In the seventies and eighties analysts were always taught “to talk to the users”. Then the pendulum swung and we were taught “to talk to the customers”. Only the customers. The customers, we were told, were the ones paying the bill. The users couldn’t balance business benefit with system development costs, but the customers could. This was, of course, wrong. We always need to identify and speak with all stakeholders.
However, in those days there was some merit to talking to customers alone, because business analysts, if ever they were involved in a project, tended to ask users what they wanted, and even sometimes what they needed, which lead to building the wrong thing, and wasting money (users are great at telling you what they do. They are also great at telling you what problems they have when trying to do what they do. But they often give unintentionally incorrect advice when asked what they want or need).
Just talking to customers though doesn’t solve the problem either, because they are often too far removed from the latest knowledge of how users do their work.
Clearly we need to involve customers and users (they are both stakeholders after all) in deciding the requirements for business change. And this is why users are back in fashion. Here are some excellent examples of learning materials on user research:
By the way, we need a better name than “users”. Please make some suggestions in response to this post. I am sure everyone now knows there are only two industries that call their customers “users”. As professional analysts we don’t want to associate with the second one.