Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

Mat Newman  October 3 2011 05:02:22
For the last few months I've been following a Twitter search on "Lotus Notes".  The purpose has been to track the comments people are making about the product, and to offer my advice and assistance when I could.  I've found lots of general posts following the lines of the "I hate Lotus Notes" sites - which really offer nothing other than a general comment - but every now and again a tweet appears that gives a specific reason that the user is frustrated with the product.

In this case, it was "the customisation debacle".  The poor user in question not only tweeted their experience, they also took the time to record a video of the situation; watch it and cringe:

Ode to Lotus Notes from Steve Peck on Vimeo.

What we see here is obviously a customised Mail database.  The platform is irrelevant, although it appears to be Mac.  How can we tell it's a custom design? The "Out of Office" and "Delegate Access" buttons on the Action Bar are additions not in the standard Mail database templates.

Am I suggesting that customising the Mail template is a bad thing? Absolutely not!  In many situations customising the Mail database template adds features and functionality that IBM do not include in their standard install that enhance the users experience.  One of the first things I do with any new release is to put the 'Categorize' functionality BACK into the standard template so that I can use Categories instead of Folders.

What I am strongly recommending is that any functionality developers add into the template needs to be thoroughly tested to ensure the users have a first class experience.

Otherwise, you will have users justifiably expressing a negative opinion about Lotus Notes based on: The customisation debacle.

1Jim Soper  10/03/2011 6:17:22  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

Mat, good article! Sorry that my reply isn't regarding customization, but it is about why users don't like Lotus Notes. I've been a Domino Admin for over 10 years now and try to promote the product the best I can! This past Friday an IT consulting company in my city hosted a yearly IT Summit! These guys are business partners with many companies such as IBM and Microsoft. Attending this event are all the IT Managers and Sys Admins throughout our Province in Canada! The are the people who makes the decisions on IT solutions within their companies! Some of the business partners like IBM and Microsoft are given opportunities to showcase their products and solutions! This year Microsoft was out in full force and gave actually an amazing live demo of how MS Lync works within an organization. They showed how it is easy to use with Outlook, Sharepoint, VOIP! And they had a lot of people impressed, including many who use Lotus Notes! Now I'm not trying to promote Microsoft, BUT i have attended these kind of events for 10 years now and i have not once seen a presentation or anything from IBM! I've even asked our IBM reps if they're ever going to plan any of these demonstrations, and i've never got a definate yes! In my mind this is a huge reason why the Lotus Suite of products gets such a bad rep! These are the people that IBM needs to be showing their products too, because MS is definately doing this and that's how they are winning over clients! I keep telling these decision makers that Lotus can do all that, but I'm only one voice and until they see IBM actually promoting their own products then that sour "Lotus" taste they get in their mouths will stay and get stronger!


2Ryan Baxter  10/03/2011 7:06:42  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

One other thing of interest is the failover dialog. Not sure if it is related or not but could be..

3Mat Newman

10/03/2011 10:23:36  Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

@1, Jim: Thanks. Some say it's about the marketing, I'm a firm believer in 'Demo the product!'. Anyone who was at the LS11 OGS knows how important Demo's are, and IBM have recognised the fact on numerous occasions. Most recently Sandy Carter - VP of Social Evangelism - in her book 'Get Bold' actually uses the LS11 experience to demonstrate how analytics changed the flow of the session: "we were loosing them". Thinking back to the recent #LotusKnows advertising, even those did not include actual product demonstrations. Most relied on concepts, rather than 'product in action' demo's like the one you describe. Some IBM sales people could also take a leaf out of Selling 101: 'know your product'.

@2, Ryan: The point is that the code is busted - rather than what is busted - which this user highlights as a deficiency in Lotus Notes. You and I know that the behaviour shown in this video is down to a couple of bad lines of code introduced by the companies developer. The user is unaware of that and blames the product. It's all perception. This user has a perception of a bad product, and is now spreading the word. See: Section 2, Feature vs Functionality.

Mat Newman IBM Champion

4Mary Beth Raven  10/03/2011 10:59:05  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle


Thank you for continuing to be a Notes champion. Yes - this "customization debacle" is common - it is the double-ednged sword of Notes and Domino- it is So easy to customize, so people do. But they do not always test. - and the poor end user does not know any of this. They just know that it does not work for them.

So yes pls - if You customize - PLEASE PLEASE test! and I advocate the addition of a new error message like this:

"Sorry. This is broken. But it is probably the fault of some lazy-ass local developer and Not IBM."

5John Jardin  10/03/2011 16:29:24  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

Hi Mat. Customizing Mail Templates is a normal part of my day in Lotus. As much as I despise it as a developer, it just offers the user so much. I do agree that if done incorrectly, the results are devastating, especially if you put users on hold when upgrading because you now have to accommodate customized upgrades.

Main reasons I've had to customize Mail Templates are:

1. Integration into their Helpdesk users a quick Entry inside their mail that can be used online and offline.

2. Timesheet Management. Preventing users from opening or composing mail if Timesheets are not captured in time.

3. Visitor Management. Turning Meeting Invites into Visit Requests that get sent to the Security Team, so they know what to expect every day.

6Mat Newman

10/03/2011 16:52:36  Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

@4, Mary Beth: Thanks mate! And THAT, is one of the funniest geek-liners I have ever read, WHY didn't you put that into the product while you had the chance (Idea Jam anyone) :-D

@5, John: Totally agree mate. As I mentioned, I am ABSOLUTLUTELY NOT saying "DON'T customise the Mail database". Your examples (and the one I mentioned in my post) all add functionality to the BASE system provided by IBM. It's one of the BRILLIANT things about Notes that: if you don't like it - you CAN change it! And I can understand why you might despise doing it, as can anyone who has ever followed the script library trail in the Mail database design :-)

Mat Newman IBM Champion

7Chris Fales  10/03/2011 16:55:13  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

Hey Mat. I agree with your point, but wanted to chime in with the opinion that IBM/Lotus has exacerbated the issue in the specific area of the Mac Notes client. The Windows and Mac clients are not write once run once. I have seen numerous examples where code written on one platform (and I am talking base functionality not API or system calls) doesn't work on the other. While this doesn't excuse the need to test it does make the developer's job much more difficult because it means everything needs to be tested twice (once on Windows and again on the Mac).

8Mat Newman

10/03/2011 17:06:31  Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

@7, Chris: Completely understand and agree mate - I'm a Linux user :-) So I would say three times, and yes I have VM's for Windows and Mac just for the purpose (well, in addition to needing Windows to run Designer!). It's not that different to web development, you need to test against 3 normal browsers ... and IE ;-)

Mat Newman IBM Champion

9Simon O’Doherty  10/03/2011 20:13:11  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

Looking at the video, assuming the developer actually tested, it looks to me like the end user didn't get their folder designs upgraded.

So the developer makes a change, but that change isn't recognized by any custom folders created.

10Ryan Baxter  10/03/2011 22:30:20  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

@Mat I get your point but I am looking at it from my point of view. It's the infinite loop that is bothering me. The error message is fine and yeah it may be because they customized their template but there is no need for them to get stuck in an infinite loop. (of course the infinite loop could be self inflicted at well.). My only point is that they probably have a bug in their customization code, but it could be made worse by a fail over bug as well.

11Keith Brooks  10/04/2011 1:57:11  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

Hey Mat,

This has been a perpetual issue since day1. Templates that get edited and then never get fixed or cleaned up. They literally copy the code from version to version as though it should work.

But I digress.

We can not resolve these problems unless we are the ones who see it. In general, end users do not read our blogs or care to, even most admins don't read them and they should be.

BPs know this is a problem, but for the customers in the world I would like to think the admins know what they are doing. What we see, on Twitter and other places, is companies that see LND not as an organizational benefit but as an IT loss. They treat their IT staff poorly, or have a new shiny XXX which gets all the budget and attention, and thus receive a less than stellar network and eventually move to a new platform, where it all plays out all over again, but the exec has moved on....or the problems get resolved by the new solutions and they still blame the old one.

Developers are to blame for the code not working perhaps, but the admins are to blame for not seeing this and resolving this in one way or another. The lack of caring by both parties implies a deeper issue from within the company.

The end user pays for this and we, and IBM, in turn, get the brunt of it. The customer is always right except when it will lead them to trouble and someone needs to take that stand. Your average IT guy will not do that.

12Jim Casale  10/04/2011 3:26:27  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

Let's not forget the disabling of features.

Users don't know they CAN do something but unfortunately their organization has decided to disable a certain feature (Mail Recall and forwarding of email comes to mind). And they inevitably blame Notes when in fact that is not the case.

13Karl-Henry Martinsson  10/04/2011 3:29:50  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

"It's the infinite loop that is bothering me"

I did not see that. What I see happening is that the user has the preview pane enabled and is scrolling through the messages in the mailfile. For each mail, he is getting a couple of errors as the code is broken.

So it is not an infinite loop, but the user continue to open/display mail messages over and over again.

14n00b  04/20/2013 2:02:54  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

I just got hired by IBM, was issued a laptop, and have had a horrible experience with Lotus Notes. It's slow and doesn't seem very intuitive to use. I'm well aware that it's likely the case that my user experience is probably being degraded more by configuration and / or infrastructure -- but the natural human response is to hate on the software. I sit down, I open the application, and it sucks. And the configuration and infrastructure are provided by IBM. : /

Maybe lotus notes is too easily customized? Maybe customizations shouldn't be allowed to hurt the user experience so drastically.

Is it fair to dis the .NET framework for bad software that uses it? No. But an application lives in a different conceptual space where it is presumed to have control over the user experience. Even if you don't buy into this line of thinking, from a practical standpoint, Lotus Notes will get blamed anyway.

15Sergio  09/16/2014 6:11:44  
Why users hate Lotus Notes, Episode 1: The customisation debacle

I want a simple thing: how can I choose a signature for new emails and another signature for replied email. For the later, I just want to put my name&phone as I've already put my whole signature in the thread. And this should be automatic, can you help me on this or point to some manual?

Mat Newman

THE Notes (formerly IBM/Lotus Notes) Guy. Productivity Guru. Evangelist. IBM Champion for IBM Collaboration Solutions, 2011/2012/2013. Former IBMer. HCLite. Views are my own.

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Mat Newman

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