Fighting Software Waste with Neurology
There is a consequential waste problem right now. It’s most likely in your company. It’s sitting on your desk, on your laptop screen, collecting digital dust and contributing to a multi-billion dollar issue each year. It’s software waste, and it’s costing you time and money.
A four-year-long study analyzing wasted software in the US and UK concluded that one-third of all software remains unused. In the US alone that is a $30 billion loss per year or $259 per desktop computer and in the UK £5.7 billion or £159 per desktop.
Before you go unsubscribing from your current software or swearing off new digital purchases, explore the factors behind your potential software waste.
Reflect on the first couple weeks post-purchase with your team’s unused software: was there an attempt at integration or was software harmony simply expected? The amount you invest in integration at the beginning stages of using a new software heavily impacts your team’s affinity for the software.
A majority of software used professionally can be classified as tools. They support and can aid individuals in their pursuit of creation. Just as a pencil is a tool to help you transfer thoughts on a page, Microsoft Word is a software tool that allows you to format thoughts into a digital space. And like most physical tools, software tools require practice before you become adept at using them.
If you don’t invest in learning the tool and practicing workflow integration, the tool will ultimately remain unused or under-used.
Granted there is a large responsibility that lies on the shoulders of the tool’s designer. They need to ensure that use is easy, the feel is natural, and the learning curve is gentle.
Software integration finds success when efforts on both the user and the designer are harmonious. The software needs to become habitual and easy; just like picking up a pencil.
Your brain, the optimizer
Efficiency in the workplace and our daily lives is often valued. Our brains are also hardwired for efficiency. In fact, a study conducted in the Journal of personality and Social Psychology found that up to 43% of everyday actions are “enacted habitually”
A habit is defined as a behavior pattern that has turned into an automatic process through consistent reward and repetition. You enter a dark room, automatically you reach for a light switch. Writing a document and Microsoft Word flags a spelling error? You habitually right click and correct.
Habit-making behaviors have been traced to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, a section that plays a large role in memories, emotions, and pattern recognition. After a pattern of behaviors has been rewarded enough, the decision-making portion of your brain goes into sleep mode, and activity in the basal ganglia begins to light up.
But what does this mean for you? What does this mean for under-used software tools?
By breaking down the pattern of habit formation, neuroscience can be used to integrate new software into our existing workflows and increase efficiency.
Originally discovered by MIT researchers the “habit loop” breaks the neurological patterns behind habits into three main points.
Cue – This is some sort of prompt, information, or environmental stimuli that allows your brain to predict reward.
Routine – this is the habit behavior itself. The actions that the brain has recognized lead to a reward.
Reward– this is the result of a habit, why our brains paid attention to the cue in the first place.
Translating habits into your workflow
Translate these steps to your office workflow and map out new neural pathways for you and your team.
Consider applying the knowledge above to the example of integrating QVscribe into your requirements authoring workflow.
QVscribe provides numerous features that assist with integration including immediate response, seamless integrations with other software tools and streamlined UX. However, conscious workflow integration when first using QVscribe results in decreased authoring time and allows users to fully benefit from the requirements tool.
First, explore the habit you wish to form, but start small. Your large goal may be for every member of your team to fully integrate QVscribe and all its features. That isn’t a habit, that is more of a dream.
That dream however remains helpful. Explore what it means to get to that final level of integration. Eventually, you will want all your authors to integrate QVscribe when writing all requirements. You will want them to explore and understand the benefits of all QVscribe features. A good starting point is the habit of running QVscribe regularly.
It may seem like a small change, but consistency compounds.
Let’s link this routine to an engaging cue. Sustainability and consistency should be the focus of the cue. Think about how your authors work. We recommend, when writing new requirements, that QVscribe be used from the beginning authoring stages, consulted often and in small chunks. This allows the user to note mistakes they are making early on in the authoring process, preventing them from making the same error across the entire document.
Visibility is another large factor. Ensure QVscribe is always on and always visible in your authoring tool of choice.
Authors could also try setting a timer for the length of time, on average, it takes them to write a small portion of the requirements. This timer would serve as the cue, reminding authors to consult QVscribe. Alternatively, you could substitute the timer for a post-it note on the side of the monitor, for a more visually engaging cue.
The cue itself should be tailored to the individual. Allow users to explore different cues and find what works best for them. Eventually, the initial, conscious cue will no longer be needed as the requirements author slowly makes QVscribe habitual.
An approach that has found success with our existing customers is making a QVscribe analysis a requirement for a project to move forward. Project managers have used the software’s rating as a “trigger”, the deciding factor if a requirement or specification is at an acceptable level of quality to continue past the design stage. Some teams even state that running a QVscribe analysis is “kind of a habit now”.
Reward is imperative, it’s an investment in your team. Ensure that you are acknowledging the effort your employees are making regarding the integration process. The desired change in behavior should be consistently correlated with a positive response to enact meaningful, habitual change. Take notice when it becomes clear individuals are using the new software and deliver positive feedback.
Although this is a specific example, the general process of habit exploration, formation and integration is transferable, and applies to many software tools. If you were attempting to integrate a project management [PM] tool, for example, the specific cue may be different but the routine remains the same. For a PM tool you may want to try scheduling early weekly meetings, encouraging users to check the tool before said meeting. If the proper reward is involved, overtime individuals will begin opening the software tool at the beginning of the week habitually.
Sixty-six days is cited as the general timeline to translate conscious behavior into a habit. However, this length of time can change based on the engagement level of the cue, the level of reward, and each employee’s individual ability to form habits.
Although the habit formation period seems to be longer than desired, implementing routines such as the example detailed above will result in time savings that far outweigh the initial investment. Habits form the basis of our routines and daily lives. Taking notice of habits or lack of them can give us insight into the underserved segments of our lives. Ensure that you and your team are optimizing the tools at your disposal and not contributing to the billions of dollars of waste we see annually.