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.

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One thought on “Participant Observation and Software Product Development

  1. hanrygill

    I Like these line of your article 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.
    software product development

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