We have been unfair to end-users for far too long. We ask them what they want the application to do for them and they tell us as best they can. Then we get mad at them because they change their mind or bring up additional items later in the project. We have been complaining about this for decades.

I find this situation very similar to one we have experienced in project management. In project management we‘ve learned when planning a project that the earlier portions of a project’s Work Breakdown Structure will always be in greater detail than latter portions when you first start a project. That is because we came to realize that projects have horizon lines: points in a project where more information becomes available, giving us a new context to plan the next section of the project in more detail. In the classic waterfall methodology these horizon lines tend to line up with the starting points of each phase. The only reason we came to this conclusion is because project managers banged their heads against the wall trying to plan the whole project in detail as though they could see perfectly into the future. It was repeated failures and frustrations that led to the understanding of horizon lines.

Do you think it is time we realize end-users have horizon lines too? In the beginning of a project the end-users are able to visualize the final product, but only in bigger chunks and with little knowledge of the peculiarities that exist several layers down in the details. It is not until the product starts taking shape that they can interact with it and begin to see the subtle implications of decisions they made earlier. We may label this as scope creep but it is really just them dealing with their own set of horizon lines.

Let’s take a look at an example. Kelly was the lead representative for the business unit on a project initiated to create a new customer service application. It was the first time she was in this role. Lucky for her she was paired up with a very seasoned business analyst, Carol. Because of her experience, Carol worked with the project manager to create several demos early in the development phase and add additional time for some rework. She knew this would allow Kelly to see her initial requirements become enough of a reality to cause her to think through other dimensions of what the final product would need to be successful. In the end, the final product was a hit and the project manager was able to deliver it within the time frame he initially planned for.

Now, I want to make sure you understand my point here. I’m not making excuses for an end-user’s lack of hard work; but, I am pleading for a little grace for their lack of perfection in visualizing the future. Change happens. It’s time we plan for it.