Development projects – before you start – What does the customer want?

Publicado: 29 de junho de 2015 em Assuntos Técnicos
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Introduction

Every beginning is difficult and full of obstacles. With new designs this is no different. Understanding what your customer really wants you to design is one of the most difficult and delicate tasks. Trust me: you don’t speak the same language as him! There is a classic cartoon that illustrates this in a funny and humorous way, showing what each member of a hypothetical project team understood what was requested by the client. It’s the cartoon about a swing called “How projects really work.
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Now I’m going to expose an approach that I often use to try to extract our client‘s wishes and to get a consensus on what he really wants and needs to be done.
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The first action is to conduct a thorough interview with the client for a better understanding of the project, questioning aspects that seem to be relevant, asking for clarification, checking whether there is competition with similar projects, and then writing down the main points of the desired specifications. All details are important, even those we as technicians often label as superfluous, such as aesthetic and design aspects, or ways of use.
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Things to consider and think about during the interview, which the customer is usually not aware of the need, or believes to be obvious or implied and then neither mention it to you:
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  • How to set up, customize and calibrate the project;
  • Is there a need to connect the project to other equipments? How? (WiFi, Ethernet, USB, RS232, RS485, etc.);
  • In what way does the project interact with an operator or a maintenance technician? (Display, buttons, keyboard, external connections, LEDs, etc.);
  • What operating system to use? (Windows, Linux, custom system, none);
  • Other issues that could be relevant in the context of the project.

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Based on this interview, you should prepare a formal written document that contains the detailed specification of the project, the additional information collected by you, all your ideas about it and primarily a complete functional specification, in the form of a proposal, detailing as much as possible the functions and sequences of operation, calibration etc. This document will be a record of your professional understanding, based on your own experience, on how the specifications need to be carried out and what the best solution for the project is, from a technical point of view.

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Then submit this formal document to the client so he can analyze, criticize, formulate suggestions and raise doubts regarding the details. The client generally has his business experience, has knowledge of the environment in which the project will operate, and the behavior of the people who will interact with the project. He can see flaws and inconsistencies or suggest major changes.
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After the revision of the client, you must produce a “finaldocument, which will serve both to guide you on what should be done and delivered to the client, and for the client, to clearly know what should and can be expected to be delivered by you. It’s like an agreement. These specifications shall be revised, when necessary and by mutual agreement with the client. They however define the accuracy of the design and should therefore be preserved and respected as far as possible.
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The advantage of this approach is that it increases a lot the chances of reaching the expected results of the project, and reduce the time wasted with embarrassing situations and expensive revisions at the end. It is worth investing some time on this early part of a new development project.
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I have used this approach for all types of customer, even if the customer is myself, with some adjustments. Do you have a different experience? Or work otherwise? Share it here.
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Development projects before you start

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Check out the next technical articles in this series on how to start a new development project:
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  • Search For Patents The advantage of patent search systems to get knowledge in specific subjects and learn about the solutions developed by competitors;
  • Look for technical standards!  (comming soon) The care that must be taken in the preparation of a new project, if there is a need of meeting the  requirements of specific technical standards;
  • Study some more! Other sources to get the necessary knowledge and extract the information that is necessary for the development of your project.

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Creative Commons License
This work, “What does the customer want?“, by Henrique Frank W. Puhlmann, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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