On the simplicity of experts systems
Today I want to share with you an unfinished thought. Perhaps because I have been working non stop all week, perhaps because people keep complaining about apple correct strategy of fleshing out their devices’ design (remember how everyone complained when they removed the CD player?), or perhaps because I’m not sure I ever will reach a satisfying definite answer on the matter. At any rate, here is the question: what’s the optimal ratio simplicity/features of experts software systems?
The state of the art
If you’ve ever been in contact with someone who has to use a computer system beyond browsing the web or desperately trying to string 1000 words together the night the essay is due, i.e. had to work with any software at all from point of sale retail, to graphic design passing by cloud CRMs, you will notice a common thread: that piece of software is awful. These complaints usually boil down to one of these three categories: the software is either buggy, too complicated to use or missing functionalities. Leaving aside the unstable aspect inherent to the current process of software development, the other categories seem to be two ends of the same spectrum. And this is what keeps me up at night. Probably for 30 seconds, then it’s my kids crying.
Developing software in a customer is king world
Having worked for years for B2B software providers, where sales cycles are long, requirements are complex and clients must be satisfied, I can tell you that most of these pieces of software require training in order to be used to their full potential (which in part drives the sales through maintenance and support costs). In this world, roadmaps always add functionalities, new modules and new ways to customize a product. Ultimately, this renders the sales, delivery and support extremely complex (and why I have a job).
A new era of software delivery
However, in the recent years we have seen a new development with Software As A Service. Companies are limited to the SaaS current version’s functionalities. Because of the effectiveness of the cloud sales model and the centralized maintenance of these pieces of software it is much easier for software publishers to prioritize, consolidate and even drop features according to what clients are actually using. With SaaS, customization is often out of the question. Yet, more and more companies are moving to software as a service and have clear initiatives to simplify their current eco-system.
First, since when did dilemma lose its ‘n’? I digress. In all seriousness, and as I argued before I do believe that simplicity is key to software success. Thus, when do you decide to add functionalities to your software to respond to market demand? How do you ensure that this addition is not only relevant but it also does not throw away your user experience, brand and sales process? Ultimately, I think that finding this balance is really more art than science. And this is always going to bug my extremely rational mind.