Skip to main content

Requirements and Apple's "Time Machine"

Apple's Leopard OS will include a service called "Time Machine". It backs up users' files automatically and transparently so that users can restore their machine to any previous state.

The remarkable aspect of this backup service is its ease of use. Consequently, it is interesting to explore it from a requirements standpoint.

Remember why CRUD is crud? CRUD requirements assume that users actually want to create, update, and delete information. But users don't really want to create, update, and delete information. They want to access it to achieve some larger goal. Enabling the user to create, update, and delete information is one way to manage and make the information available, but it is by no means a utopian design.

Remember Gmail and the 'delete' button? Why on Earth would anyone want to delete e-mail? Notwithstanding some privacy concerns and obsessive-compulsive issues, what users really want is to be able to find, read, and respond to messages of interest. Deleting e-mail helps eliminate clutter that can interfere with these goals, but it's not an end in itself. Thus it is not a requirement.

Similarly, conventional requirements documentation for a backup service would include specifications such as:
The system shall enable the user to backup files.
Or a use case such as:
Create Backup
Yet these specifications and use cases do not represent real requirements. No user wants to backup files. They want to be able to restore files (or, better yet, just have their files available). Backing up the files is an unfortunate design necessity to which the user would prefer to be completely oblivious.

A product manager who represents these design specifications as requirements is doing the company a disservice. It constrains product designers' creativity. Instead of thinking creatively about how they can completely shield the user from the burden of backing up files, they assume that the user must be saddled with this task, and any design work merely tinkers around the edges of making it easy.

Comments

Anton Chuvakin said…
Super-insightful point about backups and restors! I am going to send it to a few folks in our company ...
Roger L. Cauvin said…
Thanks for the comment, Anton!

Popular posts from this blog

Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

Stop Validating and Start Falsifying

The product management and startup worlds are buzzing about the importance of "validation". In this entry, I'll explain how this idea originated and why it's leading organizations astray. Why Validate? In lean startup circles, you constantly hear about "validated learning" and "validating" product ideas: The assumption is that you have a great product idea and seek validation from customers before expending vast resources to build and bring it to market. Indeed, it makes sense to transcend conventional approaches to making product decisions . Intuition, sales anecdotes, feature requests from customers, backward industry thinking, and spreadsheets don't form the basis for sound product decisions. Incorporating lean startup concepts , and a more scientific approach to learning markets, is undoubtedly a sounder approach. Moreover, in larger organizations, sometimes further in the product life-cycle, everyone seems to have an opinio

What Product Managers Can Learn from the Apple iPod

The Story When Apple unveiled its iPod digital music player back in October 2001, I dismissed it as a  parity product . I already owned the Cowon iAUDIO CW100 MP3 player, loaded with my favorite tunes. There was Apple, generating great hype over the iPod as if it were a breakthrough product. The idea of a portable digital music player was nothing new. The first mass-produced MP3 players came out in 1998. In late 2001, the concept may have been new to a lot of Apple customers, but it wasn't new to me. I proudly showed my MP3 player to friends when they gushed about the iPod. Thus Apple's iPod was not an innovative product in and of itself. Years later, however, I realized the significance of ecosystem of which the iPod was a part. Apple had released iTunes (with technology purchased from  SoundJam MP ) and created the iTunes Store for finding and downloading music. Unlike Napster , it was a safe and legal way of distributing and acquiring music. The prior way of playing