Is it a Scenario? Is it a Case Study? No, it’s an Opportunity

A few influential people in our little world of Developer Guidance here are Microsoft have recently been avoiding the word "scenario". It seems that it's now so overused, and has so many apocryphal meanings, as to render it useless in terms of determining user's documentation requirements and for planning the creation of product guidance.

As my job description includes "creating scenario-focused guidance" and "exploring typical customer scenarios" this could be a bit of a problem (maybe I've become overused and apocryphal as well). Perhaps, in line with the current trend to make guidance simpler and less formal by using common words and "talking to the user", we should replace "scenario" with "needs" so that I can just "explore typical customer needs".

However, my US-English thesaurus doesn't list "needs" as an equivalent to "scenario", but it does list "situation", "state", "set-up", "picture", and "development" - none of which feel quite right. If I created "state-focused guidance" people will probably ask if it applied only to developers in Wisconsin, and "set-up focused guidance" wouldn't seem to be much use after you'd finished installing the application.

But where we had a struggle this week as we continue to develop the structure and plan for our upcoming guide on Big Data and HDInsight is with the difference between "scenario" and "case-study". We want to create some examples of using HDInsight that correspond to typical users' requirements, covering different types of data and query approach. For example, as well as the old chestnut of analyzing web log files, we want to do something with numerical data and social media content.

We have an outline of the examples, but I still need to decide how to present them. If I phrase each one as though it had been done by some fictitious corporation (yes, you guessed: Contoso) and show how they did it, it seems like it will be a "case study" that is specific to that organizations needs. But can it really be a case study if the organization doesn't actually exist?

If I phrase it as a step-by-step explanation of how you would do it yourself then it seems like it's an "example". And the code that we provide for download will be a "sample". The "scenario", meanwhile, looks rather like the umbrella under which all of this occurs. Maybe I'm just a parenthesis short of a lambda expression, but to me it appears as though there's a hierarchy of things here - something like:

Scenario -> Case Study -> Example -> Sample

where a scenario describes the requirements and a case study provides the solution by including an example of how the sample code was used.

The problem is that many people seem to be put off by case studies because the natural initial response is that it will be specific to somebody else's requirements rather than their own. But while this may be true of case studies that show real life implementations, such as how [insert name of global company here] saved 30% on pizza and cola by adopting Hyper-V, we're inventing a case study to resolve a scenario that we also made up.

However, we made up the scenario based on feedback from real users and advisory boards, so it must apply to a lot of people. Therefore the solution should also be relevant, especially where we explore different options and show alternative implementations - together with, of course, guidance on which to choose based on your own specific needs. So it can't be a case study because now we're covering several cases.

I was going to say "catering for several cases" there, but I was worried it would just make readers think about pizza and cola again.

So do we need a new word to replace the possibly deprecated "scenario", and what should it be? Obviously it's not "case study", and "example" just sounds too minimal. We could try falling back on the old technique of combining words, though "scexample" sounds a little dubious. Mind you, it could be worse. Once the marketing people get started on this we'll end up with some action-based, solution-oriented, brainstorm-generated word to replace "scenarios".

I'll probably have to call them "opportunities" instead...

Comments (1)
  1. Matt R 1031 says:

    Marketing types have got to justify their existences somehow.

    I loved the 'parenthesis short of a lambda expression' expression.  

Comments are closed.

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