1 step backwards cancels 10 steps forwards

Problems of Implementing Change

As a software developer you are always an agent of change. There is a problem with this role however, many of your customers will share your joy of change with quite the same light.

When Office 2007 came out I personally thought it was a substantially better interface. However, there was plenty of online criticism, features had been renamed and moved, Office experts suddenly didn't know where their obscure several level deep options were, and even though most options were easier to find, because some were harder it was not undeniably better. People even went so far as to develop software to alter the new ribbon interface back to the 2003 design.

Windows 8 suffers some of the same issues, Microsoft improved the boot up time, the hibernate functionality, they built in lots of new features, however, the tile interface change and the separation of desktop and tile based apps has lead to the entire product being criticised. 

It can be disheartening that when you make a change the change can be criticised so harshly. I have noticed that only undeniable improvements are universally accepted. Even if 10 steps forward have been made and only 1 step back, no matter how insignificant that 1 step may be, it will frequently override all other changes.

The only improvements that tend to be universal accepted are performance changes with no obvious change in functionality and minor changes to a single point within a program which remove a substantial number of repetitive steps.

I worked on a project where there was a process change, the time the customer took to complete a task went from 2 minutes down to 30 sec - 1 minute. While the change objectively improved efficiency it was not well received.

The original process had 8 distinct steps that were always required. The new process had 3 to 5 distinct steps depending on the situation. The customer objected to the fact that they could in a minority of cases need to carry out 5 steps.

Unfortunately as they say you only make a first impression once, and so even when it was agreed that the change was definitely an improvement the first impression tainted the project in a negative light.


While it would be great to always make universally loved changes designs will always have an element of compromise, but that does not mean you can not help your users to love your changes.

Consult Your Users Early

If you tell your users about the proposed changes before you even implement them they will have a chance to offer their criticism, you will be able to discuss and come up with a solution that they have approved and when it is released they will have a vested interest in it as they have to some extent requested it, and no one likes being wrong.


Try to promote the change in an objective fashion. If the end user is aware of how the change helps in an objective fashion they will be able to offset that against any criticism they may feel it justifies. If you cannot promote your change objectively to illustrate improvement then perhaps your customers are right and your change was wrong!

Opting Out

When major changes come about it can be hard for your customers to stomach, altering their practices to your new paradigm can be difficult. Now it is the case that most users stick with the defaults, to the extent that it is almost pointless having options in applications, however, intelligent opt outs can be developed to mitigate against this.

I feel Windows 8 would have benefited massively if their new tile interface was only on by default on touch enabled devices. There was an improvement with Windows 8.1 with the option of going directly to the desktop, but this is not quite far enough for most people who are not using touch devices and would prefer to remove tiles entirely. Allowing non-touch screen users to try tiles and disable them would probably have removed the majority of the complaints about Windows 8 and allowed the new benefits to shine through.

Consider something similar either intelligent defaults, or tutorial introduction to the new version and the benefits it contains. Advising people as to the benefits helps predispose them towards accepting any compromises that may have been made to existing functionality. At the very least you are preparing them for the change so they have time to adopt strategies to best fit any new working practices.


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