Competition Entrepreneurs Management Software

“Animal” testing is a good thing

People are animals too:)

On Monday Apr 30, USA Today’s cover story was about a family who agreed to be videotaped and studied by Microsoft staffers in order to see how people used Microsoft’s soon-to-be released Vista (now available, of course), what ticked them off about it, what they liked, and so on.

Read the article to see how hard Microsoft is working to try and make their software easier to use, and quite frankly, better.

Why? If you are in the software business, there’s nothing more educational than watching your clients try to use your software. Sure, being on the tech support line is a close second, but the sheer agony of vicariously trying to get the user to click that button that to you is oh so obvious is well….flippin’ painful.

BUT it is seriously powerful, and that power means several very important things:

  • More, easier sales. An app that people can just sit down in front of and start using without help is an app that’s easier to sell. When someone’s first experience is “DAMMIT, how do you use this thing?!?!?!”, getting from there to a purchase can be tough, don’t you imagine?
  • Less tech support. Your app is easier to use. More intuitive.
  • BETTER tech support. Better questions because the painfully obvious ones (to you) that aren’t so painfully obvious to everyone else have already been taken care of. Better support because there’s less of the stuff caused by less than ideal design decisions that were discovered during your testing.
  • Fewer releases. Because you catch the silly stuff early in the game, and fewer people got to see it, there’s just not much about this that can be considered a negative whether you ask your end users, your support staff or the people in fulfillment.

This past weekend, Sherman Hu told a similar story about his WordPress tutorial videos. He said his focus when making the videos was to enable his father in law to create a blog. He recognized that the average person isn’t a megageek and needs some baseline help in getting started. That’s what the tutorials are all about. He includes a few free videos and if you want to learn more after he gets you started, you can subscribe to the paid portion of his WordPress tutorial video site.

Your audience might not be the same as Sherman’s, but the technique is just as powerful.

Human behavior is predictable if you’re a psychologist. Sort of. Even if you know what you think you know, testing by watching a user will show you facts, not guesses.

Testing with “real live people” isn’t just for software people. I’m sure you are aware that big consumer product corporations do this sort of testing on everything from steak knives to minivans.

Why wouldn’t you?

Back in early March, a friend of mine tested a brand new presentation about a pretty geeky (but non-computer related) topic in front of a group of people who weren’t customers, and weren’t technical people – at least not in his arena. The result? He found that he needed to turn down the techno-speak even more than he expected in order to “keep” the audience, otherwise he risked not only losing them, but his credibility as well.

Test your website. Test your forms and other paperwork. Test the arrangement of products in your store. Until you do, you just don’t know how good or bad your stuff is, nor how much better it can get or how much money you’re losing by having less than optimal design.

TEST as much as you can, with real live “animals”. People, that is.

Entrepreneurs Management Software

Ballmer in USA Today

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is the focus of an interview in today’s issue of USA Today.

Two comments struck me, and took me back to my career at Ross Perot’s EDS and later to my time as a software company owner.

First, he spoke of the uniqueness of his being one of very few #1 or #2 guys in a company that went from 30 employees to 77000 employees. This reminded me of being at EDS (not as CEO<g>) when they had 15k employees, having GM buy us, and watching the maelstrom as we went to 45k employees in a very short period of time. Imagine the change, however gradual it might have been for him, of being in charge as your business grows from 30 employees to 77k. And you think YOUR business is different.

Second, he noted how surprised he was at how much different the CEO job. He noted that it is more different than he ever could have guessed, and followed with…

“I would never have believed I could feel more accountable than I already did for Microsoft.”

One curious comment from him about digital rights management: “Every recording artist, in my opinion, is entitled to make their own decision. And I don’t think Apple or Microsoft should be imposing its will on folks.” (about that)

As is typical for Ballmer, he never seems to let an opportunity to gig the competition get away from him, calling IBM, Apple and Google “one trick ponies”, though he later says that it’s good for Google and for Microsoft to compete with one another. Obviously.

Its a worthwhile read with some instructive thoughts sprinkled throughout. Read it, file it for later.

PS: Ballmer admits that he feels like throttling Bill Gates every now and then. Maybe he IS a regular guy:)