Apologies to Wynonna Judd for borrowing and mangling her lyrics and song title, but I just had a really interesting conversation with a fellow Oracle tools guru. We we’re discussing just how much functionality an end-user really takes advantage of in a software product. He had mentioned that users maybe exercises about 20% of a tool’s feature-set and I countered with 10%. Maybe we’re both wrong, but I think we are on the right side of the scale here. Unless we are talking about Notepad or Spider Solitaire, most users only actually use a very small subset of features.

This doesn’t just apply to really, really techie tools like Toad or Erwin – I would argue that it’s just as true for software like iTunes, Excel, and even Outlook. Who has mastered the ability to pivot data, take advantage of VB Scripting, writing custom rules for every type of email, or even building genius playlists? It seems to me that maybe only 5% of folks out there have mastered the concept of Outlook’s Out-of-Office technology!

We Are Not Dumb or Lazy

While everyone may only utilize a small portion of a software product, everyone also generally uses a different 20%. Those niche features exist because someone out there couldn’t live without it, and the development and management teams agreed to meet that need. Hopefully features that speak to the largest minority are addressed first.

It’s very painful for me to watch someone drive a computer. I’m screaming at them internally to click here, tab there. I’m the same way in a car, ‘up-shift!’ Maybe I am a control freak? Not everyone thinks the same or approaches problem-solving with the same mindset. My way is not better than your way (well, it is for me!)

If You are the User, Don’t Be Afraid to Blaze a New Trail

Consider a different path, it might be faster!

We easily get stuck in our patterns, much like how an ant will take the same trail to and from the colony. We’re a bit more evolved than ants (at least in some cases I hope!), so we should challenge ourselves every now and then. Go left instead of right. Check out the release notes, attend a seminar, or buy a good technical book.

Pick up a few percentage points here and there in your tools and tech stacks and you could make a double-digit percentage point return on your productivity!

This is why I spend so much time and energy digging out the ‘hidden’ and quirky features in our software. Not because they are ‘cool’, but because I think you should know about them and benefit from the time-savings you will bank by taking advantage of them.

That’s Fine Jeff, But I Don’t Have Time to ‘Play’ with Software

That’s OK, because there are plenty of us that do! Find those people, follow those people, and ask them for help. Usually it’s those same people that love working with others and showing off their favorite widgets.

Developers, Don’t Compound the Problem!

Don’t get tricky or super-creative with implementing a new feature. Make it accessible to the end-user, and aim for the N00B, not the expert that already thinks like you.

Of course I shouldn’t complain too much. I have a really, really nice job helping people make sense of the software they use very day. I don’t want it to be too easy!

So How About It Folks? How Much of your Favorite Software Tool do you REALLY Know?

I would say I’m at about 40% for iTunes 🙂


I'm a Distinguished Product Manager at Oracle. My mission is to help you and your company be more efficient with our database tools.

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