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Business apps: A geek's checklist

25 Apr 2024

Daniel Niewiński, Head of Project Management at Orbitvu.

We spoke with Daniel Niewiński, Head of Project Management at Orbitvu, about what characteristics a good work tool should have and whether more functionality is always better. Here's what's on the toolbox geek's checklist.

Autentika: Today, we're discussing how to choose work tools. How do you approach this process? Do you have your own go-to checklist?

Daniel Niewiński: I'm a bit of an app enthusiast, so I'm interested in all sorts of tools. But I always start by asking myself what I want to achieve with a tool. What's its main purpose? And how will using it every day look, especially over a month or a year? I begin by trying out a basic task and then think about repeating it many times to see if the tool can handle it.

I like flexible tools that can be used as frameworks rather than ones with limited options. For example, I used a simple to-do list as a sales tool. It's all about exploring the tool's possibilities.

When it comes to choosing tools for personal use, it's pretty straightforward. But for tools for the whole organization, it's a bit different. The key questions remain: What do we want to achieve? What stats or data do we need? Plenty of tools, especially for project management, work at a broad level and don't let you get into the nitty-gritty. Not everyone needs that, but I do. Take task-tracking apps, for instance. We all have different needs for how many subtasks we want to add, and different tools offer different options. Sometimes, we can only add one subtask; sometimes, it's unlimited.

Do you think having endless choices is always better? Where do we draw the line to make the user's options more manageable? Many tools have features that most users will never use.

We still want to have choices - knowing there's a feature available if we need it. We should limit these options based on practical use cases, saying, "Look, we designed it this way and use it like this." There will always be users who want to delve deeper. And now we have two scenarios. In the first one, the tool restricts options because its creators thought it might be too complicated or wouldn't achieve the desired outcome. If there's good analysis backing this decision, it convinces me. One or two levels are usually sufficient for simple projects with four tasks. But for complex projects, managing intricate processes, we need multiple levels and branches - so it's beneficial to have flexibility, converting tasks into subtasks, breaking them into stages, phases, or blocks. It's easier to handle smaller parts with large projects, dividing them into weekly intervals.

Read also: Why business app design stands apart in UX/UI? My top conclusions

So flexibility is a must-have for you.

It's on my checklist. We usually use a tool when we have a lot of things to handle. While a pen and paper suffice for a few tasks, managing hundreds becomes a real challenge. That's why the ability to edit multiple items simultaneously is a top priority on my checklist. I want to handle 500 subpoints simultaneously, extracting data and exporting it effortlessly rather than doing it all manually. It doesn't make sense if the software doesn't offer this efficiency, and everything needs to be done individually.

Tools should simplify our lives and provide benefits, not just add to our expenses. They need to support teams and entire organizations; otherwise, they won't succeed.

This is particularly crucial when an organization is resistant to adopting new technology. If using a new tool requires extra clicks and effort, it's more of a burden than an advantage.

That's why I look for features like mass editing, customizable filters, personalization, adding custom parameters, or creating and managing custom categories. I prefer to correlate different parameters, extract data, and generate reports that reflect exactly what I need to see. I don't want to manually adjust reports like I would in Excel.

Isn't Excel considered a good tool? Many organizations praise it for being versatile.

Excel is actually a great tool, and some people are really skilled at using it. It's quite impressive and interesting. Excel meets many of the requirements I have for a tool – it allows for editing large amounts of data, extracting information, and creating custom calculation fields. However, it can also be time-consuming and easy to make mistakes.

What's also important is how well the tool integrates with other software and its ability to import and export data. This helps reduce the need for excessive clicking around. I'm interested in tools and enjoy setting up different system configurations. But once I've set up the process, I prefer to minimize the number of clicks. Therefore, it's ideal if the tool can integrate smoothly with others after the initial setup, ensuring a seamless data flow.

Do you value ease of use and intuitive design in a tool? Should a tool be so user-friendly that it doesn't require any special training?

The look and feel of a tool matter a lot because they influence whether we trust it or not. Even if a tool is new and feels challenging initially, its appearance can encourage us to try it. Recently, I downloaded an app that was supposed to help me, but I struggled to use it intuitively despite being skilled with similar tools. Once I figured out how to use it, I realized how many steps were involved. It made me doubt whether I could introduce the app to someone else and convince them it would be helpful. Plus, the app's hardware requirements made it hard for my computer to handle.

I've also tried an app with an outdated interface, which immediately turned me off. If we use a tool every day, it should at least meet basic UX standards so it doesn't drive us away. Yet, some apps still look like they're from twenty years ago.

Read also: And you, who would YOU hire? The dilemma of specialisation in UX /UI design

What's your take on using artificial intelligence in tools? Does it truly improve users' work?

Certainly, making tasks automatic and cutting down on excessive clicking, as I mentioned, is highly desirable. However, human thinking will always outmatch machines, particularly in areas like creativity, empathy, and emotional understanding. I see two paths for AI development. First, it can help us pick the right tool. If we clearly define our criteria, such as features and budget, AI can save us a ton of research time, especially if it's learned our preferences to some extent.

This doesn't just apply to work tools but to any purchases. For instance, when looking for the best frying pan, we could provide our criteria to an AI assistant, which would then hunt down the top options, laying out their pros and cons. Secondly, AI has immense potential to support tool usage by streamlining processes and axing dull, repetitive tasks.

Today, we can seek instructions or advice from AI, but the next step is for AI to execute our commands. AI that we can "assign" tasks to.

I'd love an AI assistant that caters to my needs. For instance, I create numerous scenarios in a tool, each requiring setting up a separate automation. It's a tedious process with lots of clicking. So, having an AI assistant to handle this prep work would be fantastic. I could simply say, "Do this and that," and later receive a notification, "Hi Daniel, your 65 automations are ready!". With life and work moving quickly, AI suggestions would truly have a "wow" factor.

Regarding tools, some organizations prefer to tailor-make their own for specific processes, while others adapt their processes to existing tools. What's your approach? Do you build your tools in-house or buy ready-made ones from the market?

There are as many answers to this question as there are companies. Sometimes, trying out a new tool makes us rethink our processes, leading to restructuring and standardization. This can be a positive change, helping us organize our methods. But sometimes, people are set in their ways, and changing habits isn't worth the effort. After all, we don't want to force anyone into anything.

Both in-house tools and ready-made ones from the market have pros and cons. Market tools often require extensive research, which can be costly and time-consuming. Sometimes, there's no free demo version, and we must spend a lot of time in sales meetings before implementing the application. Integration can also be challenging. In such cases, in-house tools have an advantage because they offer more customization options.

On the other hand, many companies believe their processes are unique to their industry. However, companies and industries can often adapt these processes, especially with tools equipped with filtering, grouping, and categorizing features. The depth of customization offered by a tool is also important. We don't need to build from scratch if the tool can handle complex processes.

In-house tools are helpful when we have unique know-how to keep in-house. Creating something internally is often cheaper, although market tools may offer attractive initial rates. However, we need additional corrections later on.

The downside of in-house tools is that we might not always have the necessary knowledge and skills. Still, building these competencies internally can pay off. If we have people who can build solutions to our problems, we might consider introducing our tool to the market. Many companies are already transitioning to SaaS in this way.

Read also: In-house UX design teams vs. external consultancies – which approach to choose?

We've discussed many aspects of a good work tool. But what, in your view, makes an application or software fall short?

Sometimes, I notice decisions in design that strike me as illogical and inconsistent. It's like adding option A without considering option B, which is the next logical step. For instance, you can customize a report template and choose colors and layout, but you can't save it for later use; you must recreate it each time. This limitation forces you to work "on the fly," improvising and adapting within the software. Another example is naming projects and adding prefixes to their names. I've found a tool where you could add such a prefix, but only when copying the project, not when creating it from scratch. It might seem minor, especially with just a couple of projects, but with 50 or 500, it becomes challenging to keep track of them all.

Is it worth giving feedback to tool creators in such situations? After all, we users can also help improve their quality.

Absolutely. I sometimes join in community voting, where users suggest new features. I recall when a feature was added this way after our company's users requested it. Feedback helps refine and enhance tools, though sometimes these suggestions are ignored, which isn't a good look for the tool provider. This underscores the importance of properly planning user actions and anticipating their behavior.

It's crucial to consider scalability early in tool development. It's wise to envision how the tool will handle future use and ensure room for growth. How would it cope with double the workload? The more scenarios we prepare for, the better we can meet user needs.

In summary: flexibility and sleek design. The more I can tailor the tool to my needs, the better. And if it's enjoyable to use, we've hit the jackpot.

Daniel Niewiński

For the past 10 years, I've been leading projects across various areas, from marketing and social initiatives to business intelligence, implementing and developing systems and applications, and even recruiting celebrities to join in recording and singing a campaign song encouraging men to undergo cancer screenings. I have an analytical mindset, a passion for automating processes, and vast reserves of creativity and artistic chaos. What comes out of such a mix? Something that allows me to serve as the Head of Project Management at Orbitvu every day.

Orbitvu is a technology company specializing in creating innovative photographic systems that streamline content creation, enabling effortless generation of high-quality images, 360° presentations, and product videos. Hundreds of companies worldwide use Orbitvu's automated devices, which meet the needs of the fashion, jewellery, furniture, and automotive industries.

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