Or the much longer alternative title: How To Find an Easy-To-Learn, Easy-To-Use CMMS Maintenance App that Ensures Smooth Onboarding and High Adoption Rates for a Faster ROI. Because what you need is something the techs like so the department sees a quick return on its investment. But without a background in design, how do you know which CMMS maintenance app delivers a good user experience?  

After a quick primer on some key concepts, you can find the app that’s easiest to learn and leverage for concrete returns on your investments of time, energy, and money. 

Let’s start with a quick introduction to usability, a core element of UX. 

What is usability in UX design? 

Summing it up, it’s the answer to this question: How much friction is there along the way to the solution to your maintenance management problem? The less friction, the better the usability. 

And then breaking it down, we have the 5 Es of usability. 


Does the app help techs complete maintenance tasks accurately? 


Can techs perform tasks quickly, in a relatively small number of discrete steps? 


Do techs like using the software and feel it’s a good match for their industry? 

Error Tolerance

Can techs undo mistakes easily? For example, if they forget a step, how easy is it for them to go back and fix it? Also, does the software help you avoid mistakes in the first place? On the Hippo CMMS Mobile app, for example, you can’t generate a work order until you’ve entered the right required information. The app also warns you when you’ve made changes but not saved them. 

before you discard changes, the app confirms that's what you want

before you discard changes, the app confirms that’s what you want

Ease of Learning 

Are techs able to master the app quickly, and then do they get better with experience?

These are all important aspects of usability, but let’s focus on that last one, ease of learning. What makes something easy to learn? An important part of the answer is information architecture. 

How does information architecture support ease-of-learning? 

Information architecture is the art and science of organizing and labelling software to support usability and find-ability. When things are in the right places and called the right things, they’re easy to find, making the whole system easier to learn. You don’t have to dedicate brainpower to finding things and remembering where they are if everything is where you expect it to be. In fact, one of the all-time classics on usability design is Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, and the title is also his big piece of advice for designers: Make everything so obvious and intuitive that people don’t have to think about what they’re doing. 

Maintenance work is hard enough without the added distractions of a confusing app. The less brainpower techs spend on the app, the more they can focus on maintenance tasks. 

Putting everything in the right place, right where it’s expected 

Imagine you’re driving along when suddenly your favorite song comes on the radio. Without taking your eyes off the road, how easy would it be to turn up the volume? It should be effortless. Even if you’ve never driven that specific car before, you know the controls for the radio are going to be up on the center console. Or imagine you need to run into a store to buy some gum. You know to head over to the check-out. There’s always at least some gum there, right beside the chocolate bars and magazines. 

An app that’s easy to learn does the same thing: it puts things where you expect to find them. On the Hippo CMMS Mobile app, for example, the tabs on work orders are in the order you complete the tasks. It’s intuitive because the internal organization matches the external one. 

Calling everything by the right name, the same one everyone uses 

Not only do things need to be where you expect them, but they also need the right name. Back to the supermarket example, looking for more gum. If you were running into the store to buy gum and were trying to find it by reading the signs over the aisles, you’d be looking for “CANDY.” If the store chose instead to use “CONFECTION,” they’d be technically correct, but everyone takes longer to find what they need. By choosing the less common name, they’re making the gum harder to find.

On the Hippo CMMS mobile app, we use the terms that make the most sense to maintenance professionals. We call preventive maintenance work orders PM, for example. And when generating both on-demand and scheduled work orders, we use “Resources” for the people assigned. When the software speaks your language, it’s easier to learn and master. 

the app speaks your language

the app speaks your language

Information architecture covers where things are and what they’re called. The next part of being easy to learn is affordances, which is directly related to how things look. 

How does affordance support ease-of-learning? 

Ever played cricket? How about Jai alai? Likely not. But in both cases, you can look at the bat and scoop and right away know how they work. If you picked them up, you’d know exactly how to grip them and use them to move the ball. In fact, no one would even have to tell you these sports involve a ball. You’d know just by looking at the cricket bat and jai alai scoop. The design of the objects strongly suggests how you use them. 

Affordance is a huge topic with plenty of competing theories and conflicting definitions. But for our purposes, the important idea is that the easier it is to just look at something and figure out what it does, the easier it is to learn to use it. When it comes to a maintenance app, affordances are the elements that tell us where to click and where to scroll. They tell us what we can do and how to do it. 

The Hippo app has a great affordance on one of its work order screen. Along the right edge of the screen, you can see the left-most edge of the next screen. It’s clear that there’s more information there and that to see it, all you need to do is swipe to the left. There are no instructions that say you can do this; just looking at the screen’s layout is enough. 

swiped right to see the next screen

swiped right to see the next screen

So far, we’ve only covered a bit of usability, which is just a small part of user experience. To more fully understand UX design, though, we need to jump back all the way to ancient China. 

Where does the idea of UX design come from? 

We can find examples of UX throughout history and across cultures. China had feng shui as early as 4000 BC, and Hippocrates was describing the best ways to arrange a surgeon’s tools and workspace in 500 BC. Jump way over to California in the 1950s, and you find Walt Disney busy designing completely immersive theme parks. 

The general idea and practice have been around basically forever, but the modern definition is only from the early 90s, when Donald Norman, the first User Experience Architect at Apple, coined the term “user experience design.” 

What’s the current definition of user experience design? 

According to Norman, it’s more than just how you use an app or website. He argues for a broad definition that covers the entire experience with a product or service. 

Take going to the movies, for example. The movie by itself is only a small part of the overall user experience. There’s also: 

  • Watching the trailer 
  • Hearing word-of-mouth recommendations 
  • Parking at the theatre 
  • Waiting in line to get in 
  • Buying tickets online or in-person 
  • Picking up popcorn and a drink (more standing in line…) 
  • Finding your seats inside the theatre 
  • Watching trailers waiting for the main attraction

And even when the movie ends, the user experience continues. The next day at work in the lunchroom, you might have a heated debate with a coworker about if the movie was any good. 

At first, this might seem too broad of a definition. Is finding a parking spot outside the theatre really part of your experience of the movie? When someone asks you if you like a movie, do they start by asking about the parking? 

But all of these things do affect your experience. No matter how good the movie is, you’re not going to enjoy it if the person behind you won’t stop kicking the back of your seat. 

How does all this directly apply to you finding the app that works best for you and your team? 

It means that you need to look at more than just the software. You need to also look at all the other ways you and your team interact with a provider’s products and services. 

For CMMS software  providers, services include training and onboarding as well as ongoing support. First, look for a provider with an experienced staff. You want them to help you avoid potential pitfalls and adopt best practices from the start. Second, avoid providers who rely on cookie-cutter, one-dimensional training. Instead, look for someone who starts by asking about your training goals and then works hard to make them happen. They should also offer more than one style of training. Not everyone learns the same way, and a good provider has everything from one-on-one training to a library of videos and documents to help every type of learner. A really good provider is also proactive when it comes to support. They actively watch how you’re using their software, and if they see places where you could be getting more, they reach out and make it happen. 

Next steps 

If you’re ready to make the jump to a CMMS, or you already have one but it’s failing to live up to what you where promised, it’s time to reach out and start talking with providers. 


About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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