Designed with “user in mind”

The AK47 assault rifle was designed with an intimate knowledge of the potential “user”. It was designed for an army made up of “average grunts who are scared, incompetent, untrained and have limited natural talent”.  Increasingly the average age in conflicts is dropping with children armed with AK47s. What happens when they are scared and come under fire?  They grab the rifle and hit the fire selector and pull the trigger.

Logical is not always best

The logical sequent for the fire selector is SAFE -> SEMI AUTO -> FULL AUTO. But understanding that the typical user in 99% of the cases would panic and ram the selector all the way home, onto FULL AUTO, means that they would end up emptying the whole magazine on the first unaimed burst. Within a few seconds they have an empty magazine. Not an ideal a situation when joining a firefight.

So instead they designed the AK47 with the selector that goes SAFE -> FULL AUTO -> SEMI AUTO. Not linear. Not logical. But it means SEMI AUTO is the default and FULL AUTO is a deliberate decision.

What are the real requirements?

Next they realised that the AK47 would get virtually no care and maintenance. So they made it so reliable that they have dug up AK47s that have been buried for years with woodworm that has eaten the stock…. and they still fired just fine.

Finally, they know that the average grunt couldn’t hit anything further than a couple of hundred feet away. So why spend any effort designing in accuracy. That again sounds counter intuitive. A rifle where accuracy is not on the list of requirements!! But the AK47 is a close quarters weapon. In the streets, in the jungle, across a river.

So the design brief was; foolproof & reliable. Accuracy doesn’t even make the list.

How does your user ACTUALLY use your product?

Once you have built your MVP, then you need to observe how your users are using your product. You may be surprised. Or even horrified. But that cycle of build, observe, modify when iterated rapidly is at the heart of the MVP and LeanStartup principles. It helps you zone in on your market before you have committed too much to development. And wasted effort on development has 3 dimensions. And often the cost and impact of 2 of the 3 dimensions are overlooked:

  • time and money is wasted on building the wrong functionality, when that effort could be used to build the more important features
  • nothing saps the morale and destroys productivity in the engineering team than pouring heart and soul into building unused features
  • finally, the product is being complicated and cluttered up with functionality that is not needed, which makes it less intuitive and viral.

Product management has a huge responsibility

Product managers need to get out and meet customers and watch them using your product  – ideally in person – but at least virtually.  Cloud apps enable you to observe behaviour, provide you have built in the instrumentation. But product managers also need to have an open mind and not look for data to support their expectations of product use. Instead they should be curious, question, analyse and finally test ideas before they launch into specs and development.

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