When your workflow is a bug

Today I was trying to add something onto my cell phone plan, and I found a bug on the website.  To be fair, I think everything was working ‘as designed’ but it was still an annoying bug for me.  I have had similar experiences the last few times I have tried to do things on their website and this bug even had me toying with the idea of finding another phone provider.

So what was the bug?  Well, I was on the ‘plan summary’ page and there are three things you can do. (1) change your plan – I’m not interested in this so we’ll leave it aside. (2) a Manage link shows up beside the monthly add-ons and (3) an Add now link shows up beside something called Roaming add-ons.   What I want to do is add a long distance add-on to my plan, so I decide to click on the Add now link.  It takes me to a page that has different available add-ons, including the one I am interested in.  I click on the link to ‘add to my plan’ and it takes me back to the plan summary page I started from.  What the @#$%?!  After a few paroxysms and trying on different browsers etc.  I realize that I need to use the link to Manage my monthly add-on instead, because I am trying to add a monthly add-on and not a temporary roaming one.

Now my guess is that everything is working as expected.  When I used the correct link, I had no problem getting the add-on I wanted, but there are some serious workflow issues here.

  1. If I click on the Add roaming add-ons link and I can’t add monthly add-ons from the resulting page, they should not show up on that page.
  2. The guidance on the initial page should be improved to help me pick the right link in the first place
  3. And most importantly of all, there shouldn’t be a workflow that takes me in a circle.  If I started on a page, I should not be taken back to that same page with nothing at all changed.  Either take me directly to another page that will allow me to do what I want, or, at a minimum, give me a message letting me know why I ended up back here and suggesting some possible alternatives for me to try.

So, before this turns into a rant, let’s stop and think about some lessons we can learn.  The first lesson, of course, is that workflows matter.  Everything can be technically working, but still be very frustrating and difficult for the users.  Another lesson is a new hueristic  that I found: don’t go in circles. Are there any circular workflows in your product that might frustrate people?  I will be reviewing my product for this!

A third lesson, which I hope every tester knows, is that people will do things you don’t think they will.  If you provide two paths and you expect that users who want x will use path (a) and that users who want y will use path (b), don’t forget to think about the feelings and perspectives of users who want y but go down path (a).  Just because it ‘doesn’t make sense’ for a user to go down path (a) to achieve y  doesn’t mean your users won’t do that. Anticipate that possibility and help them out that situation and you’ll have a much better quality product.

Looking this post over it is almost a bug report.  Maybe I should just apply for a job at this company 😉


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