Monday, November 26, 2012

If it ain't broke, test it!

Humans have always had a tendency to over "fix" things.  The saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  The problem with this is that if we never fixed "working" things, innovation wouldn't exist.  If we never fixed the telephone, we would still be using party lines.  We if never fixed the computer, we wouldn't have laptops.

Innovation is paramount to success, but sometimes it can be hard.  Hard because people are generally adverse to change.  When you make something new or enhance something old, you have to be cognitive of the fact that your "advances" threaten the current life of your customers.  In order to embrace your changes, they have to let go of what they know.

So, how do you get adoption of a new feature?

Let's first look at an example of how not to do it.  Facebook is constantly rolling out vast changes to its core functionality.  Games, updates to feeds, privacy settings, timeline, facial recognition, etc.  All of these changes came out as a vast update, at least to the general public.  There was no way to opt-out or go back.  If you're on Facebook, you're along for the ride.

When you release a change in this manner, it forces your customers to adapt or leave.  I worked for a publishing company of over 50 staffers and 200+ writers that used Basecamp for all their project management needs when 37signals, the owners of Basecamp, decided to release a major overhaul of the product.  It caused our entire organization to all but stop for a few days while we tried to learn the new system.  We didn't leave Basecamp, but they received plenty of nasty grams from our directors. 

Google, however, has made some very successful changes to their products.  Just the other day I was in my email when it asked me if I would like to try the new inbox message writer.  I decided to test it out.  I didn't like it and so I went back to the classic way of writing emails.  Note: Google asked if I would like to test out the new feature and let me go back to the previous version.  This method lets Google get valuable feedback on how many people are willing to try something new (an indicator that the old way can be improved), and how many people went back to the old way (an indicator of how well their change will be received).  

If you were to redesign Craigslist, a very successful online classified ads website that often gets dinged for its overly simple design, you could use this same method.  Many people believe that if Craigslist ever changed their design, they would lose many of their customers who value the overly simple layout and design.  You could easily make vast changes to the website via CSS and let visitors opt-in to using the new design and back out if they don't like it.  

If you have a strong customer base and are thinking about making a big change, consider testing your changes with an opt-in style test.  You could save yourself a lot of nasty phone calls and blog posts :)