Antonella and Software Requirements


Antonella is 28. She's attractive, lives in Rome, and loves to go clubbing.

I'd like to know Antonella! But it's not what you think.

Antonella is a fiction. But a useful fiction. The designers at Ford Motor Company use her (or the idea of her) to guide their design decisions and resolve conflicts. As Phil Patton, the author of an article on Ford says:

"Ford is using characters like Antonella to bring a human element to the dry statistical research drawn from polls and interviews. Based on psychological profiles, these characters are a more modern version of the 'theme boards' that designers once covered with snapshots and swatches of material to inspire a design. They are also like avatars, those invented characters used in online games and forums to symbolize a participant’s personality."

Patton quotes Murat Yalman, Ford's director of global advanced product strategy: “You get a common focus for everyone from the clay modeler to the chief executive.”

Can this technique work for eliciting software requirements and keeping them up to date as the design evolves? Do Antonellas exist for software projects?

I'm old fashioned. When I think about getting requirements right, I think about getting to a set of features (not more than 20 to 25). I then draw each feature out into a set of use cases, and turn each use case into a bunch of requirements.

I could definitely use Antonella at each of these stages, especially at the requirements satisfaction stage where all the difficult conflicts arise about how best to fulfill a feature through a set of requirements.

Or at least I thought so, until I read this in Stephen Few's 2006 book Information Dashboard Design. Few writes:

"In a genuine attempt to please their customers, software engineers focus on checking all the items, one by one, off of lists of requested features. This approach makes sense to technology-oriented software engineers, but it results in lumbering beasts. Customers are expert in knowing what they need to accomplish, but not in knowing how software ought to be designed to support their needs. Allowing customers to design software through feature requests is the worst form of disaster by committee." [My emphasis]

The distinction is between knowing what I as a customer need to accomplish, versus knowing how a tool that helps me accomplish that goal is to be designed.

Makes sense. In software design, especially in Agile development methodologies, are we veering too far in the direction of letting customers design the tool itself?

Can Antonella prevent us from going too far? Maybe we should all get to know Antonella.

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