Getting people the right information at the right time

I’ve just had a great week at St Louis Days of .NET conference. I talked to a lot of people about the product I work on, and something which stood out was the number of long-time users (one who’d been using it since 2005!) who said “I love it, but I really wish it did x”, where x is a thing it already does. There’s documentation describing the functionality, and we like nothing* more than speaking to our users about the areas they’d like improving or helping with advanced functionality, but these people had never got in touch to ask.

There were also people who’d tried it and really struggled to get started – I’d show them through it for a couple of minutes, and in all but a handful of cases there was a penny-dropping moment for them, where they suddenly understood what to do. There are videos on our website which I think would have done the same job which they hadn’t watched, despite often having spent hours or days trying to get up to speed.

In all these cases, we failed to get the right information in front of the right people at the right time.

We focus hard on usability and trying to remove the need to read documentation, but the reality is that some of the problems our tools address are fundamentally hard, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. I’m firmly in the camp of people who tend not to read the manual, but to fully exploit the tool, sometimes users will need to read an article or watch a video.

It’s a hard problem because forcing people to consume information they don’t need is also annoying, but I’m going to spend time over the next few weeks working out how we can do a better job. I’ll let you know what we come up with.

*apart from beer.