Determining user needs

The first step in developing an application usually involves identifying exactly what the end users require. Skipping this step (or guessing what the users might need) often results in additional work later.

In some cases you know the end users very well — you may be one yourself. In other cases (for example, a consultant developing projects for a client), you know little or nothing about the users or their situation.

These tips make this phase easier:

I Don't assume that you know what the users need. Second-guessing at this stage almost always causes problems later in development.

I If possible, talk directly to the application end users, not only to their supervisor or manager.

I Learn what, if anything, the users currently do to solve the problem. You may save some work by adapting an existing application.

I Identify the resources available at the users' site. For example, try to determine whether you must work around any hardware or software limitations.

i If possible, find out which systems will run your application. Consider whether your application must run on slower systems or on systems that aren't connected to a network.

i Understand the end users' skill levels. This information helps you design the application appropriately.

i Determine the anticipated lifespan of the application. This often influences the amount of effort you put into the project.

One final note: Don't be surprised if the project specifications change before you complete the application. This often happens, and you're better off expecting changes rather than being surprised by them.

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