November 10, 2008

“Customers don’t know what they want”

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:20 pm by carolynresearch

I took a bit of my afternoon break flipping though “Joel on Software”, the first thing to catch my eye on the bookshelf in the debugging room. In chapter 25, he makes the statement that I objected to:

“Customers don’t know what they want. Stop expecting customers to know what they want.”

To me, that’s a very patronizing statement. Perhaps customers don’t know what architecture they want, or what technologies need to be put into play. Maybe they don’t know exactly what a solution to their problem will look like. But a customer willing to spend money usually has a problem they need solved.

They need to create reports to comply with a new tax law, or with the new privacy regulations. The trains need to come less than one minute apart during peak hours 99% of the time. The machine can’t ever release an empty milk crate. They may not know PHP from a hole in the ground. They may think you are the stupid one, though, becauseyou don’t understand why two kinds of investments are completely different.

This idea that customers don’t know what they want seems to come from people who don’t think there’s a difference between what a customer wants, and what a programmer needs to do to give the customer what they want. The customer may not be able to communicate what they want very well. If they are asked, maybe they’ll describe a solution they’ve seen, or give their own guess as to what the finished solution will look like. But maybe what these customers who don’t know what they want really need is someone who takes the time to listen to what they really want, rather than expect a non-programmer to know how to solve their own software problem.

(In other news, I finished writing up all the relevant math research for my literature review…or at least all that I’m going to write up for the first draft. If this computer science thing doesn’t work out, well, I can always ghostwrite math education theses – heh)

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