Water-cooler Paradox

We had water dispensers (the one shown above) whose primary job was to dispense water (obviously !!!). It had two parts dispensing jar and refill bottle put on top. My drinking habit is tuned to drink from my bottle which i refill at-least twice a day. Each time i align my bottle open the tap and then think about my mid life crisis :P. Total cost of such an apparatus is 150 INR ( $3 )for dispenser and refill pack for 50 per refill pack ( $1 ).

However yesterday a new upgrade happened to this system, a new dispenser/water cooler arrived. It is much more sophisticated. It has hot/cold/normal water dispenser. One has put the refill pack on top and dispenser does the remaining. Approx cost ( $120 ) + Electricity +Refill pack($1)

Watercooler hired for new job

But there were few changes

  • Now the knob had to pressed to keep the water flowing
  • As the new dispenses took more space vertically we removed the table supporting two low cost dispenser for one expensive dispenser/water cooler
  • The refill jar is now covered with blue with a slit which shows the water level

Note : The costly electric water dispenser never purified water we still bought purified water.

Few problems started to arise

  • I had to bend down and keep pressing the knob to fill my bottle
  • My bottle didnt fit and it i had to incline it to get water flowing
  • And while i wait for my bottle to fill up, which hogs up quite sometime, the other person waiting cant have his single glass of water. ( How many times have your cursed that fellow who fills up a good big bottle while you have to wait for a simple glass bottle
  • Company started paying an extra money in electricity
  • The slit which showed the water level needed to manually aligned as front facing for the janitor to change the refill pack. Suddenly we had to remind janitor to change the refill pack.
  • Refill pack replacement frequency increased as we had now just one dispense for same population. With increased frequency the probability of failure in replacement also increased.

And all this while providing a better experience to people while serving a primary goal of providing potable water to thirsty employees.

But interesting part is

  • Bangalore and climate controlled office for employees who never do physical labor never needed a cold water
  • I still take normal water, even if i fill my bottle with cold water it will eventually come to room temperature by the time i consume it

Wondering what’s the crux ?

If product brought into your life makes your simple goal in life more challenging and all in the lieu of providing a better experience than current one, the product will never be loved.

I have often seen business do day to day operations with quite finesse using google sheets. But business in-order to scale make/buy applications to streamline the same and end up buying a watercooler replacing a water dispenser. Field guy then first struggle first to understand the new process and then learn how to navigate around the knobs and buttons to get their daily job done. Most of them if given a choice would happily switch back to the old way back and often they would use the old ways as defacto way of doing business while using the new tool at the end of process cycle as a face saver before the business heads who brought in the new tool.

What to do in such scenarios if i am the one building the product to replace google sheet?

Some points which I have learnt the hard way and practiced

  • Accept the fact that you can NOT build simplicity into a product from day one. Or a MVP for complete process can be built in a single day.
  • Break the process of business in steps with I/O which can be moved to new system
  • Replace steps from end output to starting input of a business flow for productization in phases.You can build MVPs in each step though and iterate. Build as much hacks as you can to fit the new piece in puzzle without breaking the end goal.
  • Mimic daily behavior as much as possible into the steps necessary to achieve the primary goal. Behavioral costs are the most expensive when it comes to product adoption. A Push Knob, which requires constant attention ,will always be frowned upon compared to switch on and off knob.
  • Have on-boarding of business process to new product as simple as possible. People running business have no time to figure things out and then move their business to new system.
  • Measure adoption rates and to iterate on the optimizations needed for the product module.
  • Have an upper benchmark to move to next module
  • Whenever two sub-modules reach an expected adoption rate remove any hack built into system for interaction between the two sub-modules.This helps is tying up any loose ends / edge cases which were being handled by the hack.
  • Go ahead remove another step in the business process and then iterate

My biggest fear in such scenarios is always building feature which stays silently put in a set of features as an Easter egg ;)