Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Open ears, eyes, mind

This is the other end of the spectrum from my last post on developers' egos.

A business system is all about the end users, and from behind your desk you have no idea what their world is like. To get beyond itemized requirements listed in a dry document and become truly useful, nothing beats getting out from behind your desk and walking a mile in their shoes.


Walk with the stores clerk taking a stock count, and see what the real working world looks like. When he says he sometimes wants to count an item out of sequence he's not being awkward. The stores are forever getting rearranged, and the walk order recorded in the system can take weeks to catch up with reality.

Sit with the cashier taking payment from a confused octogenarian, and you appreciate the need for flexible payment options, and why that thirty second security timeout is driving them nuts.

Go out into the field with a forester and try reading your data entry screen through the scratches and mud splatters on his ruggedized tablet.

Do that with an open mind, think like an end user, not like a developer, and some odd-sounding requirements suddenly become clear.

And here's a little carrot to sell you on the benefits of getting to know their world. Once you can see thing from your users' perspective, you are in an enviable position to let your creativity loose once more. This is no longer with a view to showing off digital coolness to fellow geeks. You can now suggest solutions that the business community would never have dreamed of. Cool solutions that they really will thank you for. That's got to be worth a few field trips away from your cozy cubicle.


  1. Rule number one: The user is the expert.

    I once had to rewrite an entire committee appointment and maintenance process and here's my kickoff toast: Here's to learning about committees!


  2. Mmm, very interesting. I think sometimes we forget we're consumers, or as you put it, end users.

  3. It seems so basic, yet I think many product or consumer good malfunctions have the root cause of end user ignorance.

  4. I love how you take the profound and make it sound so everyday.

  5. Yet another excellent post. If only all developers were so thoughtful and open to these ideas.

  6. Exceedingly true but some times so hard to do. I always appreciate sound advice so I've nominated your blog for the Liebster Award. You can check it out over at my blog if you would like to participate.

  7. Diane, sounds like we sing from the same songsheet :)

    Emily, sorry, "end user" is a bit of a techie term. But, yes, it's too easy to forget who this is all supposed to be for.

    Johanna, I've ranted about consumer goods elsewhere on this blog.

    Melanie, that is my mission! You have no idea how that comment makes my heart glad.

  8. Jean, thanks. But first you need to remove some of the pressure to code at all costs. A lot of what I say here is considered "fluffy" and non-productive.

    Vicki, yes, hard to do. And thanks for passing on the award.

  9. I agree 100%!!! I used to work in retail... It ain't easy!


    Valerie Nunez and the Flying Platypi


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