Do They Really Know What They Need? – Part 2

Last week, we looked at why it’s not necessarily good news when a client comes to you with all aspects of a project blocked out. The key to your success is to look hard and confirm what the client’s proposing is, in fact, the real solution to their problem. If it’s not, we need to figure out what that truly is.Businessman strategizing

In this post, I want to discuss four steps that can morph the project from a wish list into a real solution. Keep in mind that this isn’t easy and you won’t always be delivering happy news. You may end up telling them that what they really need is going to cost ten times as much as they were expecting to spend. That’s not easy. Here are the steps.

1. Hear the Customer Out

Obviously, the first thing you must do is ride it out with the customer. Sit down and go through the package you’ve been given. Accept their requirements, their wide-eyed ideas of how things are and how things should be and generally be all ears. Ask questions, but don’t be combative. Don’t deflate the customer’s enthusiasm because they may really know what they need. At this point, it’s your job to review the requirements they’ve documented for you and try to get some more detail attached to them. This early in the game, you really don’t know their business processes enough to provide much input or analysis.

2. Talk to End Users

It’s critical that you build the proper amount of planning time into the schedule. Even if it seems like the customer has everything under control, you have to assume that’s not the case. So now it’s on to the next phase of the planning process. Ask you customer to gather subject matter experts and end users (they may be one in the same) so that you can interview them. After all, you need all sides of the story, right?

Before you show these individuals what you and your customer have compiled so far, find out where things stand from their perspective. Discuss the goals of the project and see if they line up with what they need to really do their job well. Once you’ve done that, you can bring out what you’ve documented so far. Show the group the requirements, the potential solution and get an understanding of the gaps that remain between what the customer thinks they need and what the end users really need.

3. Rework the Quote

Assuming you found more than just a little gap, you must now go back and rework the project schedule, the estimate, the timeframe, the resource plan — basically everything. Make as strong a case as possible because if you’ve found a significant gap, it’s going to take solid numbers and documentation to back up your conclusion. It’s not easy to convince a customer that they were way off in their original perceptions of the problem and solution.

4. Give the News to the Customer

Now it’s time to regroup with your project sponsor or project team, present your findings and go through what you see as the real world schedule and cost. Remember, you can’t toss everything out from their original work. There’s that outside possibility that the customer won’t sign off on your version and will instead require you to move forward with their original plan.

If that’s the case, you have a tough decision to make. Do you go down the customer’s path after you’ve told them you may be delivering the wrong solution and laugh all the way to the bank? Or do you walk away right there knowing you’ll never make them happy? My preference is somewhere in between: I believe that in most cases, the proper presentation can sway the customer over to the right solution. But there are some times when it won’t happen and you have to cut your losses. That may be the best business decision you can make… tough as it may be.

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