IBM Lotus Notes Sucks People into Two Camps

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
No topic on my blog has generated as much controversy as whether people like or don't like Lotus Notes. It seems that many people polarized into two camps; they either love Lotus Notes or they hate Lotus Notes - there doesn't seem to be a middle ground, although I'm sure there are folks in the middle somewhere. This is a topic I have been passionate about for 15 years and I have written and spoken publicly about in my seminars for as long. To this day, I continue to get blog comments and emails from people who want to express a passionate view for one camp or the other. Once, I even had an IBM Lotus Business partner write me a passionate letter suggesting that my encouraging this discussion in the public forum was a disservice to IBM/Lotus and their business partners. I can understand his concern and he and I have had many delightful conversations since, but I think this topic needs to be discussed because in 15 years the problem or at least the general perception (which is probably more relevant yet equally damaging) is that nothing's changed.  Well, a lot has changed and those of us that actually use Lotus Notes know that the Notes team continues to innovate and enhance a product that I'm not embarrassed to say is my favorite product to use.

IBM/Lotus and managers of Notes shops face a big challenge:
There would appear to be a HUGE disconnect between the way that IBM/Lotus markets (or doesn't market?) the Lotus Notes product, the way that managers of enterprises that use Notes roll it out and train (or don't train?) their end users, and the way that end users are actually using (or not using) the product.

All of this has a big impact on end-user perception and satisfaction.

Taking Notes on the issue...

This weekend, David Allen and I recorded a 45 minute podcast with Bruce Elgort, and Thomas Duff on the Taking Notes Podcast.  The planned agenda was to talk about David's new book, Making It All Work, my plan to introduce eProductivity at Lotusphere, and the session that David Allen and I will be presenting together at Lotusphere. At least, that was the agenda.

But, that's not what happened...

At about 30 minutes into the podcast, things took a sudden change when the conversation focused on the fact that many people think Notes sucks and they are not afraid to say so. David Allen shared that he hears many people say that Lotus Notes sucks but that he's yet to hear anyone say "I love Lotus Notes." He then asked "Why is that?" The conversation got real interesting, then. (and I thought we were on the podcast to talk about our session at Lotusphere.)  This of course begs the question, if most people think Lotus Notes sucks, why has one of the most productive people in the world, David Allen, raved about it and recommend it so much over the past 15 years. David even pointed out that most of the Notes users he speaks with have no clue of the power of the tools they are using.

Clearly there's another story here.

I think the problem is not the product. As I said earlier, the IBM Lotus team has done an outstanding job of listening to customers and improving Lotus Notes. Just look at current releases of Notes. One problem, of course, is that not everyone is using that latest versions. Lotus Notes works so well and they are so good about compatibility that it's easily possible to run a 7 year old version of Notes and be productive. (I admit that I have continued to use Notes 7.03 as it has been the fastest and most productive for me, but this week I will switch to R8 full time.) I think this a perception problem and one IBM/Lotus needs to address with marketing. I think that the change required for a renaissance with Lotus Notes will be to focus on what end-users are DOING with Notes. Come on, We now live in a web 2.0 world - users expect to have a say and they want to take ownership of the tools that they use. Here's a quote from my session description for Lotusphere that says what I think about Lotus Notes and user perception and how that affects productivity:
"As long as end-users perceive Lotus Notes as something pushed down from the top, part of the 'system,' the tools won't become personal. When tools become personal (and fun) people will use them and they will become more productive, which leads to more productive workgroups and ultimately more productive organizations."
I've proven this to be true, many times over. When I listen to people's concerns and then show them how to address their concerns, most of them go away pleased and pleased to know that the product that they already have on their desk is a powerful one for managing information, communications, and actions. This is the message I try to get across when I talk with people who say they hate Notes or who tell me that Lotus Notes sucks. (This is perhaps a bit self-serving, but I can say that I have not heard these remarks from Lotus Notes users that use eProductivity. I think the reason for this is that our users now see Lotus Notes a personal tool rather than a company tool.)

In any case, I began the day by writing a blog post to announce the Taking Notes podcast but along the way I got passionate about this topic myself.

My notes from this weekend's Taking Notes Podcast
(Listen here.)
Introductions... David Allen, Eric Mack Bruce Elgort, and Thomas Duff
Getting Things Done - where did that come from?
Bruce asks, Why does David Allen love Lotus Notes, David?
Lotus Notes is an amazing powerful tool for personal productivity
Lotusphere session: BP304 "Maximizing personal productivity with Lotus Notes"
[Then the conversation took an interesting turn...]
Lotus Notes Sucks! I've yet to hear anyone say "I love Lotus Notes." Why is that?
"I don't want Lotus to crash and burn because their users think that Notes Sucks"
There's a big gap in perception at the user level
How do we SAVE Lotus Notes?
How to get the nonbelievers to understand the power of what they already have on their desktop? Show them
David riffs on managers of companies that have Lotus Notes that are misallocating the resources of their organization.
Bruce asks, David, what would he like to say to Bob Piccione?
Any my favorite quote of this podcast, "Hey Ray, did you give up?"

After you listen to the podcast, I would like to know what you think:
  • What do you think that managers need to do?
  • What do you think we can do as a community?
  • And what do you think IBM/Lotus can do to help change people's perception about Notes?
I've encouraged Bruce and Julian to do some follow-up podcasts between now and Lotusphere to discuss this and ideally invite some corporate managers and folks from IBM/Lotus to join the conversation.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a post I have spoken publicly about for many years. In fact, I've sort of made it my personal mission to help change people's perception about what Notes can do for them.

Here are some more recent posts that you may find interesting:

08-27-2006 - Ed Brill GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes? (72 Comments!)
09-08-2006 - Lotus Notes Email vs. Microsoft Outlook
06-30-2007 - What IBM needs to do to gain end-user traction with Notes
08-29-2008 - Does the world really hate Notes? I don’t think so
12-09-2008 -  7 Things IT Managers Should Know About Lotus Notes
12-15-2008 - David Allen Asks "Why do end users hate Lotus Notes?"
12-15-2008 - Ed Brill on Taking Notes Podcast episode #92

I look forward to the discussion that will surely follow and I will certainly all comments in my preparation for Lotusphere and other writing/speaking engagements.
If you plan to attend Lotusphere 2009, I hope that you will come attend our session.  I look forward to meeting you.

Update: It's no secret which camp I'm in. If you happen to be in the "I hate Notes" camp and you are still reading post, I invite you to contact me by e-mail. Perhaps I can help you see some things you haven't noticed before.

Discussion/Comments (18):

Peter Presnell (): 12/16/2008 3:46:39 PM
As a fellow "yellow bleeder" it has long concerned me too...

Great Post Eric,

As a fellow "yellow bleeder" it has long concerned me too. Notes largely gets a bad rap because it is rarely implemented in ways that fully exploits its many capabilities - even in large Notes shops. Training and marketing are part of the issue. But before we can find ways to get people to exploit the technology we need to get more people using the latest technology (e.g. Notes 8.0+). There are two issues I feel are stopping this from happening with the companies I have been working with.....

The first is the issue of deploying a thick client. Many large organizations I have worked for in the past few years are still running Notes 6.0 or 6.5 because of the difficulty in planning an executing an upgrade of servers (somewhat) and clients (especially). This means most of the great stuff that has come since 6.x is not available. As a developer that frustrates me because I am forced to get as much as I can out of technology created in 2000. No Sametime Integration, Composite Applications, Web Services, LiveText, or Toolbar widgets. For some reason SmartUpgrade is not the answer. I wish getting the latest incremental features for Notes could be as painless as the way I get updates from Intuit for Quicken.

The second issue that concerns me is Notes 8.0 and Eclipse. Some of the organizations I work for have upgraded to Notes 8. I have never heard a Notes user say they wished Notes ran on Eclipse. That was a strategic decision made by IBM. While the IBM team have done a great job with Notes 8.0.x adding new features and improving the UI experience I even find myself preferring to use the Notes 6 client at times simply because it runs so much faster, rarely crashes and never just hangs like I keep experiencing with each of the 8.0 releases (standard). I don't mind that Eclipse is being used but it seems that we are presently paying a price in its adoption in both performance and reliability. It reminds me somewhat of Vista. Lots of great new stuff but I have to endure a lot of pain with basic things to get those features. Like Vista I see a lot of pushback in the adoption of Notes 8 until the performance and reliability issues are resolved.

Eric Mack ( 12/16/2008 4:05:50 PM
re: As a fellow "yellow bleeder" it has long concerned me too...

Hi Peter, thanks for your comment.

You draw an interesting comparison between Notes & Domino 8 and Microsoft Vista from the user perspective. User's don't care what a product is built on or that it is more secure or that it takes less memory; they care what the product allows them to DO. Sometimes companies get so caught up in the design that they forget what the user wanted. As a software developer, I know this from my own experience. I like to think of it this way. It makes no difference to my wife that the new can-opener I installed has a three-speed belt-drive mechanism for smooth, quiet opening. She just wants to know, will it open cans when I need it to? That's all she cares about. period.

As I mentioned, I use Notes 7.03 on Windows XP (although I'm switching some of my machines to R8) because it's fast and reliable. Is Notes R8 prettier - Yes, definately, (although you would not notice if you are using eProductivity as we followed Mary Beth's R8 design style sheet). Looking at our eProductivity enterprise customer base, we see users from early 6.x releases through the bleeding edge folks on 8.5.

As for me, I use Notes because it helps me get things done. I don't need to be on the bleeding edge of the latest version to be productive, I simply want Notes to work and it does, very well. So, back to your point, even though I believe companies would benefit from deploying new versions of Notes, I think they would get a much greater return on their investment if they made the investment to TEACH their end users how to really USE what they have.
In the Personal Knowledge Management seminar I presented at KMWORLD, I shared many things that most people don't know about how to manage their work and their "stuff." I think companies that think they are cutting corners by not training their users to use what they have are only cheating themselves out of the productivity gains that they could have. This is especially true for Lotus Notes.

Zig Ziglar said this, "It's better for a company to train it's people and lose them, than not train them and keep them." I think that's sound advice and it certainly would help a great deal with people's perception about Lotus Notes (or any other software tool). I know plenty of Notes users on R6.5 that are extremely productive. As far as our eProductivity customers, I've not heard an end user say Notes sucks! To them, Notes is an amazing tool that allows them to accomplish their work. What's changed? Not Lotus notes. (Again, many are using 6.5 and 7.x -- not 8.x)

What's changed is that they have been shown how to use Notes effectively as a tool to manage their information, communications, and actions. They get things done.

Keith Brooks ( 12/16/2008 6:05:17 PM
I listened to the podcast and fell over laughing at the Ray quote.


I listened to the podcast and fell over laughing at the Ray quote.

I've been working with Notes since R2 and updates are hard on the client side, Lotus has never made it easy to upgrade a client. Server and webmail yes, desktop client, no. Like Peter said above, Microsoft, Intuit and many others have worked out a simple web based update, why not IBM?

That is why you have people complainign at many companies they are on R5,6 or 7 because no one wants to take the time to do the rollout properly, efficiently using any one of the methods available and there are many methods. I'd just prefer Lotus to handle it via the web.

Does IBM shoot itself in the foot too by letting IGS do Exchange projects? Sure, but business is business and business must grow.

Could Lotus make Notes a simpler/lighter client? Not really and still have it BE Notes.

Thus it is a heavy client and more than email, yet many people just want it for email or just want it to run 1 app. Rumor may have it that nsf's will be browser or desktop capable of running without a Notes client, but until shown, it's science fiction.

For instance why isn't there a NSF viewer? Sort of like Adobe Reader? Maybe in Symphony we will get an editor/reader of NSF at some point.

Most people once they get to use it, and have someone that really knows Notes help them, as you have seen, really do enjoy it and want to use it. Sadly most companies do not have IT people that care about it anymore given the fate of the job/economic markets.

And of course IBM doesn't waste 100's of millions on marketing a product like Microsoft, but maybe they should. Think like Richard Branson, be the contrarian, do what no one thinks you will do, and impress companies and your competitors.

Maybe Symphony is the start of that, we will see how 2009 looks.

Eric Mack ( 12/16/2008 6:25:56 PM
re: I listened to the podcast and fell over laughing at the Ray quote.

Keith, you wrote: "And of course IBM doesn't waste 100's of millions on marketing a product like Microsoft, but maybe they should."

Keith, IBM finds the money to plaster silly 1-3 full-page ads in every tech or business magazine I seem to open showing the office misfits and how IBM saves the day. Of course, I rarely notice Notes being promoted. So, the $$ are there. We just need the marketing mind set to catch up. Hey, we could save IBM $$ by eliminating the viral videos and instead encourage fans to make some.

In my opinion, this is not a quality of product or a $$ issue -- IBM has both -- it's a vision issue.

Keith Brooks ( 12/16/2008 7:00:43 PM
Should Notes have ads like beer companies? Less filling, looks great, the New Notes 8?

I like some of those ads! We have asked and offered to make videos for IBM, you have read Ed's blog you will see a history of many people offering to do it. Yet few did.

I heard that IBM's own ad company, does not use Notes and hates it too, so why would you expect them to come up with anything good?

Should Notes have ads like beer companies? Less filling, looks great, the New Notes 8?

Or like M&M;'s, have the products dressed up like the Addams family? Or in holiday costumes?

Pc vs. Mac was popular too on Ed's blog. But not going to happen.

Or by vision do you imply IBM doesn't think highly enough of Lotus? That is something you will not change, it's a numbers game and well, Lotus is not the top earner in the company.

Look forward to seeing and meeting you in Orlando and listening to your thoughts.

Eric Mack ( 12/16/2008 7:24:48 PM
re: Should Notes have ads like beer companies? Less filling, looks great, the New Notes 8?

Thanks, Keith. The IBM ads ARE funny, but what irks me is that for all the $$$ they must have to spend on them, they could promote Notes - even a little. If a clever marketer wanted to hold a contest (e.g. $10K for the greatest video) they would

Frankly, I'm surprised that IBM's not sought out high profile people/companies that use and recommend Notes and get do spotlights on them. Do you remember a guy named, Ken Wax? In the mis 1990s, he ran some really terrific marketing workshops on how to "sell" Notes. He made a big deal about the fact that people could care less about what Notes was; what they cared about is what it would DO for THEM. personally. I think IBM would do well to go back and watch some of Ken's Notes marketing videos. He had a great pitch selling Notes using chocolate as an example. People did not care what was inside chocolate or how it was made. They care about how it TASTES and makes them FEEL. The problem that Ken pointed out was that often, IBM Business partners were marketing Notes for the virtues of the product and it's brilliant design (and I believe that it really is) rather than focusing on what Notes will do for the end user.

I just looked up your web site and I see that your business is to make it easy for people to buy Notes. That's great! I stopped selling Notes many years ago because Passport was such a nightmare. I still specify and recommend Notes extensively, but now I send my corporate clients to CDW to obtain their licenses. Since my clients paid me for my consulting services I always felt bad having to charge them to figure out the passport pricing. They simply want to buy what I recommend. Glad to know there are folks liek you out there, making it easier. I look forward to meeting you at Lotusphere!


James Derry (): 12/16/2008 9:43:46 PM
Notes is like a 3D Stereogram

I listened to the podcast with guests Eric Mack and David Allen and I enjoyed the podcast. I was pleasantly surprised (and yet not surprised) David Allen is a Notes user and fan. I love the methodology the GTD book espouses.

Lotus Notes is like one of those 3D stereograms that were really popular a while back. If you just walk up to a framed 3D stereogram you won't be very impressed with the image...the image lacks a coherent form and one would wonder why anyone would hang such a thing on their wall. But if you are willing to open your mind to the idea that Notes is more than Calendaring and Email, and defocus your eyes from the usual 2D outlook a bit, an entire 3D world jumps out and the realization of the possibilities of Lotus Notes is quite dramatic.

I'm not sure anything short of several 30 minute to one hour infomercials could effectively communicate the power of Lotus Notes. In essence the time would be spent describing the figures within the 3D world to people who have yet to expand their vision beyond the 2D gibberish until they finally have their own 'AHA' moment and see the 3D world themselves.

Lotus Notes isn't the answer to everything. I've seen more than a few applications that reflect poorly upon Notes because Notes should not have been used to solve that particular business problem (especially prior to the available DB2 integration). Yet in the problem space Lotus Notes does address it is far superior, still, to other available solutions. Having said this, it is not my interest to convince people of the power or rapid development capabilities of Lotus Notes. If they are adamant about using an alternative platform, I have to be more than willing to present the solution to their business problem using custom programming on Websphere or Sharepoint or whatever makes them happy even if it is at greater expense to them.

Eric Mack ( 12/16/2008 10:04:15 PM
re: Notes is like a 3D Stereogram

Interesting analogy, James. After my response to Keith about Ken Wax's "how to sell Lotus Notes" presentations, and your illustration that Notes is like a 3D Stereogram, I'm going to see if I can find and watch my old videos of Ken Wax from the mid 1990s.

I remember that there was once a day when you could not use the terms "Groupware" or "Collaboration" without hearing "Lotus Notes" in the same sentence. Kind of like, when you blow your nose, you reach for a... Kleenex. Lotus Notes was like that once. The product has only gotten better since then, but it doesn't seem that the general perception has kept up with the product advances. I'm sure that there are many reasons that Notes often gets promoted (or is perceived) as just e-mail and calendar. I wonder where this theory fits: "Mid/late 1990's: A big competitor wanted the public to perceive Notes as just e-mail and calendar in order not to highlight all of the things their e-mail platform did not do (e.g. collaboration) and so that by the time they did come out with a compelling tool for collaboration the market would be conditioned to think of Notes as just e-mail and calendar." Again, it's just a theory, but in the absence of counter-marketing, it's one that makes sense to me.

I agree with you that "... in the problem space Lotus Notes does address it is far superior, still, to other available solutions. " This is why we have huge enterprises that not only use Lotus Notes but continue to buy more. There was a recent post on Planet Lotus where one of the IBM bloggers listed some of the stats, e.g. Notes is in 9 of the top 10 fortune 100 enterprises, and so on... I wish I could find that slide, it was great. Anyway, you know what I mean. Thanks for your comment, James.

Atle Iversen ( 12/18/2008 4:05:31 AM
IBM Lotus Notes Sucks People into Two Camps

This brings back memories....

Disclaimer: I haven't used Lotus Notes in 5 years !

"Back in the days" I was working for one of the 'Big Five' where Lotus Notes was at the core of the company.

I am (was) actually one of the few people 'in the middle' as I loved the power and functionality, but hated the terrible usability.

I was at one point responsible for harvesting knowledge into Lotus Notes (via our library), so I was at least a 'power-light' user.

I would estimate that 93% of all our users hated Lotus Notes :-). The main reason for this was the terrible usability which meant that most people didn't understand LN, and those that DID understand it still hated it because of the many 'strange' usability choices LN made.

LN was EXTREMELY powerful already back then, but the more powerful the tool, the more important the usability and training.

IBM can fix the usability (in theory) and provide training materials, but each company must provide the training itself. As for most other knowledge-management related tools, the major obstacle is usually the people.

Which benefits do they get from using LN ? Which benefits do they get from contributing to LN ?

I assume the usability has been improved the last few years, but I also assume that LN is still a very, very complex 'application'.

I guess this is a major part of the reason why web-based tools are so popular. They are easy to understand and easy to use. Of course, they are not nearly as powerful, but most users are not necessarily interested in all that power.

Being a creator of desktop-based software myself, it will be interesting to watch the battle between Desktop and Web applications the next couple of years - I believe LN already has lost the battle at my previous employer...

christina (): 7/22/2009 5:38:33 AM
IBM Lotus Notes archive problems

i have had a strange lotus notes archive problem and it is erratic. In my main inbox i have many subfolders. What i do is i drag the respective mails to the respective sub-folders and then archive them from there. Sometimes it goes appropriately to the concerned folder in the archive and sometimes i creates a copy in the main archive inbox. then i have to manually drag and drop it back to the archive subfolder even though its the same mail. I cannot delete it from either the main archive inbox of the archive sub-folder because both the mails get deleted.

Oram Plus ( 3/29/2010 3:14:35 PM
IBM Lotus Notes Sucks People into Two Camps

I am a software developer who has been using Lotus Notes since 2000. Lotus Notes suffers from the same problem as in-house developed application... Lots of thought has gone into how the application is designed and should function, and no thought has been given to the user experience.

The company I am with recently migrated to outlook. I hate to say it, but as a user, my happiness and productivity have gone through the roof because Microsoft have designed outlook with the user in mind.

10 years from now Lotus Notes will still be universally hated by end-users because it is not fit for end-users purpose.

You state above it is about marketing, ala "sell the sizzle, not the steak"... I think the reality is far different: Lotus Notes is simply a product that end-users don't want or need. It doesn't work the way they expect. The interface shows them too much they don't need to know (think right-click menu, etc.) and not enough that they do.

IBM and Notes proponents over-analyze the situation too much... it's simply about giving the end-user what they want... simplicity, functionality and speed. No release of notes has ever done that, and notes just gets in the way of everyone's daily routine.

Mike Geary ( 4/11/2010 7:23:38 PM
IBM Lotus Notes Sucks People into Two Camps

From my perspective, notes sucks people into two camps, not because of the qualities of the notes application, but because of bad administration by the IT teams.

When IBM sells a new site licence they should perhaps consider raising prices slightly and including a qualified consultant that will ensure that everything is up and running correctly.

The consultant could take care of ensuring user queries are dealt with correctly and efficiently to avoid back user feedback about the new "email system" they need to use.

Steve (): 6/5/2010 9:04:44 PM
IBM Lotus Notes Sucks People into Two Camps

I see this was written a year and a half ago and not much has changed. From an end user perspective Notes still sucks. It is slow, buggy and its UI is not intuitive...and the people who like it (few are end users) say it is not the product but lack of training, ignorance about how much Notes can do, and so on. The switch from Outlook to Notes has been painful for my company. Outlook blended seamlessly while Notes stands out as a source of frustration and productivity killer. When Notes can get the basics right then maybe we can talk about what else it can do.

Oram Plus ( 8/13/2010 2:37:33 PM
IBM Lotus Notes Sucks People into Two Camps

After 12 years we have replaced Notes with Outlook. We have a huge installation of about 30,000 users. Everything has gone smoothly. Users have taken to Outlook like ducks to water. This proves to me that users don't require the oft-repeated (by Notes proponents) "the users require training"... they just need to be given an intuitive application.

Ron Hurst (): 2/23/2011 4:51:48 AM
IBM Lotus Notes Sucks People into Two Camps

Just got the latest upgrade domino at work. I was of the opinion lotus notes worked well, now with this upgrade the program shows me an hour glass all the freaking time even for just high lighting an area to fill in, it shuts down and sometimes doesn't even do anything after the hour glass goes away. I liked it and it wasn't broke so of course they had to fix that!

Ron Hurst (): 2/23/2011 4:57:44 AM
IBM Lotus Notes Sucks People into Two Camps

Oh yeah it also brings up a box sometimes that says there are nested events since the "upgrade" what ever that means!

Eric Mack ( 2/23/2011 9:44:10 AM
re: IBM Lotus Notes Sucks People into Two Camps

Sorry to hear that, Ron. Have you contacted your Notes administrator? Sounds like either a hardware or installation issue. In any case, they can help.

Emelie (): 6/10/2011 2:47:07 AM
IBM Lotus Notes Sucks People into Two Camps

IBM can fix the usability (in theory) and provide training materials, but each company must provide the training itself. As for most other knowledge-management related tools, the major obstacle is usually the people.

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