Guilty of Over-Customising

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Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is out of the office.

I recently met an old colleague with whom I used to work 12 years back in a big FMCG group based in Dubai. He is now the IT Manager of the group and whilst chatting, humbly reminded me of a project, where I had re-designed some of the Application Modules to make the group’s tailor-made software package (originally designed for wholesale businesses) able to cope with retail business requirements of one business unit. It was one of those challenging projects which I am really proud of.

However, his take on that was different to mine. He mentioned that most of the changes that I had suggested and implemented (approved by IT Manager then) were over-customised for that one business unit; and that those changes were still causing the company some overhead, especially when it comes to global releases for all business units. In a nutshell, our team then was accused of over-customising the software for just one business unit, which we shouldn’t have done. There is a long history to it, and though I have my own arguments to support what we did then, I do accept the charge of overheads caused by our changes.

Now let’s assume we had not implemented the software changes then. The group's software would have been installed in the retail unit, with many workarounds for daily standard processes. The users would have been frustrated; and would have started hating the system. But the IT DevOps of the group would have been happy, as it would have not caused them any overhead.

So in either case, someone would have been unhappy. Back then, my colleagues and I chose to make those people happy who would use the system day in, day out. We may have missed the bigger picture; but considering how much was missing in our system then for retail operations, we did as much as we could to fill in the gap. After three months of hard work, we delivered  software which was happily accepted by the users. All this for just one belief - that systems should be made to help the people; and not the other way round.

What would you have done in a similar situation? Do you think we could have made everyone happy using a different approach?

On a general note, have you ever been in a situation, where your suggestions to help users have been challenged or discarded for similar reasons? Or do you work with users, who are too demanding? Do you struggle in managing expectations?

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