Jonathan Cutrell

Feature Requests vs. Business Problems


I recently encountered an interesting situation with a client. We were talking on the phone about a priority list of features they need on a platform we built; a while into the conversation, they mentioned that they felt like they had already told me all of the problems they were listing.

I was somewhat confused and surprised, because the problems they outlined seemed new to me. Then it hit me.

They had asked for particular features in response to their business problems.

The truth is, business problems require solutions. But it is our job as designers and developers to determine the most usable, maintainable, and effective solution for the platform and user scenarios.

Your clients may often ask you to implement a specific feature. Instead of nodding and pounding on your keyboard, talk about the root problem. Figure out what it is they experience day to day - get a true intuition for the problem, not the desire. Then, and only then, devise a solution better than anything they could do. It’s not their job to solve their own problems. They hire you to do that.

So encourage your clients to share their problems instead of their solutions. This kind of communication is key to effective long-term solutions.

As for the client, we now have a regular call scheduled for them to explain the problems they are experiencing. I then will take their issues and solve them, piece by piece.

Written by Jonathan Cutrell, Engineering Manager at Guild Education and podcast host at Developer Tea. You can follow him on Twitter at @jcutrell.