What does software have to be so COMPLICATED? There are two attributes of the perfect software that everyone seems to agree on. It does everything they want it to do and it requires no learning to master. Developers have worked hard to give us what we want at the expense of making it easy to master. Here are some thoughts from a developer and a QuickBooks “master” about how we can give users what they really want.
Years ago, I purchased development and marketing rights to an oil & gas accounting application that I had successfully implemented in two companies. The seller made this observation. “Most the users of this application use less than 10% of what it is capable of doing”. Richard’s “rule” lies at the heart of what is wrong with much of today’s software. If we aren’t going to use it, why must we have the wade through all the “noise” it creates to get to information about what we want to use.
The screen above offers twenty-one, count them, CATEGORIES of options. Each of these categories might have ten or more options. If we assume an average of five options per category, that comes to one hundred and five decisions a user has to make about what he wants QuickBooks to do for them. If we gave no thought to each decision and just flipped a coin, it would still take a significant amount of time to make our selections.
The problem is that, to use QuickBooks most effectively to provide maximum benefit with minimum effort and cost, we need to make INFORMED decisions when selecting options. That means we have to spend time learning what the consequences of those decisions will be. How much time will be required to make informed decisions about one hundred and five options? Almost always, more than the average user is willing to spend; so we get frustrated and decide the application is too complicated and does not meet our “perfect software” criteria.
Here’s an alternate strategy for developers I think will lead to more satisfied users. Break your users down into homogenous groups and pre-configure your application to provide the 10% of features they are most likely to use, right out of the box. Configure your help based on the context of each homogenous group and you will get rid of the “noise”, all of that information that is irrelevant to each group.
Developers, you still provide the same robust applications you are deservedly proud of and your users will bless you for how quickly they could “master” your application to meet their needs.
Robert Guild designs specialized reports and automated analysis tools for QuickBooks clients to make decisions they can trust. He is a member of Intuit DeveloperNet and an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Visit www.ReportsUWant.com to see pre-designed analysis tools ready to buy or contact him about developing applications for your specific needs at rguild@ReportsUWant.com. You can also follow him on twitter at QBPro