Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Faster horses couldn't drag me away.

Henry Ford once said: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses".

The profound truth to this is that 'customers' are often much better at describing their problems than coming up with solutions. Engineers too often are better at coming up with solutions than they are in seeing the true problems. The key to getting things done as an Engineer is to recognize when you are attempting to make a faster horse instead of inventing a car. You have to work with your 'customers' (be they clients, other departments, or even other engineers, consuming your code), to come up with the solution that matches the right problem.

I have thought this for a long time, and I blog about it, but I do it too all the time. It's very easy to fall into a trap, it's often hard to tell when you're building faster horses until your halfway done building them. Customers often give you a solution instead of a problem ( eg: "I need a file browser with twelve bookmark buttons", instead of "I need a faster workflow for frequent opening of files"). It's all to easy to build that fancy file browser, only to find out later the button for launching the browser was nested too deep in the UI, and moving it would have solved 99% of users problems.


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I welcome you're thoughts. Keep it classy, think of the children.