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Minimize the Impact of Change on Your Users

Yes, change is inevitable:

  • New technologies become available while old ones sunset
  • Business context evolves
  • Your product’s users gain experience and new expectations

Your product must change in order to stay relevant. However, unless you’re pivoting towards a different user base, you need to be aware of how that change will impact your users. Make this an action item from the beginning in backlog grooming, release planning, and design.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure changes to product features and user experiences are successful.

Make Invisible Changes

The best possible change may well be the one your users don’t see. If they can still execute their tasks in the same way, the impact is non-existent. A significant performance enhancement is a good example of this. This is not to say you should avoid new use cases or alternate paths to existing ones, just to start from a position that the current use case will still be valid. Barring that, consider the next two steps.

Give Your Users a Heads Up

Few people like surprises. You risk alienating your users if how they did things in the past is suddenly no longer valid. Giving them a heads up will prepare them for the coming change. You may wish to use multiple channels to convey this information:

  • Email describing the change with links to help pages
  • Notification on your landing page, again with links to help pages
  • Notification in place where the change will occur

That last option will increase the likelihood that your users will get the message and be prepared.

Provide Error Messages and Feedback that Make Sense

While this step should be taken no matter what you do (and is a key usability heuristic), it is especially true when you’re asking your users to follow new paths. Despite your best efforts, people will likely make mistakes, especially if they’re working off of muscle memory. Since the tendency is for users to blame themselves, you want to assure them that everything is OK and here is how you can back out of that mistake.

Incremental Change May Be Better Than Drastic Change

Change is easier to consume in small bites spread over time. Not only will this minimize the impact on your users, but it will also give you a chance to test certain approaches to see which ones work best. Aim for evolution over revolution.

Track Your KPIs!

I know, I’m preaching to the choir here, but I want to emphasize how important this is during periods of transition. Hypothesize ahead of time how you expect the change will impact your users’ behavior. Define what a good outcome looks like as well as several possible bad outcomes. Be ready to react quickly so as to minimize the negative.

Once you master this process it may become THE way to manage user interface changes to your product over time. Change is a constant, be prepared for it and shield your users.

 

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Bill Lenoir
30 Jan, 2018