Developing software applications that solve real-world problems requires getting to know your market space. For software companies this typically involves aggregating data from a number of sources including customers, support personnel, enhancement requests, sales staff, and post-mortems from consulting engagements. While there is no doubt that normal requirements gathering techniques help, there is no better way to understand your customers’ needs than to “walk a mile in their shoes.” When working with companies in the AEC industry, getting a firsthand glimpse into how your software is being used can be an eye-opening and memorable experience.
Recently Robie Lewis and I had the opportunity to tag along with the lead Quality Examiner at an oil sands refinery construction site near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta (Canada). At this facility, enormous reactors and miles of piping are used to process oil sands rich with bitumen into a wide range of synthetic crude oils. The construction project is part of an overall plant expansion designed to double the capacity of the facility. Luckily for us, our visit was on a sunny, warm day in July. I understand that this area of Canada can see temperatures as low as -40 degrees during the winter – BURRR!
In visiting the site, we were warned ahead of time that certified steel-toe boots were required, along with various other safety gear. Before being permitted on to the job site, a safety orientation program/test was administered which is mandatory for all visitors to the facility. The safety orientation program depicted the various dangers we would encounter. The reality of man vs BIG machine was very intimidating. Imagine staring straight up from the base of a 150 ft tall reactor which resembled one of NASA’s solid rocket boosters while a crane not 15 feet away is hoisting a 20-ton structure in the air.
Spending time with the Quality Examiners on the job site wearing their steel-toe boots, hard hats, safety goggles, and a fluorescent safety vest brought to life how they perform their inspection roles while interacting with a document control process. Taking the time to understanding the people, the process, and the environment is important when implementing valuable solutions. I know the information gathered from this experience will improve the overall solution for this customer and will undoubtedly influence future Document Locator implementations.