Counter-intuitive OSS

Cognitive psychology has shown that the mind best understands facts when they are woven into a conceptual fabric, such as a narrative, mental map, or intuitive theory. Disconnected facts in the mind are like unlinked pages on the Web: They might as well not exist.”
Steven Pinker

A number of colleagues and I attended a 3-day course provided by a vendor last week. It was a primer to get to know their products a little better. Overall, it was a well run course with a helpful set of tools…

…With one exception. One of the tools from the suite, a performance management tool, seemed really counter-intuitive. I thought that it was probably just me being a little dense but when discussing later it seemed that quite a few of the other participants found it equally confusing. And we’re talking hard-core OSS system implementation experts who have seen a lot of OSS products in their time.

I have no doubt that this product is incredibly powerful and can do many valuable things for customers once they get to know it better, but I go back to the old saying, “The confused mind says no,” which surely makes selling this product more difficult.

To me, product planning starts with the user experience. In the case of performance management, a product should be built around the following user profiles:

  1. The dashboard user (eg CTO) who wants to see overall performance / health reports and can drill down into more granular levels of information where needed
  2. The network operator who wants to review scheduled reports, create custom ad-hoc reports to review status for a particular purpose and respond to threshold-crossing alerts when performance crosses pre-defined quality thresholds
  3. The capacity planner who wants to see predictive trending reports to allow for ongoing refinement of the network to meet customer demands
  4. The administrative user who maintains the system, user accounts, groups, archiving, creates new templated reports, etc

There are probably other user profiles you can think of, but the point is that you need to understand your target profiles and associated use cases so that you can make each user experience as intuitive and simple as possible.

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