Last week, I had the chance to sit in on a presentation someone was giving about using my software. It was the first time I had experienced that - and I felt both slightly flattered and slightly mortified. I’ve done user testing before, and I’ve shown many people how to use the tools I had written, but this was different.

The tools she was showing were for internal use, and it was all employees listening. It turned out to be very educational, and I think this was especially because she had prepared all the slides showing her workflow. Of course we talk to our coworkers about how to use the tools, and respond to their requests for new features or a simpler workflow, but often it still comes down to our development team deciding how the tools work. Then we imagine people using the tools the way we would use them.

This specific tool was designed to keep track of state licensing departments for home inspectors - and specific settings for each one, to be applied to the education courses our company offers to subscribers. It tracks approval numbers, stores approval documents, takes care of notification settings, notes on our conversations with the licensing departments, etc. It does it’s job, but it’s gotten bloated.

Initially, when I designed it a number of years ago, it was very simple and the forms were small. However, I’ve had to add so many different options and features as we’ve grown bigger and had many more states and countries approve our courses for licensing. Since I look at the code and don’t use the tool myself, the amount of options had slowly crept towards a massive form my coworkers had to use.

You can imagine how useful it was, then, to see it from someone else’s perspective after all of the bloat it had acquired, and I started taking notes. It was incredibly educational:

  • I realized that they were using different words to describe the options then the ones that I had used. They made sense to me, but my coworkers thought about pieces of the tool in different ways.
  • I thought of a new way to break up the organization of the settings so there weren’t so many of them on a single page.
  • In addition, I noticed how many clicks they needed to get to commonly-needed information. Again, this wasn’t an issue years ago, but as the company has grown, I realized that different employees needed different sections of the tool. This led me to a new idea of how to organize the dashboard.

All in all, a good surprise and learning experience for me! Now to get to work…