The market for business software is not quite as crowded as consumer applications but is a highly competitive market; business users looking for solutions find many, many options. Lots of options doing essentially the same job throw up “I like this about “a” and this about “b” and why can’t “c” have these features of “a” and that particular feature of “b”, translated from the customers standpoint: I want it all to suit me.
From the supply side it is impossible to be all things to all users, feature bloat makes products hard to use and directly challenges those users seeking simplicity. For over a decade, here at ProActive Software we have been developing our products for years and have always tried to hook in our customers to walk fine the line between stability and change, complexity and simplicity: trying to meet real needs and avoid low value fluff.
Updating our invoices came up on the development stack, what we had was functional, did the job for most users and played its roll in billing over $500m worth of transactions over 6 or seven years. We had some user comments to work with, presentation could be better, line item functionality was limited at times, we could look at what other were doing, and build in general design trends. But just changing things seemed a bit of a rash approach.
Development came up with the idea of an invoice emulator, it would model the look and feel of the proposed changes to invoice, hook out the necessary data from the ProWorkflow data base and make an invoice. Putting the emulator based invoice “into the wild” starts to generate real feedback. Does it function? What are the practical shortcomings? What do you think of presentation based on real use? Does it work for everyone? When well does the approach work with complex data? The feedback is based on real data used by real customers.
So out goes the emulator and the feedback begins to flow, it is real, from actual customer use. There is a good deal of agreement, there is some conflict both subjective and objective so our design and development teams can focus on the conflicts, really talk to customers and then work with the emulator converge towards an improved solution that lifts the average level of satisfaction amongst all users.
Once the process has been “converged”, then and only then is the code built into the ProWorkflow solution. This outcome orientation, based on informed customer experience anchors the design and development process in solid user framework.
“In crowded markets user experience is critical, we can’t guess about that, the emulator approach is our way of grounding what we do with our users”, says ProActive Software, CEO Julian Stone.
“In the world of software almost anything is possible, better be guided by customers to reduce the opinion and conjecture in how we apply our design and development resource to building a better mousetrap”, says ProActive Software Chairman John Walley.
ProActive Software is based in New Zealand, develops and sells ProWorkflow web based project management software. For more information please see http://www.proworkflow.com .