Bystander effect

Saturday, February 11th, 2006 at 11:41am

Earlier this week I decided that it was about time that I stopped reading fiction novels and resume working my way through my (growing) pile of ‘educational’ books as it had been at least six months (probably more based on this post from last April) since I read the first chapter of Emotional Design. I am nearing the end of the book and although it has has been pretty interesting so far there has not been much of immediate practical use. Fortunately I will eventually be able to apply what I have learnt as my subconscious processes all of the information over time.

One item that immediately stuck me was the discussion about bystander effect (Norman refers to it as bystander apathy) as we have been guilty of that at work a number of times, most recently a few weeks ago. What happens is that the project is well on its way to failure but even though each member of the project team has concerns (this was elicited afterwards) no one says anything, mostly because they feel that their concerns are unfounded if no one else is expressing them as well. Most of the time this has led to a product that is costly to maintain but in a few cases (where someone outside the project team says something) we have been able to fix most of the problems before it is rolled to production.

I found the description of how airline crews constantly question each others actions (they treat it as a mark of respect not lack of trust) to be very interesting as that is similar to the reviews we introduced into our processes. Unfortunately I think we consider it as a lack of trust as they don’t often get done which means the quality suffers and ultimately the project fails. (I consider them a failure as they are unmaintainable but others consider a project a success the moment it gets client sign-off in production.)

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