Great Software Systems Need Psychologists and Statisticians

Psychologists and StatisticiansTraditionally the team of people that get together to build software systems consisted of programmers, designers, and system architects. Over the last several years the prominence of designers directing the charge has lead to a dramatic improvement in usability and system interfaces. However, this team is still incomplete.

In order to build a valuable software system we need to include psychologists and statisticians in the development process. Why, you say? Because software requires users to enjoy engaging with the system while generating business intelligence, not just static reports.

The Case for Psychologists

The number one problem with most software tools is a persistent lack of adoption. Whether you blame it on overly complicated interfaces or a lack of technical competency on behalf of the users, the problem is the same. Oftentimes the assumption is made that employees of a business will adopt a software tool because their boss told them to. This is true in the long run, but the length of time it takes to force adoption is expensive and emotionally draining for the development team, managers, and employees themselves. Let’s face it, no one wants to go to a software training seminar to do the job they’ve been doing for 1o years.

Designers frequently adopt the role of the psychologist when they are involved deeply in the planning phase of the software. This is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t lend itself to generating the behavior changed required to push user adoption. Designers naturally make things beautiful. They don’t usually like adding instructional text to help a first-time user figure out a feature. They don’t think about adding a congratulatory statement after successful completion of an action to give the user an emotional reward.

Psychologists spend their time thinking about human behavior, and how to change it. In the world of software development this can include:

  • Cues to take action
  • Encouraging textual statements to build confidence
  • Explanatory text to remove fear of making mistakes
  • Congratulatory statements to create satisfaction
  • Points systems to track and reward performance

The need for psychologists to be involved in product planning and development applies to business and consumer-facing software. Anytime you want to change a person’s behavior, you need to have someone thinking about the real world psychological barriers that inhibit success, and work to address them from the outset.

The Case for Statisticians

Almost every software system in existence has some level of reporting associated with it. Whether the report is a simple CSV data export or a more sophisticated analytical report that merges a few values together, the goal is to create business intelligence. Unfortunately, most reporting tools fall short of creating business intelligence, instead they simply create business information.

We constantly hear about the wide-ranging uses for “big data” and how it changes everything. Many of us are left wondering what this means in our businesses and software systems. A system does not have to involve large data sets to deliver on the promise of business intelligence. What is needed is a more thoughtful approach to reporting and data analysis. That’s where the statistician comes in.

Any business with a customer database could benefit from better data analysis. Things that a business should want to know about their customers include:

  • Source of customer (marketing source)
  • Value of customer (current and lifetime)
  • Satisfaction of customer (likelihood to return and refer)
  • Profile of customer (demographic, income level, geographic location)

This information is usually available from your existing customer database, but the issue is how to pull it together, analyze it, and represent it effectively. Programmers are not suited to design the types of analytical methodologies required to generate this type of business intelligence. Statisticians are best suited to segment customers, determine profiles of likely customers, predict lifetime customer value, and extrapolate the satisfaction of the customer.

A statistician can be brought in to evaluate an existing customer database outside of a software system to give guidance to the business on where to spend marketing dollars, employees to train, and products to recommend. However, the opportunity to drive continuous improvement is built into the product from the outset. The entire set of reporting tools should be architected by a statistician to get the most effective output possible.


When a big system is being contemplated or built, it’s critical to have the right team assembled to generate the maximum value from the software. Designers, programmers, and system architects need to make friends with psychologists and statisticians. If you are on the buying or building side of the equation, make sure to invest the time and money in these areas. You’ll be thankful when users adopt the software without force or intense training, and when you can make actionable decisions from the output of the system.

About johnwilliamson

I like to think of myself as an innovator. From a very early age I have been obsessed with finding new ways of doing things. I’m all about efficiency and the use of technology to transform the way work gets done. I’ve created successful products for others and for my own ventures. I’ve built companies around my products, raising money and acquiring customers. I truly understand the full life cycle of taking an idea, finding a customer, developing a product, and delivering a solution.
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