Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Art in Empathy


The continual empathy of your clients is a key component of analysis. A separate entity from your sponsor, the clients are the people who will directly wield your software. Sometimes these folks overlap with the people who paid for the development and sometimes they don’t. Regardless you would do well to heed your clients’ desires as in the long run the clients keep you employed, rather than your sponsor.

This may strike a slightly odd chord, but it is akin to pointing out that you are more accountable for keeping your car running than the bank that lent you the money. All the bank cares about is that their loan is paid back with interest. But you will be the person driving your car and how you care for it and drive it determines how long the car will last. Similarly how well your project meets the needs of your clients will determine how long your software stays useful, even though your sponsor is providing the financing.

Amazingly enough the client enjoys relating their desires to someone who expresses a genuine interest in their needs and their working environment. You should try to discover what keeps the client awake at night: what are his worries. Nothing pleases a client like a designer who knows his workday life in detail, his daily routines, and what he faces in the way of competition and challenges in his office.

Analyze the big picture, not just the snapshot relevant to what you perceive as the scope of your project. Anticipate what the client wants: don’t wait for them to ask. Finally in those instances where you’ve identified a can of worms without a ready solution, consider what alternatives are available to monitor, mitigate, or manage the issue.

Interviewing for requirements seems simple enough, yet actually listening to a client discuss his desires takes a considerable amount of insight. You need to understand the sociology of his office and the things he wishes he had but doesn’t know how to ask for. Many times an employee is shy to relate his frustrations after finding that doing so in the past only set him apart as a complainer. You need to commiserate with him (without being smarmy or condescending) and then step back and independently think of ways to improve his working life.

Design extends beyond its up-front activity: once you’ve installed the initial version of your software you need to revisit the client to assess the full impact of your creation on his daily activities. The artistic thing to do is to create a system that your client appreciates long after you are gone. Continued empathy is the key for doing so.