How not to deploy a mobile app, by Mitt Romney

Imagine this scenario: Your organization has a super-important task at hand -- one that will change the course of history. A distributed workforce of 30,000 people is tasked with carrying it out, all in one day, over the course of 12 hours.

Imagine this scenario: Your organization has a super-important task at hand -- one that will change the course of history. A distributed workforce of 30,000 people is tasked with carrying it out, all in one day, over the course of 12 hours. Its success depends on the ability to collect real-time data, analyze that data and then deliver actionable information to the right workers in the right places.

Technologically, how would you support that initiative? With a mobile app, of course!

That's what Mitt Romney's campaign did on Election Day. The initiative, dubbed the Orca Project, could've emerged as breakout star in the enterprise mobility movement. Instead, it became a case study for all the things that can go wrong when deploying a mobile application.

The goal of Orca, according to Romney campaign worker John Ekdahl, Jr., was to take a list of identified Romney supporters, check to see if they'd voted yet, and dispatch local volunteers to rally those who hadn't. But several problems -- some having to do with technology, others with process -- prevented that from happening. Here are some of the big ones, culled from Ekdahl's account and a Politico report:

  • Campaign workers didn't receive their full instructions until 4 p.m. the day before the election, and they came in a 60-page PDF document that needed to be printed out.
  • The help line set up for campaign workers (as well as several other phone numbers) went unanswered for hours.
  • The app and its underlying infrastructure never underwent beta testing, either by the mobile workers in the field or by the officials in charge of the system. As a result, the system suffered crashes throughout Election Day.
  • The app was actually a Web app, which the campaign didn't clearly explain to workers who said they couldn't find it in the Apple App Store or on Google Play. The URL for the Web app also used an https connection, so anyone who mistakenly entered the http URL saw a blank page and assumed something was wrong.

There are lots of lessons to be learned here, but most of them fall under the KISS umbrella (keep it simple, stupid):

  • If your mobile app requires a 60-page instruction manual, you're doing it wrong -- especially if the manual doesn't explain basic things like, say, how to access the app.
  • If you don't beta test your mobile app, you're doing it wrong. Your employees won't help you work out the bugs in a new app; they'll just stop using it.
  • If you don't have employee support measures in place, you're doing it wrong. You can beta test until the cows come home, but problems will still pop up, and if users can't get quick help, they'll give up.

Mobile apps can do a lot of good in the enterprise, but they're not a magic pill. Without the proper planning or understanding of users' needs, a mobile app deployment will fail. Romney's campaign learned that lesson the hard way this week.

Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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Colin,


Great write-up. 60 page PDF end-user manual - jeez!


I would like to add that everything you said about mobile apps is true for apps in general. Also, especially for such a diverse crowed of users, with zero time for implementing fixes, usability testing is a must: Take a couple of users of few weeks ahead of time, give them the app and see what happens. All of the problems described would have been caught, and easily fixed, e.g. and http page that redirects to the https address.


@DanShappir


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Why not just blame it on G.W. Bush?  that is what everyone else does.


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it was G.W. Bush's fault!


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This is a masterpiece on apps deployment generally. The Romney Campaign case study shows the failure inherent in crash-programmes and as such, not a surprise.  


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#FacePalm


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