Flexibility vs. Ease of Use | Unleashed Technologies
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The Trade-Off

I was recently inspired to tackle the difficult conversation of Flexibility vs. Ease of Use as our company was working through an RFP process with a terrific organization. When the organization released its RFP, we had great synergy, and we went through a pretty rigorous Q&A before submitting our proposal. At Unleashed Technologies, our team services four major platforms; Drupal, WordPress, Magento, and Symfony.

After careful deliberation and discussions with the client, we decided Drupal was the best fit for their organization based on some key integrations that they needed. As the process continued to move forward, we answered questions they had about our proposal and made revisions as needed. Finally, we got to the million-dollar question: why recommend Drupal over WordPress? We walked through the process and when push came to shove, we stood behind our recommendation for the content management platform to be Drupal.

Then we got the call. The organization advised us that they would like to see a WordPress focused proposal and asked if they could get connected with us about some of their concerns. Once we got on the phone, I had a heart to heart with one of our primary contacts at the association. Everything on paper and looking to the future indicated to us that Drupal was the right choice. However, the truth was we weren’t listening to the full story. This is where things became interesting.

The truth was this organization was concerned about their ability to maximize the investment into a highly flexible website with advanced integration capabilities. The organization wanted the wonderful options that played into the strength of the Drupal platform; however, they wondered…based on their staff, long term funding, and existing technical capabilities…if the better path would be to trade some of that flexibility for ease of use. As the discussion progressed, it was clear that ultimate decision on which platform to leverage was not so black and white. As a result, we decided in collaboration with the potential client to provide an estimate for WordPress and an estimate for Drupal.

The estimates shared many similarities in terms of the level of investment and size of effort. However, it was clear to everyone involved that the focus and feature set that each CMS brought to the table out of the box was markedly different. After a Drupal 8 demo with the enhanced back end user experience, ability to do in-line editing, and other major advancements over Drupal 7, it became even harder to make a targeted decision. While either platform (for the most part) can be built to replicate the capabilities of the other, it is not a wise investment on the side of the person paying to utilize these platforms. We come down to the fundamental crux of the issue:

Do we trade flexibility for ease of use? Is that what best serves the organization?

Analyzing What Matters

Answering a complex question that can go either way is best solved by data to the highest extent possible. During this process, I charted the most important elements that can help gauge flexibility vs. ease of use. It’s important to mention that in a modern web we can have the presence of both flexibility and ease of use, but the reality is, the more you can manage yourself then the more complicated the interface will become. A great example is SalesForce; while it is still very usable, it often requires dedicated professionals to leverage the true power of the platform (super users if you will).

I started by breaking out the most basic major categories which were content, integrations, and management. Then I made a couple of statements that reflected what I would want/need in a new web presence if I were the point of contact at the organization. For each statement, I marked what the most important attribute would be between flexibility and ease of use. As I walked through the exercise for Unleashed Technologies, it provided strong clarity on what the best path moving forward was for a company like ours.

After reading the list below, I'm not sure of the exercise being done. Are you identifying questions that relate to your company? If so this could be made clearer by putting a “Checkbox” column to the left of the item. This allows you to expand the question set, and draw a conclusion at the end of the questions. 

Flexibility vs. Ease of Use

Flexibility vs. Ease of Use

Flexibility vs. Ease of Use

While simple in nature, this exercise illustrated the most principal of needs that underlies all the features and high level talk that typically govern website discussions. Other considerations would include contributed modules and future features. Are you happy with premade modules and can you work within the confines of those modules? Or, is your organization exacting/dynamic with how things function when presented to your target audience?

A Glimpse into The Future

As a final note, I’m not suggesting that ease of use should be without flexibility or vice versa. We do, however, need to recognize that with great flexibility comes additional complexity. Technology has come so far in both values becoming more intertwined every day. If we look back 10 years ago, these two values were very far apart. My instincts tell me that this won’t even be a discussion 5 – 10 years down the road.