Q: We develop a very complex software application that customers say is difficult to use. We are having an internal argument about whether to spend most of our budget on improving the documentation or revising the interface. My concern is that we can get a more immediate payoff by improving our documentation, which has been very poor in the past. What do you think?
Both are great goals, but while you may get a more immediate payoff by improving the documentation, this won’t move you further along as your product matures over time. If the product is hard to learn now, it probably will only get more difficult as you add features and functionality. From our research, we have seen time and time again that users typically resist reading documentation. Also, if your competitors develop products that are easier to use and require less documentation, then they could have a negative effect on your sales and user adoption.
Ideally, conduct usability studies on both the user interface and the documentation to help you define and prioritize problems with both. The data you gather will help you to measure the benefits in terms of business metrics for both the UI and the documentation.