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PHIL SIMON

THE WORLD’S LEADING INDEPENDENT WORKPLACE COLLABORATION & TECH EXPERT

On AI, Priorities, and Product Development

Thoughts on ignoring a popular product's glaring weakness to pursue sexy new features.

Introduction

One of the chief benefits of Agile software development methods is flexibility. Compared to the Waterfall method, Scrum and its ilk allow teams to respond quickly when the world changes.

Like it did on November 30, 2022—the day ChatGPT dropped.

Within a few months, it seemed like every software application had integrated AI into its wares—or had announced plans to do so. Count Adobe, Spotify, Slack, Microsoft, LinkedIn (part of Microsoft), Expedia, Canva, and Google among the hundreds of companies whose development teams accelerated their AI efforts or suddenly shifted gears.

So what’s the problem?

In their understandable haste to show the world that they’re going all in on generative AI, some vendors have delayed developing and releasing essential features. And this grinds my gears.

Let’s Talk About Notion

My recent tool du jour Notion is suffering from this very affliction.

By way of background and to its credit, the company presciently announced forthcoming AI features before ChatGPT’s latest version dropped. In its May 2023 release, Notion doubled down: GenAI undergirds its new project-management features. See for yourself:

Pretty cool, right?

Sure, Notion’s AI-generated descriptions may be useful. Its “enhanced” notifications for tasks in a project, however, remain maddeningly limited:

Can someone say binary?

Here’s my main gripe:

Say that George, Elaine, or I complete a task a few days early. Why on earth would any of us want to receive a superfluous notification telling us that it’s due? (I know. I’m a diva.) Yet, Notion does just that—and there’s no way to change this behavior. Even its souped-up formulas prove fruitless here.

Notion’s helpful support staff confirmed as much after I opened a ticket. The rep predictably told me to suggest status- and date-based alerts as new features on different product and user forums. I did. Ideally, though, I wouldn’t have to make such a request. Notion should be smart enough to recognize that a complete task is, well, complete.

Note to Notion product peeps: I’ll gladly print a retraction if I’m wrong here.

When I started my current ghostwriting gig, I chose Notion as the all-in-one research and project-management tool. Had I known about this limitation in advance, I might have picked another. It’s not like there aren’t oodles of similar alternatives. As I’ve written in my books on the future of work, Coda, Asana, Trello, ClickUp, Smartsheet, SmartSuite, Todoist, and Monday.com represent viable, popular, powerful, and affordable options for managing projects.

Closing the Notion Loop

Let’s return to Notion, though. I like closing loops. As a workaround, I could change the data in the project database as follows:

  • Remove the task due date after I complete it—and remind my client to do the same.
  • Remove myself as a responsible party.

Would each method work? Sure, but these solution creates other problems. Alternatively, I could disable Notion notifications altogether. Again, the cure is far worse than the disease.

When it comes to alerts, Notion should take a page from Slack.

To be sure, I still love using Notion, but it should ape Slack’s playbook for in-app notifications. My favorite collaboration hub has long given users the ability to extensively customize their notifications. Lamentably, though, plenty of smart folks fail to understand this reality. It’s not as if Notion is hurting for cash.

Simon Says

I’m not naïve. No vendor can appease all users and customers. Attempt to do so, and your competition and critics will label your product bloatware. Still, there’s a larger lesson beyond Notion and my crazy fetish to view only meaningful in-app alerts.

Product owners should resist the temptation to postpone or ignore key—if decidedly unsexy—features in the face of a hyped new trend. If your users don’t thank you, at least they won’t write scathing posts like this one.

</rant>

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