Customer Feedback is Essential to the Development Process
Customer feedback is essential to software development. Without real world feedback, it’s difficult to improve the user experience. Agile development helps by putting user feedback closer to the developer. Agile methodology enables a software product to be delivered in functional pieces, so those pieces can be reviewed both incrementally and in total. If done properly it can add value and efficiency to your overall objective. If done improperly it can drain resource cycles with little-to-zero gain. To demonstrate this, I recently hit on a useful analogy, one that likens software development to running a restaurant. Here’s a table showing which software development roles correlate to those in a restaurant:
Missed ExpectationsHow does customer feedback help developers when end users are unhappy with the new software? Again, the analogy with a restaurant can help. Consider the following scenario: A customer enters the restaurant, peruses the menu and orders. Later, the waiter brings their dinner and anxiously awaits their feedback. “Is everything okay?” the waiter asks. “Not really,” the customer replies. “The food is not hot enough.” The waiter conveys this information to both the chef managing the kitchen and the dining-room manager: “Table 3 is unhappy. They say their food wasn’t hot enough.” Later that evening, after the final customers have left, the dining-room manager calls a staff meeting to discuss that evening’s customer experience. “A customer received food that was not hot enough. This shouldn’t happen,” the manager says. The team agrees to adopt a new objective: All hot food should be served hot. The chef knows the food was hot in the kitchen. Perhaps the food was not delivered quickly enough. So the kitchen and dining-room managers agree to explore three options: a heat lamp, microwave oven and new staff instructions. The next time the customer comes to the restaurant, they order the same dish. When they are asked how their food was, they say, “The spicy chicken was O.K., but not as hot as I like it.” Lightbulb moment: the customer was talking about spice, not temperature. That’s easy to fix. Customer feedback is easy to misinterpret. Once feedback is misinterpreted, and the customer is removed from the equation, it is near impossible to recover without wasted effort. Therefore, it’s important for developers and stakeholders to sample their product during the development process and not just after receiving negative feedback. Sometimes, if you take appropriate measures, a simple solution is close at hand.
Context is EverythingSo, in the course of developing your product, make sure to follow these simple but profound guidelines:
- Be clear and detailed — even when you think the context is obvious
- Make sure feedback is unambiguous and can be duplicated
- Expect misinterpretation and clear it up before it gets out of hand