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The life-changing magic of tidying up bloated software

My daughter recently convinced my wife and me to read a book by Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, who supposedly has been transforming closets, if not lives, with her teachings. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing has become kind of a craze around the globe.  The more my daughter shared with me, the more I thought I would apply some of the principals in the book to the world of software. After all, even the most popular software becomes bloated or hidden or unusable if we don’t pay close attention.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways my daughter initially shared was “if it doesn’t make you happy or bring you joy, get rid of it. Well, I struggled with this knowing that the size 33’s & 34’s in my closet brought me a ton of joy when I could wear them, but not so much when I am 36+. Needless to say, my guess is most men find little joy in squeezing into anything and I doubt that I am the only guy who needs the size rings in my closet to separate my sizes that can fluctuate with the season. 

Frustrated with my closet, I thought I would apply some of these tidying up principals to software so all of our users are truly more joyful when they use our solution. Keeping the joy concept in mind, I quickly thought of how most software providers try to pack so much into their solutions that users couldn’t possibly be happy with them. Like our wardrobes and our closets, they get bloated with items we will forget about and never use. For most solutions, it is time for a weed out. So what are some principals from this book that will help us?

Lesson #1: Tackle Categories, Not Rooms – We could use this principal to think about personas or user stories. When we start our weed out process, put on the cap of a specific user and determine what is it that they do with your software 90% of the time. If possible, use analytics to find out what features and pieces of your application are really getting touched based on specific user types. Then determine which users are really using your program the most. The ultimate solution is custom menus and the concept of favorites so the functionality in your software feels like it was built specifically for each user.

Lesson #2: Respect Your Belongings – Like clothing, it is easy for us to misplace a piece of software that was once popular or useful. It gets tucked 3 menus deep or put under the infamous “other” or “more” menu selection. Let’s build our software so it is in the logical place and never more than a click or two away at most.

Lesson #3: Nostalgia Is Not Your Friend– A perfect example of this was a function we had in the old Autobase days called the “Daily Run.” It was a great feature that automatically queued up calls, printed letters, and sent emails based on the latest CRM status updates.  It was a main menu item because it needed to be run, well, every day. In fact, one of the support-call “hall of fame” questions we laughed about over the years was “how often should we run the daily run?” While it was a powerful process that drove all of the activity in the system, it stayed far too long on our main menu for no other reason other than nostalgia. The fact is, we finally put it on auto-pilot where it simply did the processing at midnight every night and when employees came in, their email was sent, their letters were ready to sign, and their calls were queued. The key takeaway, get rid of menu items that are really not necessary.

Lesson #4: Purging Feels SO Good– This is the joy exercise mentioned above. Hopefully, you are using your own software internally so you can answer this question for yourself. If not, I highly recommend you survey customers regularly to discover favorite features. The real question is, can software really make you happy or joyful? The answer is absolutely, especially if it saves you time, drives additional revenue, or assists you in making your own clients happier. 

Lesson #5: Fold, Don’t Hang– Perhaps the best analogy to a closet crammed full of clothes is simply that there is no hierarchy. With software, we sometimes categorize features based on functionality instead of when we might use that functionality. Some of the easiest software applications, tend to drive you through a process so you don’t miss anything. Take some time and go through your menus so they really make sense based on users or based on when specific functionality is used. In other words, let menu items help drive process.

Lesson #6: THE Fold! – The lesson here is simple. In her book, Kondo teaches her readers to fold a certain way so clothes can be turned on their side making sure every article is clearly visible.  I am convinced that really great features, like really nice clothes, rarely get used because we forgot about them.

Lesson #7: Fall in Love with Your Closet– Let’s face it, if we open our closet and say “what a mess” – we have some work to do. If we open up our application and you feel the same way, you have some work to do. We need not look much further than Apple’s success using terms like “elegant simplicity.”  When prepping for a UI refresh, make sure you do some research first and then bring in folks to help if they don’t already exist on your team. Thankfully, we have tremendous UI/UX resources available to us. They live in this world every day and know how to turn user feedback into a beautiful application.

Lesson #8: Rediscover Your Style– It is amazing to me how my wife can quickly identify someone who has stylish clothes or is a sharp dresser. For those of you who know me personally, you would quickly agree, I have no certain style and my closet is as eclectic as an antique store. Needless to say, I hope this new book helps a bit, but for now, I still like grabbing my favorite things from the top of the stack. As for software, I think this book provides valuable insight and it provides a new way of examining UI/UX. Here is to being Tidy! I look forward to your comments, especially if you have read the book.