Sunday, 24 June 2007

The Medical Model of User Feedback

From a Business Week interview with Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma:
In The Innovator's Dilemma you warn that the maxim "staying close to your customers" can lead you astray. Wouldn't a cursory reading of the book say "don't listen to your customers?"

You're exactly right. The cursory reading is "don't listen." The deep reading is you have to be careful which customers you listen to, and then you need to watch what they do, not listen to what they say.
The last part of this -- watch what they do / don't listen to what they say -- while perhaps superficially disrespectful is a key part of what I call the Medical Model of User Feedback.

Symptoms and Signs
When a (medical) doctor examines a patient she will usually ask for symptoms -- what is the patient's experience? -- and look for signs -- her own observations.

Generally signs are regarded as the more significant, since the patient is typically neither particularly well-trained at interpretation nor unbiased. This is why watching people is invaluable when tuning software features.

By all means listen to User Feedback and requests, but consider it an early step towards revision and improvement, not the last word.

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