But our users don’t want to change

A good question came into my mailbox:

“Much of the writing I’ve seen assumes that software can be shipped directly into the hands of customers to create value (hence the “smaller packages, more often” approach). My experience has been that especially with new launches or major releases, there needs to be a threshold of minimum functionality that needs to be in place.”

Check your phone. Is it set to auto-update apps? Is your desktop OS set to auto-update? Or do you manual choose when to update?

Look at the update notes on phone apps from the likes of Uber, Slack, SkyScanner, the BBC and others. They say little more than “we update our apps regularly.”

Today people are used to technology auto-changing on them. They may not like it but do they like a big change any more?

My guess is that most people don’t even notice those updates. When you batch up software releases users see lots of changes at once, when you release them as a regular stream of small updates then most go unnoticed.

Still, users will see some updates change things, and they will not like some of these. But how long do you want to hide these updates from your users?

The question that needs asking is: what is the cost of an update? The vast majority of updates are quick, easy, cheap and painless.

Of course people don’t like updates which introduce a new UI, a new payment model or which demand you uninstall an earlier app but when updates are easy and bring benefits – even benefits you don’t see – they happily accept them.

And remember, the alternative to 100 small updates is one big update where people are more likely to see changes.

If your updates are generally good why hold them back? And if your updates are going in the wrong direction shouldn’t you change something? If you run scared of giving your users changes then something is wrong.

Nor is it just apps. Most people (in Europe at least) use telco supplied handsets and when the telco calls up and says “Would you like a new handset at no additional cost?” people usually say Yes. That is how telcos keep their customers.

The question continues,

“there needs to be coordination across the company (e.g. training people from marketing, sales, channel partners, customer/ internal support, and so on). There is also the human element – the capacity to absorb these changes. As a user of tech, I’m not sure I could work (well) with a product where features were changing, new ones being added frequently (weekly or even monthly), etc.”

If every software update was introducing a big change then these would be problems. But most updates don’t. Most introduce teeny-tiny changes.

Of course sometimes things need to change. The companies which do this best invest time and energy in making these painless. For example, Google often offers a “try our new beta version” for months before an update. And for months afterwards they provide a “use the old interface option.”

The best companies invest in user experience design too. This can go along way to removing the need for training.

Just because a new feature is released doesn’t mean people have to use it. For starters new changes can be released but disabled. Feature toggles are not only a way of managing source code branches but they also allow new features to be released silently and switched on when everyone is ready. This allows for releases to be de-risked without the customer seeing.

And when they are switched on they can be switched on for a few users at a time. Feedback can be gathered and improvements made before the next release.

That can be co-ordinated with training: make the feature toggle user switchable, everyone gets the new software and as they complete the training they can choose to switch it on.

Now marketing… yes, marketeers do like the big bang release – “look at us, we have something shiny and new!”

You could leave lots of features switched off until your marketeers are ready to make a big bang. That also reduces the problem of marketers needing to know what will be ready when so they known when to launch a campaign.

Or you could release updates without any fuss and market when you have the critical mass.

Or you could change your marketing approach: market a stream of constant improvements rather than occasional big changes.

Best of all market the capabilities of your thing without mentioning features: market what the app or system allows you to do.

For years I’ve been hearing “business people” bemoan developers who “talk technical” but I see exactly the same thing with marketeers. Look at Sony Televisions, what is the “picture processor X1” ? And why should I care? I can’t remember when I last changed the contrast on my television so the “Backlight master drive” (what ever that is) means nothing to me.

Or, look at Samsung mobile phones, 5G, 5G, 5G – what do I care about 5G? What does 5G allow me to do that I can’t with my current phone?

Drill down, look at the Samsung Galaxy lineup: CPU speed, CPU type, screen size, resolution, RAM, ROM – what do I care? How does any of that help me? – Stop throwing technical details at me!

Don’t market features market solution. Tell me what “job to be done” the product the addresses, tell me how my life will be improved. Marketing a solution rather than features decouple marketing from the upgrade cycle.

So sure, people don’t like technology change – I’ll tell you a story in my next blog. But when technology change brings benefits are they still resistant?

Now, with modern technology, with agile and continuous delivery, technology can change faster than business functions like training and marketing. We can either choose to slow technology down or we can change those functions to work differently – not necessarily faster but differently in a way that is compatible with agile technology change.

These kind of tensions are common in businesses which move across to agile style working. A lot of company think agile applies to the “software engine room” and the rest of the business can carry on as before. Unfortunately they have released the Agile Virus – agile working has introduced a set of tensions into the organization which must either be embraced or killed.

Once again technology is disruptive.

Perhaps, if the marketing or training department are insisting on big-bang releases maybe it is them who should be changing. Maybe, just maybe, they need to rethink their approach, maybe they could learn a thing or two about agile and work with differently with technology teams.

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