Managing changes in your software

Users are creatures of habit...

All of we are creatures of habit. Our customers and users are creatures of habit.

And that's perfectly natural. Habits allow us to get stuff out of our thinking path. They allow us to concentrate.

As Carnegie Mellon reserarchers found out, more skill was associated with less (brain) activation.

(if you're interested in a scientific explanation then read why old habits die hard).

If your users happen to be developers then things are even more important:

We all know that knowledge workers work best by getting into "flow", also known as being "in the zone", where they are fully concentrated on their work and fully tuned out of their environment. Joel on Software

Habit allows you to get "tuned out of your environment", you don't think about the user interface, you are concentrated on your work.

And the contrary holds as well: if your user interface changes a lot then people have to change neural paths, and that makes users unhappy (if not irritated).

... but change is life!

As Heraclitus said a long time ago, "nothing endures but change".

We all want to add features to our products, to make them competitive. We want to change how things work, and how things are done.

Adding features is tricky. Because of habits. Because of user satisfaction. Too many features may end up in Creeping Featuritis, and that in turn ends up in unhappy users and customers, and you lose money.

Guidelines for adding new features

So how to we add new features without losing customers? Without losing money?

The best advice I could find comes from Joel Spolsky's "Usability in One Easy Step"

Something is usable if it behaves exactly as expected

Colloraries to that come from the long missed Kathy Sierra

Give users what they actually want, not what they say they want. And whatever you do, don't give them new features just because your competitors have them!

Two pieces of good advice, I'd say.

Now, what are your guidelines for adding new features?

Happy changes, Antonio

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