Walking in others shoes, at least in spirit

Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror had a great article last Friday entitled UsWare vs ThemWare that focuses on the importance of understanding what users of software go through. More broadly interpreted, though, it makes a great case for taking the time to understand the perspective of someone else for a better end product.

In his post, Jeff quotes Eric Sink’s post on 3 kinds of software:

  1. MeWare
    The developer creates software. The developer uses it. Nobody else does.
  2. ThemWare
    The developer creates software. Other people use it. The developer does not.
  3. UsWare
    The developer creates software. Other people use it. The developer uses it too.

Mr. Atwood then comments:

“It behooves software developers to understand users, to walk a mile in their shoes. If we can bridge the gap between users and ourselves– even if only a little– we start slowly converting our mediocre ThemWare into vastly superior UsWare. To really care about the software you’re writing, you have to become a user, at least in spirit.”

I couldn’t agree more, but I’d argue this sentiment extends to well beyond software development:

  • Why is that time line so important to that marketing guy when it’ll mean reduced quality or fewer features?
  • How big a deal is it for the product casing to be a certain color when sold in a particular country?
  • Where did that finance guy get that we had to spend money equally across the next three quarters instead of having just one big figure to draw from as we need throughout the year?

These kinds of questions come up all the time in lots of different fields and you owe it to your project and your company to walk in the shoes of others to find out their answers. More generally, then:

To really care about the project you’re working on, you have to become the other people working on it, at least in spirit.

I could certainly do this more often myself and when I’ve taken the time to do so in the past it has paid off.


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