Forget what the user wants.

I had the pleasure of hearing David Longstreet present a while back. (For more on David check out www.softwaremetrics.com.) During the presentation, David pointed out that, if you had asked people what they wanted in a next generation cell phone, they would never have described the iPhone. Apple’s game-changing device did not come about because the developers asked users what they wanted in a phone. It came about because they figured out what users wanted, period.

We need to stop asking users what they want, because they don’t know what technology can do. In the business world, when we ask people what they want, we wind up building glorified spreadsheets or word processors. Many times you would find you can satisfy your user’s requests faster and with higher satisfaction if you gave them a macro or two in existing products. To really transform business, don’t ask your users what they want, find out what they need.

Ideally, you will watch your users do their current work for a period and determine what will be transformational. You might even train to do some of the jobs you are trying to improve. Recently I got my driver’s license in New York State. The person assisting me had to click something on the screen over a dozen times – and this with my paperwork entirely ready. If someone watched him do his work, I can’t imagine not being able to reduce that to a quarter the user actions. But those clicks probably all came about because he described how he did his work on paper, and on paper he had to check a lot of boxes.

If you can’t watch your users work, try some of the following questions:

  • What outcome are you trying to produce? How do you produce it now? Where can steps be combined or eliminated?
  • How much time do you spend on the task?
  • What is the hardest part of the task? What makes it hard?
  • What kinds of inputs do you make? How long does each take?
  • Where does your input data come from? How hard is it to find and/or get ready? How many different sources are involved? Who manages these sources?
  • How often do you enter a value other than the default?

What is most likely to cause a mistake?

However, just making individual point improvements will take you back to the glorified spreadsheet or word processor. Pulling the information together will allow you to answer the all important question, “How can our technology transform the business?”

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