Software (professionally) involves a lot of theorizing; doing X and Y will roll up to a feature we expect users to love and, thus, will want to pay us gobs of money to use to alleviate their pains and/or make them feel like a superstar.

Sometimes the theorizing feels airy, and we try to tether it to real customers, real (anonymized) user stories, real data of some kind.

There’s another way we, at work, started trying that I quite like; run simulations (i also call these “drills”). A simulation is a bit like dogfooding but it is executing the full funnel from start and finish yourself, whether or not parts are manual or automatic. It sharpens the narrative and is highly guided. I read Build by Tony Fadel last year and loved it, in particular with the mantas of making things tangible and being crystal clear about the narrative for a customer (what others may call “the customer journey”) without excluding parts such as product awareness or pre-sales, all the way to being furious with the product and wanting to ring up to demand a refund or throw the damn thing out a window.

The whole story means we get a holistic picture, whereby we identify failures on our (product development) end, as well as opportunities for improvement, and we better get into the shoes of the user, rather than it being hypothetical.

Does every product fit this simulation shoe? Maybe not. I am hopeful it does, because it makes so much work realistic, tied to real outcomes that impact this journey, and improving a shared understanding of empathy of what the user is feeling.

On the note of tangibility, you can’t go on this journey as a thought experiment, but you need to fill in the gaps to make it something that involves actual interactions. Running simulations exposes what is and isn’t tangible, and what parts of the interfaces need to be shored up.

A cadence of simulation to development might make sense, too, where the development works on identified tasks from the simulation, and the process repeats for the next iteration of essentials or improvements.

The one part I am unsure of is whether this is a long term process, or if it’s only needed now while we are continuing to build up product market fit. But alas, simulations are cool, and maybe you can give them a try, too, and let me know what worked or didn’t.