How NOT To Throw Out 125 Million Dollars

How not to throw out 125 Million dollars when creating applications

No-Usability-Equals-125-Million-Dollars-In-The-Trash-from-UsefulUsabilityDo NOT throw out 125 million dollars like Avon did after their application was deemed unusable. Instead, learn from their mistakes and protect your investment (and job). Here is how.

Avon will throw out 125 Million Dollars because it has cancelled an SAP implementation that took four years to develop, as recently reported by the Wall Street Journal.

According to the article in the Wall Street Journal (Avon’s Failed SAP Implementation Reflects Rise of Usability). Avon did so after field testing in Canada revealed that users found the software unusable, and started leaving Avon in droves.

According to the article…

“As the WSJ’s Drew Fitzgerald reported earlier today, Avon is pulling the plug on a $125 million software system rollout that has been in the works for four years after a test of the system in Canada drove away representatives the door-to-door beauty product company relies on to drive sales.

Avon began testing the new order management software system in Canada in the second quarter. While the new system based on software supplied by SAP AG worked as planned, it was so burdensome and disruptive to the representatives’ daily routine that they left in meaningful numbers. Avon relies on a direct sales model where its representatives aren’t employees, which makes it difficult to add new tasks associated with the software system.”

Ouch.

If you are a CIO and you like your job I have a simple tip for you…

“Conduct usability testing often and extensively when developing new applications.”

If you are a CIO you can stop reading now. Thanks for stopping by!

But for the rest of us, let us examine why Avon ended up throwing out $125,000,000.00 and four long years of work by what was probably a large team. It is called usability, or user experience. Without an easy to use and satisfying user experience your application will NOT be used by your users and you will have wasted your money.

As the article in the Wall Street Journal states…

“At a time when people are accustomed to using well-designed applications from companies such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. in their personal lives, they have little patience for workplace applications that leave them confused. Functionality is no longer the definition of success. Usability is key.”

Just to repeat a very important phrase

“USABILITY IS KEY”

Here are five tips you can use to make sure YOU do not throw out one hundred and twenty five million dollars:

1. Identify Your Personas

A Persona is a fictional representation of your typical users, and includes both behavioral and goal oriented information that is critical for design decisions. In a previous article I wrote about tips you can use to create Personas and how to avoid bad ones, but suffice it to say it is critical that you have Personas BEFORE starting any application development project.

2. Design for Persona Critical Tasks

Personas include information on the top 3 or so critical tasks they MUST do to be successful. Your application should include bold statements that failure to make those tasks brain-dead simple means failure of the application. Never forget about those critical tasks, and make sure your application design is focused on continually seeking ways to make those tasks simple, fast and super-easy.

3. Conduct Early Prototype Usability Testing

Conducting usability testing early and often is not just a catch-phrase. Early prototype testing includes testing wireframes and even conducting Card Sorts very early in the process. The data gathered from this testing will ensure your application design is focused from the users perspective. There are lots of free or pay card sorting tools that make conducting card sorting and creating information architectures easy. There is no excuse for not gathering this data. Testing paper wireframes is also a really easy but extremely helpful data point.

4. Test Often During Development

Testing often during your application development is another key to creating usable (and thus successful) applications. Using remote usability testing methods means testing can be done almost instantly, and data can be captured in hours, not days or weeks.  There are excellent books on how to conduct remote testing that make it fast and easy for even newbies to create and run usability tests. Using an agile method of application development? No problem, remote testing during sprints means never having to say you are sorry (to your spouse after you come home with a box of your stuff in hand because you just got fired for a bad application).

5. Include users in your team

An excellent idea that few organizations seem to use is including actual users as part of the application design team. Having a group of actual users that you reach out to for feedback and input will clear up disagreements and clarify your purpose as you move through your process. Panels of users are worth their weight in gold. Use the input and commentary you receive from actual users as you go through your sprints or waterfall process. Their input will ensure you are keeping your application on track from a usability perspective.

Conclusion on How to Not Throw Out 125 Million Dollars

By incorporating usability testing and conducting user-centered design as part of your application development process you will ensure your design is user-friendly and successful. Failure to do so risks the potential of your application not being used, which can waste 125 Million Dollars and four years of work.  As has been said before, Failure is Not an Option!

For more tips on how to include testing as part of an application development process read the article on 24 usability testing tools.

This entry was posted in Methodology, Usability News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How NOT To Throw Out 125 Million Dollars

  1. Jessica Miller says:

    Great article Craig! So true, companies just don’t get it! Usability testing is one of the biggest money savers!

  2. craig says:

    Yes, I agree with you Jessica 100 percent. The sad thing is how many firms, and big firms at that, pay lip-service to UX without fully realizing how it can impact their bottom line. Especially important is the integration of mobile in a seamless UX with other systems. I’m not aware of many firms conducting dual mobile and PC based testing. That number will need to increase over time, else firms will find their Revenue is negatively impacted by surprises like Avon experienced.

  3. Lori Georganna says:

    This is so true. And I would add, continue usability testing perodically after rollout and A B testing to looking for more opportunities to improve the experience and increase revenue

  4. craig says:

    Great point Lori, thanks for sharing that. With the ever-changing UI environment (note the ever increasing usage of smartphones) periodic testing after rollout is key. Great point.

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