‘Listening to the Voices of the Users’ in Product Based Software Development

‘Listening to the Voices of the Users’ in Product Based Software Development

Netta Iivari (University of Oulu, Finland) and Tonja Molin-Juustila (University of Oulu, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-575-9.ch008
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(IT) development, but it is often challenging, especially in the product based software development context. This article critically examines the practice of ‘listening to the voices of the users’; how it is accomplished in product based software development. First literature addressing users’ role in the product development context is reviewed. Afterwards, empirical analysis in three IT companies involved in product business but with different degrees of productization is carried out. In the analysis, the focus is on: 1) Where do the uses’ voices come from? 2) When are the users’ voices listened to? 3) What happens to the users’ voices; whether and how do they affect the development? 4) What are the challenges and particularities of each case? The analysis reveals similarities but also clear differences between the cases. Implications both for theory and practice discussed.
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This article critically examines the practice of ‘listening to the voices of the users’; how it is accomplished in information technology (IT) development, particularly in the product based software development context. Based on the degree of productization, software development strategies today could basically be characterized by a line with two ends and with variations in the middle. These two ends have been called by different names: custom or contract vs. product development (Grudin, 1991), customized vs. general products (Sommerville, 1995), custom vs. packaged software (Carmel & Becker, 1995), custom or made-to-order vs. packaged products1 (Sawyer, 2000, 2001), custom-made vs. generic or consumer products (ISO, 1999), professional services vs. product business (Hoch, Roeding, Purket & Lindner, 2000), and product vs. services (Cusumano, 2004), to name but a few examples. In this article we will mainly focus on product based software development for a market of many possible customers as opposite to the traditional information systems (IS) type of custom development for one well known customer only. However, many software business organizations lie somewhere between these two extremes. Therefore, in this study we consider product based software development as development with the aim for a standard, generalized software even though the degree of productization may be different (high in mass-market packaged software and low in many enterprise solutions types of products).

As Grudin (1991) points out, we like to highlight product based software development from the point of view of its different relation to users compared to IS type of development – the uncertainty related to users, namely. Product based development is considered as a very challenging context from the viewpoint of listening to the users. In this context, products are developed potentially for large and heterogeneous user and customer populations in a situation in which both the users and the customers might be unidentifiable until the product is in the market, as well as very difficult to be in touch with during the development (Adam & Light, 2004; Grudin, 1991; Grudin, 1993; Grudin & Pruitt, 2002; Grønbak, Grudin, Bødker & Bannon, 1993; Iivari, 2006a; Keil & Carmel, 1995; Kujala, 2007; Symon, 1998). It is also typical that basic functionality is defined by marketing or even by engineering (Karlsson, Dahlstedt, Regnell, Natt och Dag & Persson, 2007). It has been criticized that users, if contacted at all, are contacted while defining issues related to human-computer interaction after the basic functionality has been defined (Beyer & Holtzblatt, 1998; Carmel & Sawyer, 1998; Grudin, 1991, 1993; Keil & Carmel, 1995).

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