Q: My company thinks about customer requirements but does not think about end-users. What’s your advice?

For a software company, “customer” and “end-user” often are different. A customer is the one who buys the software, and an end-user is the one who’s stuck using it. Customers and end-users can have very different goals and requirements for the software. Customer requirements are usually driven by Product Management, while a User Experience group may own the end-user data. It’s critical for all of the people who collect requirements to communicate frequently and for both kinds of data to feed into planning for new releases.

End-user input and feedback are especially important in understanding why specific features are needed and how they should work.

Case in point: A software company we know created a new product feature based on a single large customer’s request. After the expensive new feature had been developed and released, the company learned that their customer’s request came from a desire to fix a workaround issue that could have been solved with just a few field-level changes on a single screen. Had end-user data been considered, the company would have saved a lot of money.

In a perfect world, Product Management and User Experience constantly communicate what they’re hearing from customers and end-users so that requirements can be validated or refuted just from talking to each other. (Other good data sources include Support, Customer Service, Sales and Training.)

In cases where there is a dispute over what Development time should be spent on, a smart person at a high level in the organization should determine the requirements based on the company’s overarching business goals.

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