I can go home

Experiencing the upgrade of the elevator as a user, I suppose the first thing that strikes me is the lack of consultation with me and – as far as I know – with any of the other users.

Had I been asked, I probably would have said that the elevators provide the core function that I want. They go up and down from one floor to another and I would want to retain that. However, they are prone to stopping in between floors. I think that is a bug that should be addressed since the people stuck in the elevators don’t like it. So if there is going to be an elevator re-design, making it more stable would be what the users would request.

So we got music

Music? Yes, it’s kind of tinny and it kicks in halfway through the journey. Nobody really wanted it and we don’t quite know what to do with it. I don’t know anybody who would have actually asked for the music. But it’s there. We can’t turn it off.

We got the arrow that points up

I did point out to the people working on the elevators that the arrow pointed the wrong way. They didn’t seem too interested. They were just doing what they were told. I suppose it wasn’t in the requirements. Nobody said that the arrows had to point the correct way. Now, the project has been delivered and that will have to go in a future phase. I don’t know if there is a future phase. It has been a few years now.

The doors open really slowly now

You can tell that the elevator has arrived at your floor because it stops. And then for a few seconds you begin to wonder if maybe it’s between floors because nothing is happening. Then just when you are ready to hit the panic button, the doors open slowly.

I don’t know if anybody has any metrics for how quickly the doors opened before the upgrade but they didn’t feel slow. Now they do. We can’t provide any data about the slowness so apparently we will just have to live with it.

So in short

The elevator upgrade is like a lot of traditional projects because:

  • Nobody consulted the users
  • New features were introduced that nobody wanted
  • Critical features that used to work no longer work
  • New issues were introduced that haven’t been fixed
  • The people who sponsored it consider it a great success
  • The work was all done at one time and wasn’t ever revisited.

We’re getting used to it.