Co-development: A Great Way to Build Intuitive Software
One of the biggest challenges in software development is that the end product must be intuitive to someone who hasn’t yet seen it. This immediately disqualifies everyone who works for your company. Even worse, it disqualifies your user community, especially your most vocal power users. They tend to push you to build software that is complex. So how can a developer overcome the inherent forces that push you to make complex software?
I discovered an approach to developing intuitive software years ago, by accident. In the mid-1990s, I joined a small public company called HPR as head of new product development. I was tasked with building a next generation Case and Disease Management platform for payers. There was only one problem: I had no idea what case and disease management was, and nobody in my company did, either. It turns out that this was a blessing, although I can assure you it did not feel like one at the time.
I had to find someone who knew something about case and disease management. The only people I could find were payers – Tufts and Healthsource, an innovative health plan in New Hampshire. We worked closely with them to design, build, and deploy what became known as CareEnhance Clinical Management Software (CCMS), a revolutionary approach to payer-based case and disease management.
I had stumbled my way into a process for building intuitive workflow software, which I now refer to as “co-development”. It begins by selling a concept to two customers. Selecting two partners is critical. When you only work with one, it is hard to tell what workflows and processes are “unique,” and which are common. With two, it is unlikely that both will have the same unique processes.
We utilize this co-development process at PatientKeeper, and it has produced some impressive results. Most notably, PatientKeeper users require no formal training on our products, just as you don’t receive formal training on a consumer app you download from the Apple App Store. That is the expectation of today’s users, and it’s a challenge enterprise software developers must meet head-on.
[For seven tips on building truly user-friendly applications, read my recent commentary in InformationWeek.]