Thursday, June 12, 2014

Victim of a professional with attitude - a requirements story

Again, a post that isn't so much about architecture - more about miscommunication, but this time with me as the 'user'. It illustrates how the poor 'users' feel when we behave like Scott.

First the back story. In our kitchen we have french doors leading to the back yard (garden for my non-American followers). They have double paned glass and mini-blinds between the panes. So we get insulation and privacy. The whole assembly (doors, threshold, etc.) is in a single unit.

If you think about it there are essentially 4 configurations possible.
  • Doors open outwards, left door is the main door
  • Doors open outwards, right door is the main door
  • Doors open inwards, left door is the main door
  • Doors open inwards, right door is the main door
Of course, the beginning of the issue  can be seen in the above definitions. Left/Right - from which perspective? In/Out - from which perspective.

The first mistake that I made was that I didn't know that most of the time the building codes here specify that french doors open inwards. So I described what I needed to the salesman (let's call him Scott - that is after all his real name). I explained that I wanted the left door facing outwards to open. So, he did the mental gyrations and pointed me to the one he thought I wanted. It wasn't - it did have the left door facing out as the opening door. But the whole assembly opened inwards - and is not reversible.

So I had to return it and order the proper one. Now I am not an expert in the internal naming of sides of doors, conventions in the industry etc. I have a requirement. Open outwards, left door facing outwards must open. So the developer - oops, Scott again translates my requirements to the specification (the order) and asks me to sign off. I naively assumed that the requirements would have been correctly translated to design - silly me. What did I get? Outward opening, right door. And since it was a "special order", I would have to pay again to get the correct one.

There is presumably some assumption about how doors are specified. Is the specification left/right as determined by the direction of opening? Is there some other way? I don't know. That is part of  the technical world of doors, not part of my desire for use.

With all that rigmarole, I came to a few conclusions for us as practitioners:
  • Our users don't know our vocabulary
  • Making users sign off on specifications when they don't know the vocabulary is costly
  • When we then make the users pay twice because of miscommunication we are failing the people that we should be delighting. 
All in all a bit humbling for me - when I assume that the user actually understands my jargon/terminology I am usually wrong. Note to self, when providing a service, don't jump to conclusions in your translation from the world that the user inhabits to the world you inhabit.