Many years ago, when she was a freshly minted college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Sheila Thorne was working as an entry-level engineer at IBM. She was responsible for designing the cash gates that eject bills from ATM machines, and things were going just fine. Then, one day, a few years into her tenure, Thorne and her team were given a somewhat questionable assignment: They were asked to design an ATM that would spit out exact change — coins and all.
“[So] someone could go there, cash a check for $16.46, and this ATM would give you $16.46,” Thorne recalled.
Thorne thought the request sounded strange, but being a relative newbie, she didn’t feel comfortable asking questions. So she kept quiet and worked with her team to complete the project.
However, when the new coin-proffering ATM was presented to the client, it became clear that the requirements of the project had been misunderstood. The clients simply wanted an ATM that would allow customers to deposit checks in exact amounts. Needless to say, no orders for the design were placed.
“That was my first experience with understanding how there are things you can put in a design, but if you don’t really understand the business problem, you end up not doing the best thing,” Thorne said.
In fact, that experience made her realize there was a major need for professionals who could ask the important questions and bridge the gap between technical possibility and business…
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