osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Of Orange Juice and MIS (long)

So Becky and I were trying to explain to Aaron why Mommy is so good at tech support and why the hospital people get on so well with her as opposed to the rest of the MIS Department. We came up with the following analogy that illustrates why users and their MIS departments rarely get on well. I think it has broad applicability.

Fred wants to wash his car. He is told he needs to go to the "fluid dispenser desk" to get what he needs to wash his car. Fred doesn't really know what the "fluid dispenser desk" does or what he can get from it or why he should want to use it, because he has always washed his car by spitting onto a tissue to remove any bird poop on his windshield. But his friends assure him that if he goes to the "fluid dispenser desk" and gets them to help him, he will be able to get his entire car squeaky clean -- and in much less time than the old "spit on tissue and target bird poop" method.

So Fred asks his friend how this works. Friend explains that when he was thirsty, he went to the fluid dispenser desk and got orange juice. He drank it and it was great. Now he drinks orange juice all the time and not only does it satisfy thirst, it also gives him vitamin C.

Convinced by this recommendation. Fred goes to the fluid dispenser desk. It is a mysterious place filled with all manner of vaguely threatening plumbing and fluids. Around Fred, several fluid dispensers are doing mysterious things, producing all kinds of different color fluids, talking a mysterious "fluid shop talk," and making jokes about users who are too stupid to find the tap for pineapple juice so they get tomato juice all over the place. Hahahahaha. Fred, of course, is not even sure what pineapple juice and tomato juice are, or what of these vague fixtures is a "tap" or whether it might start spraying things all over the place. But Fred doesn't want to be laughed at.

So when a fluid dispenser -- we'll call him "Jack" -- looks up and asks Fred "So, what can we do for you?" Fred falls back on the one thing he remembers from his friend. "I want some orange juice."

"O.K.," says Jack the Fluid Dispenser. "Homestyle, regular, one of the ones that are vitamin enriched, or the low acid?"

"Which one is better?"

"That depends on what you're looking for. Some people really like the texture of Homestyle. It has lots of pulp, which can be very satisfying if you like that sort of thing. People worried about their health like the vitamin enriched stuff -- but I don't really think it's necessary. Of course, once you go with vitamin enriched, you need to decide whether you want 'healthy kids' or immuno-boost or one of those other special blends. Most people usually try the regular."

"The vitamin enriched stuff sounds too complicated for me. And I really like textures. My car has vinyl seats, and the texture stuff sounds good for them. I'll take the homestyle."

Jack wonders why this fluid end user has decided to talk about his car seats, but what the heck. That is not Jack's problem. It takes all kinds, and this guy probably likes to talk about his car seats. Jack's job is to dispense fluids! Whatever fluid you want, Jack and his fellow fluid dispensers are totally there for you! They are the best fluid dispensers on the block, capable of whipping up any combination of fluid substances -- even those "open fluids" that are all the rage these days with the smart drinkers, where you give away the bottles so they can mix their own drinks afterwards. So Jack gives Fred a carton of homestyle orange juice and sends Fred home. He gives Fred a number to call and in case Fred as any problems.

An hour later, Fred calls in a panic. "Something's wrong with the Orange Juice you gave me!"

Jack sighs. This happens all the time with new customers. "Can you tell me what's wrong?"

"It's not working right."

"Did you shake it up first before opening it?"

"You never told me to shake it up first!"

Jack lets out a bigger sigh. "I'm sorry, I should have said something. But I point out it says very clearly on the carton 'shake well before using'." (Jack then IM's the rest of the fluid dispensers that this is another case of 'RTFC' and why can't fluid users just learn to actually read the labels to find their own sell by dates and nstructions on whether or not to shake before using.)

A few minutes later, Fred calls back. "How long are you supposed to shake it?"

Jack: "Just give it a few quick shakes."

Fred: (Who has never had a fluid in his life that needs shaking) "Well *how* am I supposed to shake it?"

Jack: (getting more impatient) "Look, just turn the carton up and down a few times. And make sure you close the top first or the orange juice will spill all over the floor."

Fred: (also getting more impatient and frustrated) "I know that! I'm not a total moron."

Jack is actually thinking "Could have fooled me, not even knowing how to shake homestyle orange juice" but he contents himself with saying "just trying to be helpful."

A little while later, Fred calls back: "It's still not working. I tried shaking it exactly like you said. You must have given me the wrong orange juice!"

Jack: "I gave you the orange juice you asked for."

Fed: "Well it's not working, and you're supposed to be the expert! I had a friend who got orange juice from your place a little while ago, and it worked for him. So it must be your fault. Let me speak to your manager!"

Jack sighs and passes the phone to Amanda. "Hello," says Amanda. "I understand you're having some problem with your orange juice."

"Yes. And I've already tried shaking it!"

"I see. Well, can you describe the problem."

The problem, of course, is that Fred has tried to use homestyle orange juice to wash his car. But since Fred thinks you are supposed to use homestyle orange juice to wash his car, he does not understand that is the problem. Nor does it occur to Amanda that Fred might be trying to do something as ridiculous (to her) as trying to wash a car with orange juice -- let alone homestyle. If the customer asked for orange juice, the customer wanted orange juice. And fluid dispensers prides itself on giving customers what they ask for. So instead, Fred tries to descrbe the problem in a way he thinks is useful and helpful.

"It seems to be making things worse, not better. It's all blobby and sticky."

"Well, blobby is part of 'homestyle.' Maybe you would do better with the regular. Or, if you want, we just got in some low acid orange juice you could try."

"Is the low acid stuff better?"

"Some of our customers like it better. Some say they really can't tell the difference."

"How much more expensive is the low acid stuff?"

"About a $1/gallon more expensive."

Fred thinks about it and then decides to IM his friend who recommended fluid dispensers in the first place. "What kind of orange juice did you get?"

"Regular," says Fred's friend, having no idea that Fred just tried to wash his car with orange juice.

Fred goes back to Amanda on the phone. "O.K., I'll try it with regular."

So Fred goes back to fluid dispensers and picks up several gallons of regular orange juice. He definitely gets the feeling that -- although everyone is polite enough -- they think he is a total moron. When he gets home, he carefully shakes the carton (even though the carton does not say "shake before using" and regular orange juice does not require shaking) and starts using it to wash his car. While it is still sticky and makes the car smell like oranges, it works better than homestyle., and vaguely better than spitting on tissue. Fred decides that rather than complain and go through the whole business with fluid support again, he will just stick with regular orange juice. But he is really not very happy.

When he comes in for more orange juice, Jack asks if the regular orange juice is working for him. "Well," says Fred, "it's working better, but I'm still not sure it's what I need." Trying to be helpful, Jack offers Fred a large brochure entitled "Even A Moron Like You Can Get A Lot Out of Orange Juice." The book has many useful and well presented facts about orange juice and how to select one that works with your diet. But Fred cannot find anything in there about how to use orange juice to wash your car. Fred thanks Jack for the book but says it wasn't really that helpful. This confirms for Jack that Fred is a total moron, because if the "Even a Moron Like You Series . . . ." is too much for you, then you are just hopeless.

Eventually, however, things get so bad in Fred's car that he can't take it anymore. He calls Fluid Dispensers, demands to speak to Amanda's boss, and starts ranting and screaming about how this stupid orange juice has made it totally impossible to get any work done and he was doing better just spitting on tissues. Amanda's boss, Tyrone, tries to calm Fred down and get Fred to explain things to him. But most of what Fred says makes absolutely no sense to Tyrone. "What do you mean it makes your seat sticky and orange? It shouldn't be doing that." "I know," says Fred. "But your people said I was shaking it wrong!" "Well, I see you're a regular customer, you don't need to shake it." "I only shake it because you guys told me to shake it!" (At which point Jack and Amanda explain that they only recommended shaking at the beginning when they used homestyle, and was it their fault they neglected to say "don't bother shaking anymore" when they switched, particularly because it does not say anything on the carton about shaking? Tyrone nods sympathetically.)

While Fred is frustrated with Amanda and Jack, they are equally frustrated with Fred. "We asked him if he was still having problems, and he said it was better. And he kept buying more orange juice! Why did he keep buying more orange juice if he was having problems? And I still can't figure out what his problem is or why this is so hard. You just pour the thing in a glass and drink. Heck, if you want, you can even drink out of the carton. Hey, maybe he is drinking out of the carton and spilling it?"

"Mr. Fred, are you drinking out of the carton?"

"No, I pour it directly from the carton. Why would I drink it out of the carton?"

Eventually, assuming Fred does not give up entirely, Fluid Dispensers agrees to come out for a "site visit". At which point, the fluid dispensers react with shock "WHAT ARE YOU DOING WASHING YOUR CAR WITH ORANGE JUICE?"

And Fred, who has faithfully done everything the fluid dispensers have told him, responds very angrily "BECAUSE YOU GUYS GAVE ME ORANGE JUICE! And, yes, I'M STILL SHAKING IT BEFORE USING IT!"

Ultimately, the fluid dispensers provide Fred with some water and liquid soap. They then return to their shop and tell everyone what an absolute moron Fred was for trying to wash his car with orange juice. Fred goes and tells his friends what idiots the fluid dispensers are, because they gave him orange juice to wash his car, strung him along forever, and then claimed it was all his fault for going to them in the first place.

And that is why MIS departments and the other operational units in your organization rarely get along.

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