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At my job we have several pieces of equipment that move from on e place to another. Our small group of employees need to find where a piece of equipment is or was last placed. I wrote a helpdesk application that also tracks equipment check in's Each piece of equipment has a QR-Code on it that when scanned by an smartphone launches a mobile site that asks for the person's name and location. This check-in is then stored and accessible on the site at any time to see when it was last checked in. It also includes a helpdesk trouble ticket system so we can document any issues the equipment has. (More details on the system).

I was under the impression that this system was easy to use. I've asked the co-workers who all replied with rave reviews and excitement. My boss also is very happy to have the system in place.

The problem is that when you go to find a piece of equipment it is never in the place the system tells you it was last check-in. The time stamps are usually a month old and if not then it was checked in by myself and not someone else in the department. Meaning I am the only one using it. I have discussed this with my co-workers who say they try to use it but sometimes forget. And they aslo complain that it is not enforced in policy.

I discussed the use with my boss because we are responsible for knowing the location of all equipment at any given time and often loose items. He responded by making it a policy and stating at meeting "we should all be using this equipment tracker". However after several weeks the activity on the system is still wrong with either only myself using it or a few co-workers here or there. Equipment is moved and not checked-in and I find it was my boss who moves the equipment. The problem exists that we can not keep track of equipment even when our own boss makes the policies and doesn't follow them.

So my question is it more likely that the design of the system causes people to avoid using it? If so how do other companies / projects use issue tracking and equipment tracking and it works? How do you make it easier so people will use it?


Is it more likely that it is a lack of accountability and policy enforcement?

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A lot of times people don't really believe a policy is a policy until someone experiences a consequence. Maybe you need to not let anyone have equipment until they check it out, and the person who checked it out is responsible for also checking it in. –  Amy Blankenship Nov 3 '12 at 19:25
This is somewhat a poll type question - it is difficult to see what the specific problem you are trying to answer. Are you looking to find out why your system is not used? Or are you looking to find out how to get it used? –  enderland Nov 4 '12 at 1:09
As interesting as it may be to get the why it would be more useful to learn the how. As I'm more a programmer then designer learning the design of human interaction is invaluable to me. –  Sukima Nov 4 '12 at 3:09
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closed as too localized by Jim G., Justin Cave, Yannis, Pawel Brodzinski, Sahil Mahajan Mj Nov 5 '12 at 6:09

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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

What is easier for people to do than use a system is to not use it.

The fact is that use of this system is something new - something that was not ever done before and people will do what they are used to.

What seems to be missing here is something between the policy and the reality - a process and consequences for not following it.

The process can be simple - whenever an item moves it must be scanned. If an item was moved without scanning the person responsible needs to feel the consequences (the first few times this may need to be public - so others see and learn).

Another option is to have a central location where items are taken from and returned to is required, with a check-in/check-out requirement for doing anything in this location (enforced by it being a locked room with only the manager and yourself having the key).

What the actual process and consequences are is something your manager needs to decide on.

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I like this answer because it covers the gamut of what I was looking for. To address a few point here, This is not something new it was a system I implemented long before the employees came to work fr us and long before my boss was employed with the department. There is no home location and equipment is basically taken from current location to a new one as anyone deems needed. Meaning employee A can in fact steal it so to speak. All equipment is shared and the tracker is used so we know who to ask who used it last. –  Sukima Nov 4 '12 at 3:19
I can aslo look into developing the system to have a check out system much like library books. However I was concerned that if management (I.E. my boss) can't provide adequate accountability or consequences nor to be bothered to use the system he wanted me to implement then any change on my part still would not get people to want to do something any more then nothing as that is the easiest thing to do. Again it seems in my department it is easy to establish rules and policies but even easier to ignore them (both employee and management). Thank you for your clear perspective to this discussion. –  Sukima Nov 4 '12 at 3:22
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You might need to make some changes to the procedures and the software.

  • Can the scanner be at the work station? Then when they check-in a piece of equipment the location is known without them needing to enter that information.
  • What is the length of time a piece of equipment is typically used? Nobody is checking the logs if it moves every couple of days but there are no check-ins for a month.
  • Is it possible for somebody at the end of the day to scan all the equipment locations into the system. This might be faster then asking all the equipment to be returned at the end of the shift.
  • Can a RFID chip system be used?
  • Is the normal procedure to return the equipment back to a central location, or does employee B steal it from employee A when they aren't looking. Is there a way for employee A to use the software to say I no longer have equipment X. If it isn't checked-in in a reasonable amount of time the software could then send management an alert.

What was wrong with the old procedures? What solution was the scanner trying to solve? Don't make the new procedure / policy to use the scanner. Change how the entire process works.

EDIT: Regarding "how does management enforce policy when the enforcers fail to hold themselves accountable"

This sounds like you are mad at the new boss. It may be that the issue might be you. There are several possibilities that need to be addressed.

1) The procedures to maintain accountability might be overkill.

  • You want to use the scanner for accountability, but not to make it easier for employees to do their job. If they can't find a piece of equipment they waste time searching for it, but that doesn't appear in your question.
  • It seems like the new boss doesn't want to enforce these rules.
  • The question is then will his boss be upset if these rules are not followed?
  • Or should the rules be changed to drop the check-in requirement.

2) The accountability is a real requirement.

  • The penalties to your boss or the company should be a real driver.
  • The boss doesn't see it that way.
  • If you can't convince the boss that the requirement is real you might need to work having him change the requirements to what he believes is required, then see what happens.

3) Your role in this process. - If you are tasked with accountability, then spend time developing the mechanisms to not allow 30 days between check-ins without it being noticed. Make it possible for you to check-in equipment that is at the central location, thus knowing what items are on the floor. Spend time each day verifying the location of the equipment, or hire a lower paid employee to do it. - If you are not formally tasked with this role then drop it, or make a proposal to handle it formally. Show the daily and monthly labor requirements, and how it will save them money due to improved productivity, increased accountability, and less waste. Address all the hardware and software costs. You will have to design a system that works, and not one that you hope the employees will use.

Management and your co-workers are telling you that they don't want to use the system. Ease of use means nothing if there is no real need for the system. Punishments in that environment are wrong. The randomness of the current system (not recognizing that nobody ever uses the system) makes it even more unfair.

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At the moment passive systems such as RFID tags and dedicated marshal are not available. The software I wrote was an attempt to fix the need of tracking equipment in our department when that equipment is shared and there is extreme lack of communication when equipment is moved. Having a iPhone app trigged by scanning a barcode seemed the easiest way to offer quick accounting. The two fold question is. What ways can the system be improved to lessen the resistance of buy-in (which you answered above)? and how does management enforce policy when the enforcers fail to hold themselves accountable? –  Sukima Nov 4 '12 at 3:28
+1 for RFID. Takes the human effort out of it –  Amy Blankenship Nov 4 '12 at 18:32
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Unless I am reading your question wrong, check-in is based upon release of equipment, not aquiring it. Change it to acquire and then do spot checks with negative consequences for having equipment that isn't checked out to the employee.

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