Most large organizations that develop and market "off-the-shelf" software applications and systems were formed long before product usability gained its present importance. Thus the majority of their organizational structures and development practices were constructed without accounting for the need for user participation in the development process.
During the 1960s and 1970s, when most of the large software product developers such as IBM, Digital, Xerox, and Apple, matured, the market context was much different from today's. Software functionality came second to hardware development, and human-computer interface (HCI) issues received very little attention. Now that the emphasis has shifted, however, and software usability has come to the fore, these companies have increasingly found that their basic organizational structures and processes systematically obstruct the goals of the participatory design of products.
In order to effectively consider the entire work and technology situation of an intended product, it is necessary for management to resist developing preconceptions about the function of the system to be developed. The key difference between in-house development and product development contexts is that in the latter, determining the end functionality and developing the actual product are frequently separate processes, handled by separate groups. The development team is handed the product idea and is usually solely responsible for implementing its design.
PD can overcome the limitations imposed by this two-phase process in several ways, one of which is to include user participation in both phases, product definition and product development. Typically, marketing is the greatest influence on the product definition phase, and involves a range of decisions spanning from user needs to strategic questions such as the effect of major competitors on the market for the product. Despite the wide range of considerations that need to be taken into account, the product definition phase would benefit greatly from greater user participation in the process. Another way PD can address the limitations of the separate phases is by involving the developers in the product definition stage. Because of the nature of product development, user participation in product development is overwhelmingly geared toward the design of the product interface. Developers are thus severely limited in their input for the definition of the product. Involving developers in the initial stage would help remedy this dichotomy.