Bob is a software professional with 24 years in the industry. He has a bachelor's degree in Geology, and also has extensive experience in the Oil and Gas industry.
If you created a new software app, you would probably show it to a few of your friends before you published it in order to get valuable feedback on how it looked and worked. Once it was published, you would quickly start to receive ratings from users, along with comments that might help you decide how to best move forward on improving your product.
But what if you were working on a team in a larger organization creating a large, complex delivery? How would you go about getting this kind of real-world feedback from actual users of the software? This is exactly where the end user fits in product development.
End User Function
The end user is the term used for those people who actually use a product, often on a constant or regular basis, as part of their own job. End users are hands-on customers who work directly with various products and tools in order to deliver on the business goals of their own organization. Because they work so closely with the product, the end user is considered to be one of the best sources of information regarding how well a product actually functions and how much value it provides.
One of the key values that end users provide is that they typically do not have prior knowledge about any of the assumptions that go into creating a product and often encounter defects or flaws not previously recognized by the development team. As end users are often looking for innovative ways to solve problems using existing software and tools, they also have a good understanding of enhancements that can be made to increase the overall value of the products they're using.
There are a few functional roles on a development team that can approximate that of the end user. Product owners who are intended to be the voice of the customer are often the aggregators of end user feedback. While this feedback loop gives the product owner valuable insight into the end user experience, product owners are often focused on expanding future deliveries and sales and not on existing products.
Similarly, documentation, user experience, and quality assurance staff will all occasionally function in a limited end user role. However, these team members can only serve as proxies for a true user, as they do not typically use the software in a real-world scenario on a regular basis, as the end user does.
End User Obligations
A knowledgeable end user will be conscientious in their use of the product. By this we mean that the user should try to use the software or tool in a manner that does not purposefully cause it to break. If problems do arise, then the end user should take time to fully explore any documentation resources that are available, in order to try and resolve the issue prior to reporting it as a defect.
If the user is running into problems that they cannot solve on their own or with the help of other knowledgeable users, they should take advantage of any customer support functions that are provided along with the product. Typically these contacts will be in the form of online knowledge bases, chat, phone calls, or emails made directly to customer support representatives.
Prior to making such contact, the end user should organize all the information they have regarding their issue, taking care to make note of any specific circumstances that make their use of the software unique. Contacts with customer support will typically be logged into a database that the provider of the product can mine in order to gather useful information on the use of their product.
Other Feedback Loops
Large companies want to keep their customers and end users happy in order to retain their business. Quite often, companies will sponsor user group meetings as a means of proactively reaching out to users. These meetings provide a chance for face-to-face exchange of information between end users and product providers.
The provider of the product can review their long-range plans and provide updates on any new features planned for upcoming releases. The end users themselves can provide feedback on general issues that are causing them problems, and more importantly, useful feedback on any missing features that would be of great value in deploying the product.
End users might also be asked to work directly with development teams. This often takes the form of participating in user experience studies or deploying and then providing feedback on beta or pre-release evaluations of new products prior to general release.
In Agile project management practice it's not uncommon to try and have a knowledgeable end user participate directly on the team. In this case, the end user can help in detailing user stories and providing key acceptance criteria that should be required for delivery. If possible, the end user would want to participate in daily Scrum meetings, planning, and retrospective meetings, and might even partake directly in roles such as ongoing quality assurance. Of course, all of these functions take significant time and effort to perform well and should not be taken on without the ability to commit fully to the process.
All right, let's take a moment or two to review. As we learned, the end user is the person who actually uses a product or piece of software. While other functional roles can approximate how a product works, end users who work with products on a regular basis to accomplish real-world tasks often provide the best view of how well a product actually performs.
Along with providing direct feedback on defects and enhancements, end users often participate in user group meetings, where they can help steer the direction of future product deliveries. In some cases end users can work directly with a delivery team to help move a product from development through final product delivery.
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