Participant Observation and Software Product Development

First of all there was the “them” and “us” of “IT” and “The Business”, the methodology of choice was Waterfall and IT’s job was to implement what the Business said it wanted. Projects were late, expensive and disappointed everybody.

Then came Rapid Application Development, DSDM, UML, Rational Rose etc. On of the big ideas here was to get “IT” and “The Business” into the same room so they could decide together what they wanted and hopefully come up with a better result. Thankfully it was better than the Waterfall approach.

Where next?

The next evolution, I hope, will be be building software through participant observation. Anyone who has done much product development will know that what people say they want is often very different from what they really want. And what they actually need is usually different still.

Participant observation would recognise that even when you get five people in a room together, what is agreed and written down by those five still stands a significant chance of not reflectng reality. The only way to really build software is for the builders to really know how the users will use the product. The only way to do this is to walk a mile in their shoes. Or, as a participant observer would say, to live with them for 18 months before you start writing a line of code.

Why buyers should run electronic reverse auctions

The technical jargon is asymmetry of information.

In English: You, the buyer, don’t know what price potential suppliers would be prepared to supply to you. Each supplier knows what price he could go to but, cartels aside, each supplier does not know what price other suppliers would be prepared to go to.

In this kind of climate everyone has to assume a market price. Usually they assume this market price based on what was paid last year. If you negotiate a 5% saving based on last year’s prices then you might think you got a good deal. But if all the suppliers would have been willing to give you 15% or even more then you got a bad deal.

You will never know the true market price until you run a reverse auction which contains (and only contains) well-qualified, serious suppliers.