Usage patterns, or why you need to support alternate modes of interaction

Posted on April 28th, 2007 in Catalyst, Product design by siddharta || 4 Comments

One of the dangers of developing an application is assuming that all your users are just like you.

Case in point: The Silver Catalyst tool that I am currently developing.

Imagine for a second that your team is using Silver Catalyst. They have entered all the data into the tool and are using it regularly. At the end of the week, an executive asks for the status. Because Silver Catalyst is a web app, the PM figures that the executive can just login to the tool anytime they want the status, and therefore creates a login for him. A couple of days pass and the executive asks for the report again.

Guess what? The executive never logged into the system! The PM is now back to taking data from the tool and preparing a report.

Sounds familiar?

There are a number of reasons why the executive wanted a report

  • He is not used to using a web app. Old habits die hard. He is used to a report, so a report it shall be.
  • He wants to email it to someone else.
  • He wants to read it on the road, when disconnected from the network.
  • He wants to print it out and give it to someone

There are many reasons why someone would need an offline version of the current status.

Interacting with your application online is just one mode of interaction. A lot of interaction happens outside the space of the application: email, paper, conversations, discussions.

An application that forces all interaction to happen through it will either be used reluctantly or will not be used by those who have different patterns of usage. Quite often, these people are key stakeholders.

When I first designed Silver Catalyst, I ignored this point. I thought everyone would just log into the tool and find out the status. Why do we need to provide PDF output? One of the outcomes of the beta test was that there were people looking for PDF reports so that they could email it around.

When I thought about it, it seemed to click. Most teams have a bug tracking tool that anyone can log into and see. Yet, how often have you been asked for a bug status report when the person could have just logged into the tool and found out? In my case it was because the regular pattern of communication is to go to the PM to find status, rather than going into a tool. Similarly we had a wiki that showed the status of various modules. Guess what? Key people didn’t read the wiki. They would email the PM instead.

So, does your application support alternate modes of interaction?

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4 Responses to “Usage patterns, or why you need to support alternate modes of interaction”

  1. Jake Stride Says:

    An interesting point and one I agree with. Our Open Source project management tool EGS does exactly that – provide a number of PDF and HTML reports that can be downloaded and emailed to management and/or the board.

  2. siddharta Says:

    Exactly. Sending reports around as email or printouts is a very common manner of interaction, yet many tools don’t support it.

  3. capt bullshot Says:

    I do need another usage pattern …
    Your tools seems to be nice and useful, but I cannot find licensing terms on your website. Just a downloadable trial version, but it is nowhere at all mentioned what the costs of your software is. Now, I won’t try it out, since I do not like not to know what I’d have to pay for it in case I find it useful.

  4. siddharta Says:

    Hi, thanks for the feedback.

    The final version is still in development, so it is not being sold yet. Right now the trial version is a pre-release version. I’ve put it for download so that I can get early feedback before the final release.

    I’ll definitely have a pricing and order page once the final version is out :)

    I’m aiming for the Monday after next (14th May) for the version 1.0 release.

    I’ll be posting a notification on the yahoo group – http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/catalystpm when the release is ready, so if you are interested, think about joining the group.

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