I’ve spent some time working with legacy products—software for which the core code was written before “usability” was a term developers had heard of, back when developers were still called programmers.
I remember my first conversation—held last century—with a developer about his users and the usability of his legacy product. I used Geoffrey Moore’s book, Crossing the chasm, to introduce the idea that there are different types of users. The chasm (illustrated) shows five groups of users. The area under the curve represents the quantity of potential users, in the order in which they will typically adopt the product. Users who are technology enthusiasts and visionaries either enjoy or don’t mind being on the bleeding edge because of the benefits they get from using the product, according to Moore. Usability isn’t one of the typical benefits to the left of the chasm, where new products are first introduced. Wider adoption follows only after the product is made to cross the chasm—but this takes a concerted effort on the part of the development team.
What delays a product from crossing the chasm?
- Revenues that are sufficient to let the company putter along.
- Team members who themselves are tech enthusiasts or visionaries. This occurs, for example, when a nutritionist who also knows how to program develops software for nutritionists.
- Team members who have infrequent exposure to newer user experiences. This could include someone who still uses Microsoft Office 2003, eschews social-networking applications on the web, or uses Linux.
- Product managers whose roles are weakly defined or absent, making it more likely that new features get developed for the technical challenge of it, rather than for the user need or the business strategy.
- Sales reps who ask for more functions in the product in order to make a sale—and a development culture that goes along with this.
- Managers whose vision and strategic plan leave out user experience and usability.
- Team members who have been on the team for decades.
- Organisations that don’t use business cases to help them decide where to apply business resources.
- Organisations with poor change-management practices—because moving a product across the chasm is more likely dramatic and disruptive than smooth and gradual.
- Designers who are weak or absent in the process, so that “design” happens on the fly, during development.
If you recognise your work environment or yourself in this list, do you want to change things? If you do, but don’t know how, what actions can you take to learn the answer?