Blast from the past: “Organisational Usability”

I’ve had to delve into the Internet Archive Wayback Machine – to about 2005/6 it looks like to find an old article I wrote on “Organisational Usability”.  I thought this was going to be big at the time.  In fact I think it is starting to be big:

See here for original article: 

…and the MWT Archive here:


Organisational Usability I

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In the hyper-capitalism of the Internet your web site’s usability can make or break it. A bunch of competitor web sites are only a click away; so if your site is too hard to use, ‘click away’ your visitors will. If the effectiveness of your web site depends on its usability, why not use that model for your entire company? 

One of the Core Concepts of ManageWithoutThem is Organisational Usability. Organisational Usability is a broad term, created specifically for the ManageWithoutThem model. We will be revisiting Organisational Usability in future articles.

Organisational Usability uses the analogy of an Internet web site for your entire organisation. It is the advent of the Internet (and other personal communication technologies) that has made apparent the need for organisational redesign – so the analogy is a good fit.

Your organisation exists as a resource to be used by your customers and your employees. That is not to say that your organisation should be left to the whim of your employees and customers. What we mean is that as your employees are serving customers or creating new value through projects, they are leveraging the resources of your company. In this sense, your customers and employees are ‘using’ your organisation.

The effectiveness and efficiency in which the resources of the organisation can be leveraged is the Organisational Usability of the organisation.

And now some examples of the Web Site analogy in action… 

Link to Homepage

One of the first lessons you learn in any web site usability course is that each page should have a link to the home page. This is because users of your web site might not enter the site from your homepage. Users need a way of exploring other pages of your site and other information or services you might offer.

As you gain experience with web site development you start to realise that the ‘link to homepage’ approach is an inadequate solution to the problem of mid-site entry into a web site. In Organisational Usability this is the equivalent of having to call the CEO to get something done!

Links to Related Services

Your organisational will have high Organisational Usability if it has a more sophisticated strategy than ‘ask the CEO’ whenever somebody finds itself lost within it.

Departments, particularly shared service providers, should be aware of any services that are related to their offerings. This will include relationships up and down the value chain, as well as peer relationships. This will also include relationships outside your company. Your IT department should know about the IT industry. Your Accounting department should know about the Accounting industry. Your Procurement department should know about the Procurement industry. (etc)

Pre-emptive Processes

When somebody visits your web site you have no idea how much of their purchase they have already completed. The web site user might need background information on how to start looking for products in your industry. Alternatively, the web site user might already have a part number and their credit card ready.

The importance of this to Organisational Usability is that the customers and employees of your organisation may wish to enter your processes from a point other than the beginning.

Equally as important, your employees and customers will be of varying levels of sophistication. Some may want you to manage things for them; but others (probably the best ones) will want to manage things themselves.

Still more sophisticated, might be those that want to ‘outsource’ the activity you provide for them – with very high expectations of service and quality. It is also likely that users have entered your site through a Portal of some kind.

For these reasons your customers (or employees from other departments) may not always want your Project Management services. Your customers may want to define their relationship with your process themselves.

Process in context

Your web site might have the most easy-to-use ordering system ever created, but it is not very helpful if your customers can’t get to it from the product they wish to buy. For this reason, the practice of placing ‘Buy Me’ and ‘Go to Checkout’ buttons beside each item is well established.

As far as Organisational Usability is concerned it should be understood that the context of day-to-day business will never be your companies business management system (which lists all of your organisation’s processes) – and you don’t want it to be.

If you want employees and customers to use particular processes you should think very carefully aboutwhen they will need to use those processes. Process owners should ask themselves: What would an employee be doing at the time that they should use my process? Then, every effort should be made to make the process visible from that context.


For those that don’t know, ‘frames’ (or ‘framesets’) is the term used when building web sites to describe a page made up of multiple sub pages viewed together. Frames are often seen as poor web site design because you don’t know if you are viewing a page as a stand-along page or if you are viewing the page in the context of the rest of the frameset.

In terms of Organisational Usability frames represent the other things that your employee or customer knows when they use your processes. The fact is they may know more or less than you expect.

Markets: Employees and Customers Converge

There is constant reference to Employees and Customers within this article. The traditional view of organisations requires you to view these as fundamentally different groups. Once you start viewing your organisation from the perspective of it’s Organisational Usability your will see these two groups converge.

After all if your company’s web site really does provide useful information about your organisation your employees will also visit it regularly.



Digital Transformation blog at SMS


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