Thursday, August 6, 2009

Customer design or Too Many Cooks Sink Ships

When designers attempt to please everyone, someone always ends up angry. The key to good design is bringing all interested parties together in order to balance interests and find solutions that work for everyone.

In the early days of EnvisionConnect, customer advocates on staff shouted:

“Our users know what they need better than anyone else. Let them design the software and force the developers to deliver exactly as they define.”

Who could argue with that philosophy? The customer knows best, right?

Let’s return to the mixed metaphor of “Too many cooks sink ships,” and let me tell you a story…

There once was a shipbuilder who hired the best engineers, but he sold ships to the government and was forced by contract to design the ship according to specs put together by a government committee.

The shipbuilder ordered the designers to build every gadget and widget the government committee could dream up, and the ship that evolved from the process was beautiful!

On this ship, you didn’t have to take the stairs to go from deck to deck. Everything in the ship was put on one easily accessible deck. And all of the gadgets, widgets, bells, and whistles glistened. It was the most spectacular-looking ship the government committee had ever seen.

When war broke, the government ordered the ship launched. It would sail to the other side of the globe and squash the evil doers.

Unfortunately, the ship was too heavy. It moved too slow. By the time the ship reached the enemy, the war was over. That’s not all that bad really. If every country followed this design model, the world would be a more peaceful place.

The moral of the story is that all interested parties have to be involved in design.

Luckily for us, the world of Agile software design doesn’t work like ship building.

We do insist that users of the software design by committee on the first pass (in industry jargon, the first iteration) but then it’s up to the engineers to weigh the needs of the many against the wants of the few and refine (industry jargon again, refactor) the product into that happy medium that makes everyone happy.

This year, our customers will notice that we’re changing the way we collect customer feedback—finding ways to extract information faster without wasting customer time, and our developers are defining “the how” and restricting customers to defining “the what”. And when some “what” is ultimately detrimental to a more important “what”, it’s our job to help customers understand the trade-off they are asking to make.

Now, you know why it’s taking a while to christen EnvisionConnect 4.0.

EnvisionConnect 4.0 as she stands today is the most beautiful and the most powerful ship in the fleet, but Envision outruns her. As goals go, our next BIG target is making EnvisionConnect faster, even if it means dropping a few bells and whistles overboard.

Watch this space to see how we do.

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