Implicit Requirements are Still Requirements

 

I have an all-in-one machine, a fax/copier/scanner/printer, that I use for copying, scanning and primarily faxing. It’s fine fax machine. And it’s a great copier. But when I hook it up to my computer for scanning to a file, it falls apart. Half the time (or more), my computer can’t establish a USB connection to the device. I was ready to throw the damn thing out the window when I thought, “Huh, I bet other people have this problem. I bet there’s new software. Go see.” I did. There was. I started to download.

I have a high speed connection, and it took me about 20 minutes to download the updated driver. OK. I can do other things while I’m downloading. And I did. 30 minutes later, I finally open the installer and try to install. It hangs about 3 minutes into it.

Since I have experience with crappy software from this vendor, I decide to quit a few applications. I do and the install proceeds a little farther. It stalls again. Ok, I quit all the applications and leave my computer alone to install. It does.

20 minutes later, I start up the scanning application, and wowie zowie, the entire UI has changed. Ok, I’m a smart person, I can figure this out. I was able to start scanning and save my files.

This should be a happy ending, right? Well, I’m only sort-of happy. That’s because my implicit requirements for the whole experience were not met. I expected:

  • That the file download in about 10 minutes. I’m not sure why the download had to be that big. Why not zip it?
  • To be able to install an application the way other Mac apps are installed–while I’m still working. Having to close all other apps is a very non-Mac approach. (Do you Windows users really have to do this? My goodness.)
  • To specify a filename once. In order to save a file as an image, I had to specify a filename (that’s not used), start the scan, and then specify a filename again. To me, this is a defect.
  • To use the Mac Finder to deal with my files in the application. Instead, I have to use the app’s view of the finder which doesn’t look much like my Mac.

I had a number of implicit requirements that were not met, mostly that the application look and feel like the other Mac apps on my machine. I’m not sure why that was so hard to do. Maybe the developers have never seen a Mac.

So imagine now that you’re a developer who’s just started to work in the banking domain. You have a lot of experience with selling online, so you know about transaction processing systems, but not about banking. How will you learn about the implicit requirements?

It’s worth thinking about this, no matter what your role is on the project. Those implicit requirements are still requirements. If your product doesn’t meet them, you will have unhappy customers. Even though I managed to accomplish the tasks I needed, the time it took me to accomplish them and the foreign approach to the UI made me not happy. Implicit requirements are still requirements. It’s worth thinking about how to make them more explicit. (One technique is to get early feedback from customers :-)

About Johanna Rothman

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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7 Responses to Implicit Requirements are Still Requirements

  1. Sounds just like my hP OfficeJet G85 All-in-One. Frustrating, ain’t it?
    The other thing that I’ve suffered with is that the drivers aren’t usually available for a few months after upgrades of OS X. Not too helpful with the almost annual upgrades.

  2. Nobody says:

    Frank – That’s funny! The first thing that came to my mind was: “I wonder if this is an HP device?” :-)

  3. Jered Floyd says:

    I see the other commenters had the same thought as me … you must have an HP All-in-One!
    For what it’s worth, while the Mac drivers are wretched for anything but printing, the Windows drivers often fail at doing even that.

  4. Michael Chermside says:

    Answer to one question: No, Windows users don’t actually have to exit all other applications, except for a few badly broken installers like the one you describe. But they DO have to click through a stupid dialog that warns them to close down all other applications. And sometimes the virus protection software interferes with the installation.

  5. At the Nov. ’06 Boston-SPIN meeting, Steve Rakitin, on the topic, “All Software is Defective,” made a point that requirements writers and testers need domain expertise. He opined that the trend to agile and other lean methods is in large part a reaction to not getting good requirements. In my opinion, another issue affecting the installation experience is not having resources to implement known requirements. If from a business perspective, managers think that buyers don’t base purchase decisions primarily on installation, then priorities will direct resources to new and sexy features rather than optimizing the installation experience.

  6. Asher Sterkin says:

    As an employee of a company making its money from providing security for the entertainment market let me clarify you some very basic fact: the only real success factor for the home computing market is USABLITY (put as many exclamation marks as you want). All these so called productivity tools: laptops, handhelds, mobiles, etc, are in fact just time wasters (don’t ask how much it took me to launch my laptop on the Frankfurt-Bangalore flight right now. Why?! It’s all the commodity technology!). These tools providers all do not take into account the very simple fact: human time is the most precious resource and they must respect it. What is happens today is caused by the fact that Microsoft monopolized the office automation market when people waste their time on playing with install shield gargets for salary rather than at their own expense. The MAC world has being “shielded” from this attitude for years; now, sadly, it is not. My only hope is – it will change sooner or later thanks to independent workers, like you, who are very conscious about how much time they are willing to waste on simple technical stuff. I also want to hope that agile “mentality” will make usability to be the king.
    Best regards,
    Asher

  7. I see this problem as stemming more from a fundamental misunderstanding of requirements than from a mere neglect of certain requirements.

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