In the world of the Lean Startup there is a concept called Minimum Viable Product (MVP) which encapsulates the idea of getting things out of the door quickly. Don't wait for your product to be fully featured - in fact, don't wait for your product to be even partially featured. Just start to ship it the minute the absolute bare minimum is available.
Alongside MVP, however, I'd like to extend out to the idea of the Minimum Viable User Experience - the bare minimum baseline below which the experience for the user is unacceptable. I'd also like to propose that the standard for that baseline should be the HMRC online self assessment service.
I don't want to suggest that as a baseline because I think the online tax system is particularly bad. Far from it - although it's certainly showing its age, the HMRC system gets the job done with as little pain as can be expected. The reason I'd like to suggest that as the baseline is because first of all doing a tax return is never going to be a task that any sane person is going to actually enjoy, and secondly because as an institution HMRC is immensely powerful. I'm not sure it's still the case, but for many years they had greater powers of arrest than the police. If they want to get heavy with you, believe them, they can.
Why this talk of user experience and tax inspectors? Well, for all of the talk about CIOs moving their focus to the digital agenda, I fear we may be missing getting our internal houses in order. The digital revolution isn't one that is only happening outside of our organisations, impacting on the customer relationship. Everyone is changing their expectations about what's good and bad about the use of technology, and I'm afraid that if your internal services are ones that come from the dark ages, your credibility as a digital catalyst is going to be very thin indeed.
For far too long, IT in organisations has been regarded as a method to introduce Taylorist production-line thinking into the office workplace. Systems and processes that treat people as mere transactional nodes or data sources have led to dehumanising workplace experiences that are, frankly, unacceptable. Look at your inbox - how many of the messages there are automatically generated systems missives that are in language barely above that we would use to control a pack horse?
And then when it comes to business systems, how do they measure up against the HMRC benchmark? Are your HR systems, or timesheeting systems or expenses systems less pleasant to use than doing an online tax return? If they are, well, I'd argue that there is work to be done before you can credibly talk about delivering services to people outside of your organisation. Good or poor user experience in employment is increasingly becoming a differentiator for where talent will or won't work.
While it's vital that CIOs move their focus from being totally internally-fixated, in doing so we cannot end up ignoring the largely pre-digital world of business systems. It's easy to do, though - external is about revenue, it's about glitz and glamour - it's sexy. There's nothing sexy about ERP. But then there's nothing sexy about being responsible for staff attrition issues either.