A long time ago, at a trade show far far away :-), just as I finished giving a demo of our new software product to a pair of attendees, one of the people looked at the other, pointed at the monitor and said “I gotta get me some of that!” I remember that moment well.
After they walked away, I remember looking at one of my coworkers at the booth, and said, somewhat giddily, “Did you see that guy’s reaction?” He looked at me smiling and nodding, and said “That was great! We need more people like that coming by the booth.”
Ever since then, I’ve loved that phrase — I gotta get me some of that. And that was well before it was popularized in a Dilbert strip.
So what was it about that moment? Simple. The product did what we claimed it did, it was easy to use, demo’d really well (of course), and made the user’s life (in this case Windows user-interface developers) much better. To this day, the measure I have for a great product is that when it is demo’d, someone in the audience is thinking “I gotta get me some of that!”.
Today, products like the iPhone, or video games or other gadgets get the accolades and the drools of those early-adopters who want to get their hands on the merchandise. When was the last time you heard anyone eagerly await the release of a piece of business software, or be so wowed by the demo that they would tell their coworkers how great it was? The answer is rarely, if at all.
The question is, why not? What is it about business software that leaves people yawning?
I honestly think it is because most people who write business software are too focused on the technology or the buyer or the internal advocate or the CIO and the buying process, and have forgotten about the actual user.
In many software companies, features are implemented to the level that they can be checked off honestly on an RFP, but not sufficiently so that users can truly benefit from them. Interfaces get incrementally more complex as functionality is added release after release, without a lot of though to overall design. And, in some cases, people focus on form over function, and end up with the software analogue of this building.
Some trends in software are changing this though. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is one of them. One of the interesting aspects of SaaS is that the buyer and the user are more likely to be the same person, or at least members of the same functional unit that will using the software than is the case with traditional enterprise software. Additionally, the evaluation experience with SaaS applications is almost identical to the actual user experience with them. That is not the case with traditional enteprise software. And finally, the buying cycle is typically shorter with SaaS so more focus is placed on how well the software does what is needed and less on the purchasing process.
This bodes well for software development and product management in general. But it shouldn’t take a fundamental shift in the software industry and software architectures to get companies to create software the does what it advertises, and does it really well, should it?