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“If the users can’t find it, the functions not there.”

Human Factors International

The project postmortem. It teaches a lot about software development. Hidden within is the opportunity to learn, improve and maybe be a little entertained. Now imagine, reversing the process and asking the right questions, UPFRONT? Better yet, involving the people who will use the product BEFORE you start the build.

A cautionary tale

It’s 2012. There is a presidential campaign and the promise of a healthcare marketplace. President Obama deployed an in-house development team, putting into practice many of the ideas from the DevOps world. Game Day, aptly titled for the QA and scenario process, the development team tried every way they could to break the system. Frantic sprints. A fool-proof schedule for Game Day. A series of simulations, response plans and test start and end times.

18 months of development that needed to work for 4 days.

4 minutes to recognize a failure event.

This was a simulation of real life, and real life doesn’t stop or wait.”

4 minutes. That’s an eternity. You know how you react if your computer stops working for 10 seconds, let alone 240 seconds.

What happened next? We all know what happened next. The system failed.

Why? Beyond the failure of following rules, and the lack of a cohesive plan, one can argue the real reason was the lack of user testing, on, wait for it, human beings!

Asking Why First

To build anything, whether it’s software or a bicycle, once you understand the business reasoning, the next question is why?

  •       Who is the audience?
  •       Who is will be actively using the product daily?
  •       What problem are you solving?
  •       How is what you create, better, simpler or most cost-effective?

Again, pick two problems to solve, three at the most. Our brains can’t grasp more than three.

If there is one word to emblazon into your brain, it’s SIMPLIFY. Regardless of how complex the problem is, simple works.

Validate, early and often. Intended users will see issues quickly, see what they like and then tell you what works and what does not.

People are human.

Great products come from understanding the people you design for.

Prototype quickly.



Finish strong.

“To create a memorable design, you need to start with a thought that’s worth remembering.”

Thomas Manss

Understand the user, first. Then build with the end in mind.