Underused Software Syndrome

Do you have low level anxiety, a feeling you’re not getting everything you could out of your existing software? Is there a nagging guilt that it’s your fault? Does it seem if only you had more time or training you could really master that piece of software and life would be so much easier?

Welcome to Underused Software Syndrome!

I’ve searched for a term for this phenomenon and not found one so I’ve decided to coin my own. Feel free to set me straight if this anxiety already has a name.

I see this low-level fear a lot. The idea that there is something more, some magic, hiding in a piece of software. Finding this magic would result in a life of unicorns, rainbows, and tropical drinks…or so we believe. Part of the challenge is that occasionally we do stumble onto a feature that solves a significant problem or increases productivity. That reinforces the syndrome. Surely the developers added more features like the one we just found if only we had time to look harder. With Underused Software Syndrome, we think software problems are our fault. While it’s right to want to be more productive and to solve problems, it’s wrong to blame yourself.

Underused Software Syndrome manifests frequently in business software users. Users of applications like ERP systems (accounting), CRM (sales), and even Office apps like Excel are common sufferers. The software is so big and complex that user’s blame themselves for not being more efficient. This seems to be a form of impostor syndrome mixed with a little FOMO, the fear of missing out. The user feels that despite their knowledge of their job and the relevant software, they don’t know enough and they aren’t good enough. Surely everyone else is getting more out of the software.

I’m sure this feeling isn’t limited to business software. Video editing and graphic design software seem more than complex enough to generate Underused Software Syndrome feeling. I just have more experience with business software.

In some cases, there’s a financial element to the feeling of Underused Software Syndrome. The idea that software is expensive, and it’s fiscally responsible to use as many features as possible, can sometimes underly the feelings of anxiety. Much like an underused gym membership, people feel guilty if they aren’t fully utilizing it.

In other examples, anxiety may manifest itself based on unfulfilled expectations. Users believe that a software package should have a particular feature and that feature should behave a certain way. Features often manifest differently than expectations leaving users with a vague feeling they missed something.

Finally, there is the fear of missing out. For example, lots of people use Excel and lots of people use a tiny fraction of Excel’s features. Even if they know a feature is there, they have to remember the feature exists at the time they want to use it. Most people are not experts in a given software and most are not getting more out of it than you are.

People like me make this worse. For a long time, I’ve helped people get the most out of the software they own. But that was part of my job. It’s also something I really enjoy, and yet I feel Underused Software Syndrom symptoms about software I deeply understand.

I differentiate underused software from shelfware. Shelfware is software that is not being used. The organization may still be paying maintenance or fees for software they aren’t using at all. Shelfware is easier to address. Ignore the sunk costs and cancel any maintenance or monthly fees. Alternatively, revisit why the software was purchased in the first place and potentially put it to use.

Underused software is harder. The organization is getting some value from the software, maybe not enough value to match the cost, but value nonetheless. It’s hard to toss out software that is being used.

I have a couple of thoughts on options to address underused software and it’s related syndrome:

  1. Accept that value is being generated by using the software. Even if it’s only used for a small task, it is still helping accomplish the task. Accept that this software does this task and move one. Sometimes you just need to accept something and move on.
  2. Evaluate the value of that task against any ongoing costs. A small task with a big cost is not a good value proposition. In that case, it may make sense to figure out if there are additional uses or if it’s time to switch to something else.
  3. Pick one thing to improve and search for that. You’d be amazed at what’s available for any given piece of software. Maybe there’s a need to automate a process or export data, whatever. Someone else has probably already tried it and written about it. At a minimum, you’ll get an answer that something can’t be done. Even in that worst-case scenario, a quick answer makes it easier to stop obsessing and move on to the next thing.
  4. Make sure the organization has the latest version. Underused software may be neglected enough to be on an old version. Updating can reveal improvements in features and UI that help resolve anxiety.
  5. Get some help. It’s a big world. There are books, classes, training, blogs, videos, you name it, on some of the most obscure software ever made. There are resources to help. Use them.

“But I don’t have enough time” is the common refrain. There is a problem, but not a priority. People find the time for a priority. It’s okay if this isn’t a priority right now. When it becomes a priority you’ll make the time. Until then, don’t stress about it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.