At the Qingyuan marathon in China’s Guangdong province last month, runners were given gift packages that included bars of fruit-scented soap. As the packaging descriptions were written in English, many of the runners (who do not read the language) assumed the bars were edible because of the fruit imagery on the packages. There were many disappointed—and disgusted—recipients who took unpleasant bites of their soap before discovering their unfortunate mistakes.
This example goes to show how important it is to connect what a customer is expecting with what a vendor is able to offer. Assumptions about a product’s function or capabilities will be made by the customer based on what his or her specific needs are, and it is up to the supplier to make sure those needs can be met effectively.
Software is no different. What a customer wants and expects a technology product to do for them based on the “packaging” may not be exactly what the product was designed to do. Software designed by a company that lacks expertise about the customer’s business needs and expectations is guaranteed to fall short of the assumed functionality. Software that is designed by people who understand the business of their customers is more likely to provide the service needed—and expected.
The Chinese runners were not incorrect to assume that the bars were for eating – a snack is far more useful (and logical) during a marathon than soap. Similarly, software customers assume that products provide the functionality required if they are being offered in the relevant market space; though this is an assumption. Ultimately, software designed for a specific purpose makes more sense when it is produced by a company that specializes in the same business. Even if a soap company also offered edible fruit bars, would you want them?