Imagine giving a person a copy of Intuit QuickBooks. The person has no accounting knowledge and no experience with this software or competing software. In other words, this is a layman. Imagine that their job was to get QuickBooks up and running for a small business with 30 people and 5 million in revenue.
Result: They would likely fail.
They would probably blame the software as not being easy to use. They would have a mental model of what they needed to do and it wouldn’t be the same mental model as QuickBooks. The problem, however, isn’t the software. The problem is that the person has no knowledge of accounting or bookkeeping.
If you were to give the person “consulting”, it would be a waste to show them where the buttons were in the software and how to print reports. Much more importantly, they would need lessons on basic bookkeeping. Having the right mental models will make the software seem easier.
This same fact goes towards most complex software. I didn’t understand Windows Server, Active Directory and Exchange until I understood the basics of DNS, Routers and the Internet Protocol (IPv4). Human Resources software is more than the buttons, you need to understand people, incentives and motivations. Marketing software is more than “drag/drop workflow”, you need to learn about marketing, offers and content creation. Every complex software suffers from this basic problem. Photoshop is an ineffective tool unless you understand the basics of composition, color theory, balance, typography and general art.
So why is it that most software consulting focuses on how to use the tool, rather than the basics of the craft the tool is meant to help with. We often think of software users as intermediates or experts; people who know the craft and just need software to help them. I think the reverse is true. People buy software because they see that experts use it and they hope they can learn the craft through using the tool. As if buying expensive saws and toolboxes will make me a carpenter.
There is certainly a place for schools in this education, but very often, I find that people enter a craft well after school ends. They dive in without any help. It’s up to the software vendors to help continue the education in our chosen crafts to make people more successful. Make the software easier just misses the point. We need to make the people better practitioners.
Note: This is not an excuse to accept difficult software. This is pointing out that there is more involved than learning the software.