When good intentions cause a lot of pain
I love to think of User Experience in terms of Productivity. It's when your tool, system, workflow or fancy idea meets the real, human world. How real people respond to and use your system or thing matters because it will either help them reach their goals or drive them mad.
It's your remote control, hard plastic packaging, bewildering websites, cable tv menus, perplexing road signs and anything you feel like throwing across the room because it just shouldn't be so F-ing difficult to use or understand!
We've all suffered through these experiences. Few things are more annoying. So how does this impact your businesses?
Rather a lot I'd say.
We may not be able to avoid it all the time but awareness is half the battle. More on user experience in general here.Ease of use is invisible but its absence sure isn'tClick To Tweet
Let's say you're in charge of a big department or the owner of a small business and some serious productivity challenges come to your attention. You and your team do some digging and feel you've come to a good understanding of the problem. You've found something that looks like a good solution too! You've found the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico and it seems to you this thing might ‘solve’ all of your issues and more. Yippeee!
What you think the problem is
You often hear your staff complaining about your current tools. They say tasks take too long, and they often lose stuff that they’ve worked hard to complete. When you talk to a few people about it, you get the impression that there is indeed a problem with several of your tools. You've struggled with them yourself and they seem to be getting worse. So when you find a fancy new tool that will seemingly do what all your current tools are doing you think you hit the jackpot! You pull out the company credit card and decide to buy the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico and breathe a sigh of relief.
The real obstacle
Something you don't realize.
The system administrators have known for a long time what the real issue is. They know the real problem is with the internal servers your company uses. Your servers need simple but costly upgrades that will solve all the problems that trickled down and caused issues with most of the tasks your staff currently find challenging. Since these servers impact all the company's tools, it's the reason all your tools aren't behaving very well.
Now you may have heard about this yourself, but you and your staff are still convinced a new fancy replacement of your tools would be best for the company regardless. You think you can always upgrade your servers, but maybe you won't have to with this new all-in-one solution.
The beginning of the end
What happens when you apply a solution to a problem you didn’t understand, and that solution creates problems you never had? Well, I can tell you nothing good comes of it. You'd be amazed how much this one decision can impact your business and how it works.Something that does everything, does nothing well #UX #UnnecessaryComplexityClick To Tweet
You might be thinking to yourself, but this thing can replace all our current tools and more, and it's new and that must be awesome, and this new thing does far more than our old simple and rather basic tools!! Right?! I mean this has to be a steal because it's also cheaper than buying all new tools separately, right?
So not right. This situation isn't even true.
The fact is your new thing won't do any of the tasks you need it to do without a hand cart full of WTF some pliers and lots of wine. The simplicity of your old tools is actually an asset and you never needed a replacement for half the stuff this thing does. I mean it's ridiculous all the crap stuffed into it. It can pretty much bake bread. More sounded better when the manufacturer came to your office to pitch the Wonder-Max-Fantastico. They even served the bread it baked in the meeting. It was all so very enticing.
Costs go up
You are still feeling great about your decision! The smell of fresh-baked bread is still in the air. Now that you are the proud owner of the ‘Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico’, it's time to hook that baby up. It took your staff three months working with the company that created it, to get it set up and integrated. It cost you a mountain of cash, but you're not overly concerned because it's supposed to save you money in the long run and that's something you still believe.
Unfortunately, it keeps having cash babies.
Because now it takes you or your staff, five times as long to do task A as it did before the change. It also takes three times as long to do task B, and no one even tries to do task C with this new system because it’s a terrible, painful, long and convoluted experience that doesn't get the job done right anyway. Task C is now done by some free thing online. If anyone forces the team to do task C with the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico, people will start to quit.
Even when it dawns on you that the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico is actually a piece of crap, there's not much you can do. By now you have customized everything throughout the company to 'work' with the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico.
Your workflow is now officially absurd.
Productivity and quality go down
All your stuff is just weird. Only weirdly hacked devices and obscure software will work with your workflow. Onboarding is a nightmare because no one knows how to use your stuff and training soon costs you a mint. It takes far too long for new people to understand how to do their job and to be honest, no one knows how all of it works.
No one has a support manual for this, and there is no one you can call for assistance.
Your situation is now unique
When you do have staff who learn all the nuances of your workflow and integrations with the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico and how it works with all your stuff, they leave when they get burned out and feel unappreciated. And they leave with all their priceless knowledge too.
Oh. My. Gawd.
Furthermore, the tasks the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico perform are so botched your staff often have to go in and try to 'fix' what it creates (ahem broke). You now find yourself handcuffed to the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico and all the customizations your business has made for it.
You've arrived at a catch 22.
The inevitable dilemma
Getting rid of the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico now is a hugely expensive, complicated, risky and time-consuming job. Staying with it just digs you further into a pit of despair.
You can see that your current workflow is convoluted, painful and non-productive. It's far worse than anything you and your team had experienced before this tool was implemented.
You know your products and services suffer because of all the time your Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico takes away from the real meaningful work you do. Now no one even wants to work at your company because the work environment is so Gawd-awful.
Workarounds destroy productivity
Now it's only a few short years after you made the fated Wonder Max decision. Most of the tools necessary to do what the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico does are available free online and are far superior. In fact, most of your staff use them if they can already. But when your team uses simple, free online tools, they have to bypass important workflow steps.
Now, this snowball starts to pick up speed.
Staff can’t file that thing properly when they use the free, painless method of doing their job. And that one step is crucial for your business success. When your staff uses the free, painless tools, they get their work done super fast and to a very high standard of quality. You even promote them for their swiftness and high-quality work! The choice for them is a no-brainer, and you are rewarding them for it (ahem. this is also another reason why your intellectual property walks out the door).
Could this happen to you?
This is a tad exaggerated to make a point. I mean, yes most people would talk to system administrators before buying some large expensive all in one 'solution' to a perceived problem. Most would listen to them too. This story still illustrates beautifully how a lack of clarity, communication and evaluation contributes to unnecessary complexity. This can lead to reduced productivity and can quite literally, devastate a business.
There are several things that went wrong here, and I want to show you how to avoid the same mistakes. If we go back to the beginning of this story, we can see that the initial understanding of the problem isn't clear. We see how easy it is to jump straight to solution mode and in doing so, completely misunderstand the real problem.
Shiny Object Syndrome
As solo entrepreneurs, it can be very easy to suffer from shiny object syndrome. There is no shortage of tools, products and services pitched to us daily and they all sound oh so amazing. It's quite easy to convince yourself that THIS is the thing that will solve all our problems.
How many times have you said flat out, I need that fancy social media tool, collaboration thing, a learning platform for a course I might run someday. Or you might say, I need a new website, new branding, a copywriter, Facebook Ads, etcetera. These aren’t problems, of course, these are solutions. Maybe you need them, but maybe you don't.
Do you really know what you need?
Get curious and be collaborative
To help you understand your needs clearly and meet them, I want you to start thinking like a detective and ask yourself these questions:
- What do I want to do?
- Why do I want to do it?
- Who are the 'experts' who can help me?
- What are my must have's?
- What are my nice to have's?
- What does the simplest solution look like?
- What does success look like?
- What is my budget?
- What support do I have for something new?
- When do I want this completed?
- Who is this for?
- What do they want and need now?
Unnecessary complexity is everywhere. Your remote control, door handles that look like a 'pull' when they are really a 'push' and hard plastic packaging around a new pair of scissors that need scissors to get them out! I once had a shampoo bottle that took me 20 minutes to figure out how to open!
Being aware of it is half the battle. Mindfulness really does work here! Do you really need the Wonder-Max-Tool-Fantastico or can you get the job done, tomorrow, for 5-cents with a can opener?
Some lessons learned
- Keep in mind; technology is changing all the time, remain flexible because what's available to you today will change tomorrow. How easy will it be for you to pivot with the decisions you make today?
- Try not to lock yourself into a situation that will be difficult to get out of in the future
- The more complex the solution is to a problem the more difficult it becomes to remove yourself from it in the future
- Clearly understand the pro’s and con’s of your choice before you make a decision and have a plan to deal with the cons
- Invite all the knowledge experts you need into the process so you are making educated decisions (peers, biz coaches, employees who use your current systems, tech specialists, folks who've been where you want to go, people, who use the tools you are curious about using, people who use alternatives)
- Market research can save you a lot of pain
- Your best option might be complicated, just make sure it's necessary. Does it meet your "must-haves"? Did you make sure to define what success looks like before you started looking for solutions to your problem?
- Don't get excited about shiny things -they can distract you from what you really need and get you into trouble.
Here's an interesting article on how that remote control got so difficult to use. We don't want it in our personal lives, our minds or our businesses so it's a good idea to have a look-see at your own business complexity. What's going on there? Are you making something more complicated than it needs to be? Are you being enticed by that shiny object?
What does unnecessary complexity look like to you?
Here is another great article that explores unnecessary complexity when it comes to website interfaces.
Before you go, if you want to watch a master of user experience design check this out. Here is Don Norma on Living with Complexity.