Web Based Business Applications & Change Management
Over the past years I have been actively involved in the evolution of a web based application, which is mission critical to quite a few UK based businesses and their end-users. At least 80% of the current users of the application/ service are extremely loyal and have been using the application on a daily basis to get their jobs completed on-time since early 2007, when I first designed and built the application for the parent company.
This essentially means that being the Head of Product, wearing the shoes of the Interaction Designer/ UX Architect since 2006, I am on first name basis with many of the clients/ users in the UK and I know them fairly well, owing to the interaction I had with them in the research phase back then. Working flawlessly since 2008, the application and its website had not gone through any change at all till this May.
Around December 2011 the top management realized that it was time for a change. Like always, they asked us to put on our thinking caps, pull out our paint brushes (paper, pencil, and ah yes, Adobe Fireworks) and wear our coding gloves to get the application ready for 2012 and beyond. During the first quarter 2012 we worked on re-envisioning their service and the user experience that would be rendered. By early March we got the go ahead from the senior management to bring about the changes that we had proposed. The new website went live in the first week of April 2012. This website contains a lot of visuals of the upcoming application, introducing the users to the latest upcoming release of the application and how they should expect to do their daily jobs in the near future.
The Launch Plan
As per our plan to launch the new version, users were to be alerted about the changes 4 weeks in advance and the management in the UK took upon themselves to inform the users of the exciting changes about to take place in May. We also recommended that the old version should be left available to the users for at least 4 weeks after the new version became the default. Thus giving them the ability to use either version as they desired, with full interoperability. This required some tweaks in the old application as well to accommodate a smoother transition and data integrity. Sadly, this proposition was shot down by the management and they wanted to surprise the users on any Monday morning during the month of May.
Beware of the ASAP approach!
The new product did surprise all current users on May 21st, 2012. Here’s the catch! This ‘surprise’ turned out to be quite a disaster. As expected, some of the users didn’t even realize that this was where they have been getting their work done for years. They were baffled, lost, and a couple of them even annoyed. Annoyed over the fact that they weren’t told the exact date when this change would occur. To add to their misery a new Help Desk URL was created on Zendesk, against our insistence to stick with the established Help Desk URL on the same platform! The new version, while being much superior to its predecessor in looks, feel, and behavior vis-a-vis Usability and UX can catch anyone, accustomed to the same UI and processes for almost 5 years, by a huge surprise. This surprise is not always a happy one. For firefighting, naturally, I was on the front-lines, with my personal mobile number available to them as an exceptional circumstance, something I am not too comfortable with. But one must do what one does best! Provide a great service may it be design or customer support.
It was quite a learning experience. The number one thing in it for me was the first hand experience of the power of a product loved by its users coupled with rock solid and vigilant customer support. With tech support and the developers ready to fix anything, though rocky, any transition is possible while keeping the users’ trust and confidence. Yes, we did roll-back a few new things only to reintroduce them within 90 days, once the users felt ready.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, during this interaction on the customer support end, we heard some awesome thoughts and ideas directly from the users about (a) how the new version is outrageously awesome and (b) what else can now be done to improve the user experience, essentially in terms of ancillary functionality of the product.