Saturday, December 22, 2012

Building software, is it the same as renovating a house?

Over the last year, we have been renovating our house. We have a good builder, we have had to make lots of decisions and we know absolutely nothing about building. Looking back at the process, sure I have lived in houses for 50 years, I actually never paid the slightest bit of attention to what makes up a house. But when the builder rings you says have you got the tiles ready, the tiler arrives on Thursday, you sure have to pay attention. When you look at the newly stripped bathroom and measure up that dream vanity and realise it finishes inches from the toilet, you realise you need to pay attention to what it going on and do some planning. But until that moment, architects plans drift by, bathroom drawings sit on the plans and you really don't pay attention.

Surely this is what our software customers must feel when we write software for them. We have our little meetings, they drift in, sit down and we all chat, we walk out with visions of great user interfaces and they go back to what they were doing yesterday. Then our software arrives and they start to use it and ....

So ask yourself, did they actually tell you what they needed at the first meeting or were they only 80% focussed like I was with our house. You will never know until the software is installed and they start using it. Given that software is rarely as important as fixing a home, its a good bet they will not have focused. Is that their fault, no, its human nature.

With Microsoft Access you have always got to strive for good design and getting the software (read data model) into the hands of the user as quickly as possible. Don't be worried that they will not be excited about an interface with basic buttons and datasheet views of data and quick exports to excel for reports. These are the tools that you have that gets users to focus on your software. Just like me and my house, once the bathroom walls were in place, I could make cardboard cut-outs of vanities and toilets and make sure that things fitted before the carpenter fixed them to the wall.

Have a great festive season.

Garry Robinson
Access MVP since 2006