Is Friction Killing Your Productivity?


It's a familiar story for anyone who has purchased software for their business. You shop for the right solution, make the purchase and set about using the product with best intentions and unbridled enthusiasm. Now fast forward into the future: the product is half-heartedly used. The team resents the way the product “gets in the way” of doing their work. A growing number of individuals find excuses to spend less and less time using the product, with only threats from their management keeping them in it at all.

As this scenario plays out, many companies even discover that the product that was supposed to help their business is actually reducing their productivity because they’re spending so much effort managing it and forcing it on their team.

Why does this happen? Friction. In this context, friction is anything in the product that resists a user achieving their goals. A few examples:

Clicking more than twice to perform a frequent action.

  • Always forgetting how to do something in the product.

  • Feeling lost inside the product.

And friction is cumulative, so seemingly small things like waiting for a page reload or inconsistent labeling will eventually add up. It’s similar to a headache which slowly grows from barely noticeable to throbbing pain. As product friction accumulates, most users can’t even identify why they dread using the product, they just know it’s painful.

Business software makers have a long history of imposing a crazy amount of friction on users, and due to a combination of technical and business reasons their customers simply grin and bear it. The alternatives didn’t offer any meaningful improvement, and the switching costs were simply too high.


But that’s rapidly changing as the latest generation of enterprise software makers apply the lessons of the social web to better serve “digital native” users. For these users who grew up using computers, excess friction is simply unacceptable. Consider the way that  free consumer products with hundreds of millions of users (FacebookTwitter and Instagram come to mind) relentlessly change their features and user interfaces.  Nine times out of ten, those changes are specifically designed to reduce friction in the product.

This same understanding of the painful effects of friction is now affecting the way business software is being conceived and designed.  Whether you're thinking about the traditional back office functions like HR and Finance, or simply thinking about the way that your team manages their work and shares information, chances are that there’s a new solution available that can alleviate the pain.

What sources of friction are your teams wrestling with? How are you addressing the pain?