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D3. Current Workload, Priority of Work, and Opportunity Costs Knowledge work often involves pools of collected work items that can be generated by workers for themselves or can arrive via structured handoffs and other communications. Product teams can envision features that could support workers as they strive to understand their current workload, assign priorities, and then focus their efforts on certain items.

How might your team’s functionality concepts allow targeted knowledge workers to assess the workload that is currently “on their plate,” prioritize what they want to accomplish, hide or remove what they do not want to address, and work on selected items until their “plate is clean”?

I need to check on the “fresh” data coming from our lab to see what my upcoming analysis workload is looking like...

More specific questions for product teams to consider while envisioning applications for knowledge work:

Examples from three knowledge work domains: A scientist views a list of all of the experiments that have been recently run for a clinical study, narrowing in on the items that require her approval in order for their results to be copied to her lab’s analysis database. She scans the list and chooses to review samples from the most interesting experimental group first (see illustration). A financial trader visually scans a list of offers in his trading application. The trading day is almost over, and since he has been repeatedly distracted by some interesting incoming offers, he decides to work only on trades that match the priority list that his group made this morning, before the markets opened. An architect has been assigned a long list of areas in a building model that she needs to detail out within her building modeling application. She decides to get started on those areas of the draft model that other members of her team will be working spatially adjacent to soon, leaving a number of messages and notifications unviewed until she has made some initial progress. Knowledge workers are often passionate about accomplishing certain goals in their chosen vocations. These goals can range from macro, extended visions to micro, day to day intents. When faced with time limitations and decisions about what work to accomplish next, individuals may prioritize their options and weigh the opportunity costs of taking certain courses of action (D1, D4). Alternately, they may choose their next task based on proven heuristics. Product teams can envision functionality concepts that could valuably support awareness and critical decision making around users’ workloads. For example, interactive applications can generate tailored information representations (E3, E4, F) that organize current work items (C5). These manipulable views (I2, I3) can increase the perceptual salience of time sensitive items and demote lower priority options based on their defined states (B5, B6). Once users choose a work item to pursue, applications can provide them with direct pathways to relevant actions (C4). When product teams do not actively consider how their application concepts could influence knowledge workers’ management of their own workloads, resulting tools can force users to spend additional time planning and tracking their efforts (D2). Without appropriate information displays, workers may overlook high priority needs, potentially resulting in timing errors and lost opportunities (C9, G3). Similarly, coop- erative and collaborative work can also be affected when multiple workers struggle to understand the scope of work items that require, or could benefit from, their attentions (B7, C7, G4). See also: A, D, E, G5, I4, K13, M1, M4


How do targeted individuals currently assess their workload while accomplishing the practices that your team is striving to mediate?

Clinical Scientist

How do knowledge workers and organizations keep track of the larger picture of their collective activities, instead of focusing only on granular tasks? Where do various work items arrive from? How do colleagues and collaborators stay aligned around each others’ progress?

So I’m choosing to view all of this data by whether it’s been approved yet...

How do workers establish priorities? How do they assess the potential opportunity costs of addressing certain work items at the expense of others? Do these decisions follow established procedures or are they typically based more on impromptu judgments? What breakdowns currently occur in these decision making tasks? Could these problems present opportunities for your team’s product? What factors can change the priority of a work item? How do people “shift gears” to address high priority work? What currently happens to completed items in order to remove them from workers’ proverbial “plates” so that they can focus on needs that have yet to be addressed?

And there’s a few new items here that the tool is calling out as needing my approval before they can go on to our ve�ed, high quality analysis database...

What larger design trends and advanced analogies to other domains could influence your team’s ideas about thoughtfully facilitating these decisions and actions? What functionality concepts might your team sketch with the goal of supporting workers’ existing practices for assessing workload, assigning priorities, and understanding opportunity costs? What additional challenges and possibilities for managing workload could your computing tool present? How might volumes of data be meaningfully displayed in ways that could allow workers to better focus their time and attention? How could defined object states serve as a basis for clearly communicating present work needs?

I’m excited to get a first look at data from this one experimental group, so I’m digging into that one first...

How might your team’s ideas about comprehensible onscreen workloads relate to your other design responses for supporting work in the context of volumes of information? How might your application concepts provide additional support in these areas for an aging knowledge workforce? Do you have enough information to usefully answer these and other envisioning questions? What additional research, problem space models, and design concepting could valuably inform your team’s application envisioning efforts?

Working through Screens (Tabloid Size)  
Working through Screens (Tabloid Size)  

Working through Screens: 100 Ideas for Envisioning Powerful, Engaging, and Productive User Experiences in Knowledge Work This heavily illus...