Most enterprise software sucks for a billion reasons. Here's one.

James Tissot's The Bench. Lots of enterprise software is about as useful as a fur-covered bench in the garden. Read on for more awesome metaphors.

🤹The coolest uncle in the world

It’s 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and the baby shower is due in two hours. So you find yourself roaming in the baby clothes section of a soul-crushingly blank mall. Laid bare before your eyes are colorful, playful clothes all competing for your attention and limited money.

Ultimately, you choose that “BE JEALOUS I have the best aunt & uncle in the world” dinosaur onesie that will probably look cool as hell on photos, and remind viewers that you’re the coolest uncle on planet Earth. Added bonus, it’s done by a local company, very hip and trendy.

You just bought the coolest dinosaur onesie ever for the little one. What a cool uncle. 

During the present unwrapping of the baby shower, everyone marvels at the wit and cuteness of the shirt. One week later, you receive a cute picture of said baby with said shirt. Awesome.

😅The most tired dad in the universe

It’s 4 a.m. on a rainy Sunday morning. As a young, red-eyed parent, you list the thousands of things you have to do to maintain that little thing alive after a sleepless night. And you realize that, with the baby growing, the supply of clothes that fit is getting dangerously low. After a brief discussion with your spouse, you also realize the only outfit left is the one from the baby shower. The one with 10 buttons in the back, the dinosaur things, has the “must be washed by hand” dreaded tag on it, and that has that stupid inscription all over. It has been worn once, for the photo, and is already wearing out from the use. One dinosaur spike fell off. You have to take it off completely to change a nappie. The company providing the dinosaur onesie being small and hip, their refund policy is less than stellar.

So you head to your favorite online retailer and search for clothes. “Easy to put, easy to remove, machine washable ” clothes to be exact, and end up buying a white, perfectly good baby cloth that will be delivered on the same day. Added bonus, it’s from a brand name and has a policy of “replaced in the same day if torn”. And it can be opened with one hand for nappie replacement. This item won’t solve everything, but at least it won’t get in the way.

This is a perfectly good outfit that will stand the test of time.

🙅‍Why cool uncles are not cool

First, the buyer of the first outfit, as a Cool Uncle, has very limited knowledge of the actual constraints of the real user, the parents:

  • Usability (the buttons);
  • Maintainability (“need to be washed by hand”);
  • Service (the same-day replacement policy).

Second, the buyer of the first outfit, as a Cool Uncle, thinks of personal agenda as primary, before actual end-user needs:

  • Looking different(the dinosaur);
  • Self-promotion (the “best Uncle” inscription);
  • Virtue-signaling (the “local, hip” brand).

Third, the buyer of the first outfit, as a Cool Uncle, is not the end-user, and thus does not have to live with the consequences of the act of buying and gets twisted incentives (the photo and the “novelty” of it) deviating from the actual benefits for the end-user.

👍Don’t be a Cool Uncle

On to software development.

When it comes to enterprise software, most BigCos executives are behaving like the Cool Uncle and exhibit the same characteristics:

  1. Very limited knowledge of the actual constraints of the real end-user;
  2. The buyer (usually an executive and/or an innovation team) has a personal agenda that is at best different from the one from the end-user, at worst at odds;
  3. The buyer, not being the end-user, does not have to live with the consequences of his decisions.

Here are some examples that we saw over the last year:

  • An executive could not name the title of any of the potential end-users of a solution being bought;
  • An innovation prize was given to an innovation team whose app had exactly zero users, but boy did it look cool on slides;
  • A software enterprise buyer killed a solution already in place and already used by around 200 people because “it could not properly feed data to the future dashboards that the executive would use;"
  • An executive got promoted for his handling of the implementation of a solution in “only” 18 months, based on hearsay because none of the project director nor top manager ever went to the field. If they had, they would have realized the indicators supposedly automated were still manually inputted once a day;
  • Around 250 field workers had to wait more than 20 seconds for each of the 5+ daily uses of a newly concocted application. It was preferred to a faster solution because it had better dashboarding options for the CEO, who called the final shot.

👩‍👧 Be a cool grandma !

Of course, there is light. And it’s actually pretty simple to overcome the situation. At the Studio, we found that only three key success factors can help any executive to overcome the baby dinosaur onesie effect:

  • Co-construction of the product with the end-user: the team in charge of defining the need and proposing solutions should be living with the end-user. Not visiting once a quarter. Having a desk by the end-user and maybe being allowed to go to headquarters once a month, for half a day. Iterating several times on product until real needs are addressed.
  • Prioritization of the end-user needs over the executive needs: the product manager in charge should be able to constantly prioritize the end-user needs and have power enough to make the situation clear. Executives should commit at the beginning of a project to prioritize the end-user needs and stay true to their word.
  • Accountability of the decision-makers: the ultimate decisionmaker should be made accountable, over a span of at least 36 months, of the implementation and real use of new projects. A systematic audit of the effectiveness of the solutions put in place should be the norm and not the exception.

In short, behave like a cool mom would: think with empathy of the situation of the end user, listen to the needs of the user over yours, and know you will live with the consequences of what you do for a long time.

Here are some awesome examples that we also saw over last year:

  • Field worker pitching their needs to a COMEX and getting budget to actually implement something to help them with the help of an agile software+design teams;
  • A head of innovation visiting a factory and choosing to generalize the use of a SaaS (Software As A Service) that began to be used at field level, thus generating meaningful productivity enhancement;
  • An innovation team living four out of five days per week in a factory and delivering more value in two months than in the entire previous year.

And if you don’t have time nor energy to put that in place: instead of buying clothes, buy gift cards. Give budget to the operational teams, they’ll know how to use it.

If you ever run short of gift ideas or time, try the gift card.


Note: the baby clothes metaphor (from what we can tell) comes from this tweet, and it’s brilliant. Credit where it’s due!

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