Dear Uday: When you have a feature-rich enterprise app, what is the best way for the user to learn the app?

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    Chad A., Software Developer: When you have a feature-rich enterprise app, what is the best way for the user to learn the app?


    Uday GajendarUday Gajendar:

    Thanks Chad for your question! Indeed that’s a common issue, given how complex and intricately defined business apps can be. Well, simply put there’s no ONE single best way but there are a couple points to consider that should help:

    1. Consider the audience you’re designing for, what’s the expected knowledge level both of the existing app and the general domain they operate within (jargon, actions, etc.) and what are the various learning modes that they thrive upon: learn by watching? Learn by reading? Learn by doing? There maybe some breakdown you can arrive at even as a hypothesis verified with some research.
    2. Consider a multilateral (like Swiss Army knife) approach of trying / applying / introducing multiple methods to support a graduated path of user understanding that helps them feel appreciated, supported, makes them feel like learning, gaining mastery in a situational manner. The trick is how to do so without overwhelming or being annoying or condescending.

    Of course, you’ll have a standard tech docs repo / listing online — that’s just naturally expected — but hopefully it’s easily searchable. That’s the lowest common baseline. With whatever tutorials and training sessions offered by the company. Ideally (maybe via some third party app like Zendesk or Intercom) you can pull in some of that content in-app, for greater contextual relevance, perhaps as a side panel or transient bubble/toast like message upon user demand. Nielsen Norman back in 2015 put up this handy overview and various pros/cons. 

    Having on-boarding wizards are another way, as long as they are (a) dismiss-able quickly and (b) retrievable easily. Next level smart help would be when a user is doing some operation repeatedly in an inefficient way and then showing a message suggesting the easier way (or if the user is struggling repeatedly, or too many errors come up, etc.). This would involve some kind of listening / monitoring and tuning the number of attempts (even maybe just the first time) for surfacing the help text or shortcut. 

    And of course, language and tone of voice go a LONG way to appearing polite and supportive. Avoid any sense of an RTFM tone or sarcasm, etc. Remember this handy rule of thumb: Vast majority of enterprise users are quite smart but very busy, with multiple competing demands on attention and time. Don’t add to their stress, nor give them another reason to find your app bothersome and needlessly difficult, compounding their stress levels. Give them a hand where it’s useful and relevant. 

    Do you agree with Uday? What else might you suggest—or do differently? Please share your own advice in the comments. 

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