There is nothing truer than Genchi Genbutsu (the Lean concept of “go and see” or “go and see for yourself”) and GOOB (Steve Blank’s wisdom to “Get Out of the Building,” and echoed in Lean Startup methodology).
Taiichi Ohno, one of the creators of the Toyota Production System, is credited as the originator of the concept of Genchi Genbutsu. According to Eric Ries in Lean Startup, when Lean practitioners in Japan were asked what was the most important principle of Lean, Genchi Genbutsu was cited over and over. Genchi Genbutsu is sometimes Westernized to “Get your boots on.”
If you read Steve Blank’s blog or read either of his books (The Four Steps to the Epiphany or The Startup Owner’s Manual) or read The Lean Startup, you are familiar with GOoB, Get out of the building. The idea being that the answer is not in your office, but outside your building with the customers (or users) and you have to get out of the building to find those answers.
And when it comes to User Experience, if you are not in contact with users, it’s not really User Experience is it? This was well stated by Hoa Loranger on the NN/g blog.
Whatever you want to call it, the concept of getting out of the building and going to source to see for yourself is hard to argue. OK, some will argue about the cost in time and money, but it is an investment that will pay off with huge dividends. On my current project, I spent time at four field locations in two cities to see how end users work. The insights gleaned from direct contact and observation are invaluable.
For the cost counters still thinking to go to the source is too expensive. Sure, I could have spoken to people who already went to those locations, but the data would be filtered through their lens and bias. I could just rely on quantitative data, but that would not allow for deeper levels of empathy and leaves out so much detail. I could have simply interviewed the users, but self-reporting can be very unreliable as shown in a study on hand washing habits (tl;dr: 99% of respondents said they washed their hands after using a public toilet, but “electronic recording devices revealed only 32% of men and 64% of women actually did.”).
If you are not speaking directly to your end users or customers (while not in sales mode), you are doing it wrong. And by “it” I mean everything from UX to marketing, from product management to being the CEO.