To Cheese or Not to Cheese: Using Inhibiting & Promoting Pressures to Design Features 

Grace Vorreuter


Not long ago, Matt Wallaert came and spoke to the product team at Yammer. Matt, a social psychologist who works on Bing for Schools, had a fresh outlook on some of the problems we’re trying to solve at Yammer and brought up some interesting concepts on how to make product decisions using learnings from social psychology. I technically have a Masters in Social Psych, so I in particular found this interesting!

What are inhibiting and promoting pressures?

Simply put, promoting pressures are factors that encourage certain behaviors and inhibiting pressures are factors that get in the way of certain behaviors. If your desired behavior is, for example, to work out, there are different factors that can both inhibit and promote that behavior. A promoting pressure could be that you have a buddy who is bugging you to go with her to the gym. Promoting pressure to NOT work out? Your buddy is like “LET’S EAT CHEEEESE!” instead. An inhibiting pressure could be that the gym is far away and you have to get into your car and drive there to make it happen. And an inhibiting pressure to not working out might be if you literally cannot walk out your front door without seeing that gym (because you live next to a gym).

Cheese vs. Gym: a graph

In product, we often focus on promoting instead of inhibiting. We phrase problems around actions we want the user to do (or do more of), and build features around that. Matt Wallaert encouraged us to instead focus on the inhibiting factors that are blocking our users. What are the real barriers keeping people from using our product?

Brainstorming with Inhibiting and Promoting Pressures

So we held a brainstorming session where we would list all the inhibiting and promoting pressures of using Yammer, based on things we’ve heard from our customers. The research team, a designer, and a customer success manager got together, we made a graph like the one above, and we started filling in each quadrant.

Here are a few of the pressures we came up with:

Promoting

  • Presence of active Yammer evangelists
  • Clear purpose and direction for using Yammer
  • The organization is focused on providing a great company culture

Inhibiting

  • Don’t have the time to get on Yammer
  • Highly private closed company culture
  • Afraid of looking dumb on Yammer
  • Existing tool that the organization is already dedicated to (email)

Because we’ve thought a lot in the past about the promoting pressures in Yammer, we wanted to focus more on the inhibiting ones. We know that a company that already has an open, transparent culture will likely take to Yammer better and we know that Yammer is more successful if the organization has clarity of purpose for using it, but how can we use that information to make product decisions? We can’t force companies to have open cultures or make them realize what exactly their business pain points are. What we CAN do however is figure out how to help alleviate those inhibiting factors:

  • People saying they “don’t have time to use Yammer.” That speaks to a deeper issue, that they may not see Yammer as useful for their job. Perhaps they are discounting it because it is social media. How do we help people feel like they are being productive in Yammer, and therefore feel awesome at their jobs, and therefore feel that Yammer is a useful tool? SO MANY FEELINGS!
  • For companies that have more private closed cultures, they may be wary of putting documents in Yammer because they want to control who sees what. What can we do in the product to alleviate those concerns? *cough* SharePoint integration *cough*
  • For people who are afraid to look dumb in Yammer, perhaps they need some examples to feel comfortable posting. They need to know that they don’t have to be an expert on a topic to contribute. How can we make our new user experience help people to feel confident in writing that first post?
  • People are already familiar with using email and scheduling meetings. How can we help them migrate those distribution lists to Yammer groups? Or post their status updates in Yammer to reduce meetings? How can we meet them where they are most comfortable—basically putting a gym right next to their house?

Now we know to think about both promoting and inhibiting pressures, and thanks to that brainstorm, we’re already cranking on some feature ideas to address these pressures! How can we help people change the way they work and work like a network? These are the kinds of questions that keep us coming to work every day. That and cheese.


Grace Vorreuter is a User Researcher at Yammer. She has a husband named Jake and a dog named Nika and she is President-for-Life of Yammer’s Cheese Club.