When In Doubt, Ask the User: And You Should Always be in Doubt

It’s a fact of life: Developers don’t always understand the end-user experience. Software programmers, as a group, are more comfortable designing and writing code against a written specification.

“The spec says to put the log file in directory XYZ, so that’s where I’ll put the log file.”

We are all sometimes guilty of this kind of thinking: “Well, the project plan doesn’t require a UI for the config file, so maybe I can get away without one, even though I know it will make life easier for everybody but me (because I have to create it)…” but it will always return to bite you in the backside. If there’s a concern in the back of your mind that you are maybe not doing the right thing, don’t just rely on the written documentation, go check with somebody.

The developer doesn’t always have direct access to the customers (and sometimes for very good reasons), but on each and every project we undertake, there should be a person (or even a group in a large organization) who is the Customer Advocate.

The role of the Customer Advocate could be performed by the Project Manager, the QA Dept, Tech Support,  the Product Marketing group, the Program Manager, or even, *gasp*, the customer. This role is crucial in helping make informed decisions about the product you are working on; this person is helping the customer “scratch” the “itch” which caused them to want to buy your product or engage your services.

Don’t just assume that your idea is going to work, check with somebody. A sample size of two is infinitely better than just you and your keyboard.

What brought all this to mind was a simple poll my boss sent out on LinkedIn, asking folks which additional vendor we might invite to our annual ECM Conference (NEXUS 2009). Instead of just guessing, he put out a poll.

Anybody who’s taken a Statistics class could argue with the methodology, but the point of this particular poll is not to predict a presidential election, but rather to solicit input and get some guidance.

This kind of thing can only make your software better.

If you want to see the LinkedIn Poll, you can try it out here

Martin O. Waldron
Program Manager, SW Development
ImageSource, Inc.

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