Developers are from Mars, users from Venus

From 2008 to 2012, I was the project manager of a project with very special users. The kind of project was in the field of digital signature for the Spanish Government. I was in charge not only of acting as a Product Owner (determine features and priorities), but also provided telephone support (second point of contact, that in fact used to be first). The main group of users where well-educated, high-ranked with lots of responsibility in their own field, but non-technical. There were also personal assistants for the previous group, but it wasn’t a different group in terms of behavior towards technology.

I remember that apparently trivial questions could pose a challenge. Many people didn’t know what a browser is, let alone there were different ones.

I remember that digital signature at that time was a challenge (install Java, install a certificate, provide appropriate permissions for an applet). Something would fail, and you didn’t know what. You would have to debug the process. The other problem for the users would be speed.

However, as developers it was difficult not to focus in a different set of features, and not try to improve the existing issues.

At that time I started to perceive the radically different world-views between developers and users. I started to understand when my mom would get angry of me for keeping 10 open tabs while navigating, or to perceive that the AND/OR boolean logic can be quite tricky for non-techies. But I also became aware that maybe when in 2006 I was acting as part of the client team for an outsourced project, it was not a bad provider what time after time would deliver a different thing from what we (technical guys) where expecting.

Nowadays, I think communication between users and developers is of great importance. The “I’ll tell you want I want when I see it” is not something to be dismissed.

The agile approach is not a “quick and dirty hack” but a “let’s understand what the user is looking for”. Apart from helping managing risk.

First published here