Top 8 Software Usability Mistakes Companies Make
Getting to Launch Day
It takes only one glance at your application for a user to form an opinion. A good first impression is more important than ever, even for internal applications. There are two critical points to keep in mind when working on any new software application:
- There’s an alternative to every piece of software designed – from a competitor’s product to doing nothing. Your users have options – you want their top pick and recommendation to be using your software above all others.
- Users have a more powerful voice and scope of influence than ever. An unhappy user is the most likely to write a review on your product, make a social media post about it, or tell everyone they know. A delighted user is the second most likely to do so.
Meeting release schedules is important, but launching before your software is ready can be even more disastrous than missing the deadline. Here are the top eight software usability mistakes companies make getting to launch day with new software that you can easily avoid with proper planning:
1. Focusing on the Wrong Features
How well do your decision makers know what users actually need? Often features are decided on by people who are not the target group for your software. They may not even have ever done the kind of work the users do. They simply learn about it at a fairly high level and make decisions based on what makes sense to them or on what they’ve encountered in other kinds software. This kind of decision-making will never result in as strong of a product as that which involves people currently performing the tasks that this new software is supposed to help with. Be sure to consult potential users who are not close to the project, so you get the most honest and valuable feedback when selecting the features for your software and making decisions about what functionality needs to go into a minimum viable product (MVP) or Release 1.
Your focus should always be on delivering value. Just because you can add it, doesn’t mean you should. Too often features are added to software simply because they are trendy or add “sparkle” rather than value. Before you include a feature in your software, you need to ask one very important question:
“What value does this create for the user?”
If the answer is little to none, then it shouldn’t be included. Features shouldn’t exist for their own sake.
When you think your software is almost ready for release, take it back to your potential users and have them test it and give more feedback! These people can be a huge asset to your launch success in terms of word-of-mouth, social, and online marketing.
2. Failing to Design and Test the User Interface for Data Extremes
Most interfaces start as beautiful designs for the ideal amount of data and user type. And then reality hits. A new user may not have any data to display, while a long-term user may struggle to find relevant records in the large amounts of data they accumulated. The beautiful design may no longer look anything like expected with empty or overflowing widgets, and the user may get the impression that it’s simply broken and have no idea what they are supposed to do. All design decisions should consider three key states: new user with zero data, average user with moderate data (ideal scenario), power/long time user with extensive data (most extreme scenario).
3. Not Following Standards
It’s common for product managers to want to make their new offering unique and exciting. Often, this involves giving new names to standard actions or making changes to standard workflows. For example, several years ago one company decided to change up the actions common keyboard shortcuts executed causing users a great deal of trouble using the product and requiring a major update to the product. Ensuring you follow general software standards and industry standards for naming, keyboard shortcuts, common simple workflows, interface designs, and applying them consistently will provide a positive user experience. For the best results, take the time to create a style guide for the development team. This guide will help ensure styles are applied consistently throughout the interface.
4. Insufficient Functional Testing
When trying to get a new software product delivered to users, companies often take shortcuts in their functional testing. It’s essential to ensure the software works as expected and meets all requirement in all browsers and using the most common operating systems and devices. Performing functional testing using desktop computers is no longer enough; testing on tablets, using a variety of monitor sizes and resolutions, and on mobile devices is essential. Testing also needs to be done with a variety of data sample sizes to ensure the expected outcomes are the same or acceptable for both low volume and high-volume users.
5. Insufficient User Testing
It’s easy to leave user testing to only your staff or team members, but they know how it’s “supposed” to be used and follow that path. Real users work differently, think differently, and you will get different feedback from them. They bring their experiences and expectations from using other software with them in addition to unique ways to performing tasks. They can tell you areas where your software is missing features, doesn’t perform as expected, has things named differently than expected, fails to meet their needs, and more. This feedback will allow you to quickly make tweaks to the software that will help ensure user satisfaction at launch.
6. A Lack of Onboarding
The software is launched, users are alerted, they sign in, and then there is silence. Silence from the company and the users. This isn’t good! What about onboarding? Too often companies don’t pay enough attention to the presentation of the messages that go out to the user or even send enough messages, to properly onboard them. The most crucial time for interacting with users starts the moment they access the new software for the first time. This is the time expectations are set, training is delivered, engagement is strengthened, and relationships are built. Before launching your new software, it is essential to design a series of onboarding messages to support user adoption. Messages should be delivered daily within the first week and then slowly decrease in frequency over the first month to weekly over the next three months. Each time you make an update, your messaging should pick up again to deliver training on the changes and show users how to make the most of your software to ensure long-term success. Videos and webinars make onboarding easy.
6. Poor Customer Support
When launching new software, companies often only offer support during regular business hours, which is fine if it’s an internal application, but not if it’s customer-facing. It’s common for customers to work at all hours of the day and night, so they need and expect timely support. Failing to set appropriate support expectations and provide timely support during the initial launch of a new software product can be crippling to its success. Support can come from any one or combination of the popular formats including phone, chat, email, social media, or a ticket system. Select the formats that work best for you and publish links to a support page with details including availability and response times for best results. For customer-facing software, it’s highly recommended that you provide some form of active weekend support during your launch phase.
8. A Lack of Documentation
In a rush to get the software launched, creating any, much less extensive documentation often is skipped in favor of one of the many other competing activities. Without help text, users are reliant on customer support to answer their questions. This is not an ideal situation, particularly if you have a lot of users! Taking time to document key functionality will save your team a lot of time and headaches during the launch phase. Look to your user stories and/or requirements documents for inspiration and details. Start by providing contextual help directly on the UI. Support this by publishing as much help content as you can online in a format that users can easily search like a Wiki. A link to a simple PDF can provide users with a great resource if you don’t have time to put your content on the web in any other format before launch and can easily be converted into another format later. Larger products may need redaction systems to maintain documentation moving forward.
Take the Steps for Success
Ready to design and launch your new software without making these eight software usability mistakes? Using an Agile development approach with proper planning and the right people on your team will put you on the path to success. The development team at QAT Global is experienced in Agile software development and working with clients to avoid these kinds of mistakes. Put your next software project on the path to launch success, start the conversation with our development team today.
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