Navigating Nuances | The Key to Working Better

by Rich Ratcliff

Have you ever been in a situation where a seemingly insignificant issue caused a major setback in your work?

You’re in good company.

Recently a new Excel fix was rolled out. It was one of those boring announcements that most of us ignore. But the story behind the fix was epic.

This update to Excel stemmed from a major problem in the field of research on the human genome.  Some background- the human genome contains tens of thousands of genes.  Each one is given a name and an alphanumeric code (aka symbol) used by all scientists to coordinate research.  For years, research has been published in this field before someone realized that Excel had run an automatic data conversion which changed symbols into dates.  Once the error was found, past published papers were reviewed. In 2016, of 3597 published papers, 20% included files containing the Excel errors.

In 2020, this forced scientists to literally go in and rework the symbols for genes to work around the Excel problem. Three years later, Excel fixed the root problem with a new checkbox to toggle the automation on and off.

This got me thinking about how software companies, even giants like Microsoft, can sometimes overreach with their ‘helpfulness’.  There is a tendency especially with giant tech firms, to overlook and delay minor things that cause major problems for the user base.

At OpinionRoute, we fixate on these kinds of details.  Our team frequently engages in discussions about very subtle nuances in the process and consciously works to build software that shows it. Our UX talent often raises questions like, “How is this done outside our platform?” and “Can we make this more user-friendly?”  While the term “user-friendly” is often associated with colors, buttons, and clicks, it encompasses the overall experience a person has with software. Microsoft has a vast team of UX experts, yet for over 30 years, scientists struggled with what seemed like a helpful feature – Excel’s automatic conversion of fields that resembled dates. This is a stark example of how even large tech companies can overlook the finer details that matter to their users.

Any user of DIY sample technology knows exactly what this feels like.  Some of the built in “features” don’t make sense to the users.  We tend to believe this was an oversight.  I can’t image there was a conversation in a sample company like this:

“Hey, we have a great new feature idea. Let’s halt all studies at any time when the incidence rate dipes below estimate for any reason. That’s a good feature right?”  

Researchers who use DIY Sample Tools probably have a good sense of how those scientists felt trying to hack that helpful Excel “feature”.

The next time you find yourself frustrated with software that doesn’t quite understand your profession or workflow, consider how often this happens in your daily work. Our mission, prominently displayed on our first page, is to help you achieve “Smart Operations”.  This goal is only achievable when we closely listen to you, seek input from experts, analyze data, and pay meticulous attention to the nuances.

We definitely can’t help you sequence the human race.  But we understand that what Market Researchers do every day, and HOW you do it, is vital to you and your clients.

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