9 Jul
2011

Wringing Metaphor from Thin Air : I am the customer

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In my continuing saga of seeing metaphor in every conversation with my house painter, Danny, I bring you another tale that proves we software developers are not alone.

In addition to painting the house, I asked Danny’s crew to build a set of stairs off on side of my front porch. This morning, Danny showed up with a new guy and introduced him as the guy who would be building my steps. Joe, we’ll call him, is a finish carpenter.

It was apparent they had stood around studying the stair problem before calling me outside. “What do you want these stairs to be?” Joe asked to start the conversation.

“I don’t know. Just, you know, stairs,” I said. I immediately became a quintessential idiot customer.

It was at this point I saw a shared look pass between them. You know the look: Oh, boy. A customer who doesn’t know jack.

The next 10 minutes were full of decisions about things I had no idea I would ever need to consider.

  • This kind of base or that kind of base?
  • We can’t get that kind of siding pattern anymore. What would you like instead? (For the record, I don’t care)
  • How wide will the stairs be?
  • Will there be a concrete pad? And here are reasons for and against, Mr. Starr.

The bottom line is that I had to make all these decisions that were really foreign to me. Being the professionals that they were, though, there were some things I was never asked. Whether because they knew the regulatory answer or because they just felt they could decide better than I, here are some questions I never heard.

  • How many steps?
  • How tall is each step?
  • Should we paint the base?
  • Shall we match the pattern of board placement on the other stairs?
  • What length screw should we use?
  • What kind of nails should we use?

Go figure. The professional carpenter knew more about what I needed than I did. I knew only that I wanted stairs.

Instead of answering every question they asked, I responded often with, “What do you think?” and I am pretty sure that was the right thing to do. Joe and Danny had better answers than I did.

In fact, it was clear after a bit of talking that they had a clear idea of what they wanted to build and this conversation was really a process securing permission to do so. The techniques and materials they wanted to use were more expensive than the cheapest available and they needed to assess my commitment to quality.

When they were confident I would let them build the steps the way they thought best, the conversation lightened up a lot. Jokes started coming more often. People smiled more. I had let them know that I value quality, too, and trust them to do their work. That made them happy. Weird how that works.

2 thoughts on “Wringing Metaphor from Thin Air : I am the customer

  1. Another scenario where i had issues likewise
    a. One company where you have commerical stakeholder (CS) and product stakeholder (PS). While CS was the boss PS had full product knowledge. PS requirements never stacked up to CS expectations comercially.  

    How do you resolve that? Any views 
    http://www.toolsjournal.com/agile

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