Don’t Stop Making Sense

Feature on and against Featuritis in Enterprise Software Design

Christian Riege

If you’d been asked to name the 100 most important things or rather 100 senseless things what would you start with? Right, there are so many more useless than needful things and you would easily be able to list more than 100 of them.

Counting aside, the existence of things you don’t need is true for most facets in life and – sadly enough – to an exceeding extent for enterprise software. We talk about features or rather an overload of aggregations of them. They conquer applications like viruses on computers, infesting them like a severe disease: Featuritis. Unfortunately, there is no antidote or cure, it either hits you or you resist. Some do, as Horace Dediu reports, and you may be surprised who:

We were witnesses to apps which appeared to be designed for users[!] They were not designed for committees that prepare checklists of requirements. We must applaud IBM for having the courage to resist the featuritis which plagues enterprise software design. This resistance requires saying No to those who specify and are thus authorized to purchase software and hardware. IBM has had to essentially say no to those who buy and yes to those who are paid to use. The quality of the experience is evident at first sight. The number of user actions, the number of screens to wade through have been ruthlessly culled. These are concepts and ideas which now permeate app design best practices. Yet they are practices which still elude the spec-driven enterprise software wastelands.

This describes in essence the philosophy upon which Scope is built. When we started the development of Scope in 2006, one of my biggest fears was encountering the dreaded “Second-system effect”. We had a perfectly good working system with ProCars, and it was a very tough decision to question assumptions that had manifested themselves over thirty years.

Yet, we started Scope from a blank slate. We designed Scope first and foremost with its potential users in mind. With resistance to featuritis from the very beginning. Features that were important for just “enterprise sized” customers were dropped — screens were made fix instead of being configurable. Component behavior was standardized across the application. Master data management (e.g. countries, ports, currencies) was removed from the realm of the user into a central responsibility on our side.

We are now in year nine of Scope. Numerous features and functionality have been added since the humble – but nevertheless ardent – beginnings in 2006. But for every feature or improvement request that we receive we still keep asking ourselves: “Is this really necessary?“. “Does it help the user?”. “Is there a better way to do it?”. We continue to say “No” or “Maybe” to a lot of issues. Saying “No” is hard and sometimes leads to controversy. But the rule is – and always will be – it has to make sense. Make doing the easy things easy and the hard things possible. Otherwise it’s not a feature but a plague.

Nevertheless, as a reliable, cooperative partner to our customers we always have an open mind on suggested improvements – Scope literally lives from additional input of users and, after all, is a continuously growing summary of improvements. Therefore we will continue to invest in all necessary resources to deliver real Innovation in Logistics. Not to fulfill the check-marks on an enterprise’s list of features. For it is our pronounced intention to please current as well as future users and contribute to their work-life becoming a bit brighter. Thus we’ll never stop doing things that make sense.

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