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By Jack Ganssle

Fictitious Features

Published 2/14/2009

The January 26th issue of Information Week has an article ("A Measure of Satisfaction") which reports the results of a customer satisfaction survey aimed at the IT world. I'm not sure how the results compare to what's happening in embedded systems, but the data sure is interesting.

Here's the summary of one finding:

  • Only 28% say key features that were promised were actually in the software package.
  • 24% of those key features were fictitious. I'm not sure how "fictitious features" differ from missing features.
  • 20% of those key features were eventually delivered within two quarters.
  • 15% came within a year.

In other words: you buy a product because it will do X; but it doesn't. It would have been interesting to see how many of these unhappy purchasers returned the product.

I presume that embedded systems don't have nearly this level of undelivered but promised functionality. But there are two kinds of features: functional and non-functional, the latter including things like hard-to-define performance requirements. For instance, I bought three DVD players in the last couple of years and have been unhappy with them all. Two, both bargain-priced, had trouble playing about a quarter of the disks we tried. In disgust I bought another, but this time purposely paid a lot more money and got a name-brand unit. The darn thing takes nearly a minute to power-up and open the disk tray. Though it works perfectly it ticks me off every time I use it.

The article included plenty of rants against salespeople who know little about their products, or who lie about features and support.

Engineers hate sales folks. I don't. Sales is an essential part of capitalism. But ignorance of one's product, and to outright lie about a system's features, is totally unacceptable. And it's unavoidable, as companies typically reward their sales people based on generated revenue, not long-term customer satisfaction. Shysters and hucksters have a long and bitter history in free markets. But when today's costermongers and mountebanks (having moved from the streets into office towers) lie about their products, they are the same sort of scum as the Wall Street types to bundled stupid loans into worthless packages to enrich themselves.

What do you think? Do your products feature fictitious features?