Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Knowing what you want

I work in consultancy full-time back in the UK, so I'm fairly used to organisations who aren't entirely sure what they want from me. Normally it's one of two situations:

  • They want a system that will do X, Y and Z, while solving global warming, world peace and finding a cure for AIDS, and they've got a budget less than my local hairdresser spends on styling-mousse. Oh, and if you could finish it a week ago, that would be peachy....
  • You're [insert name of massive, multi-national consultancy firm here] – you tell us what we should be doing. That's what we're paying you for!
Even those two situations are fairly easy for us to deal with. Scenario 1 obviously requires an analysis of what is actually possible, but at least the X, Y and Z represent some sort of end-goal that the organisation is aspiring towards. We may not be able to deliver all of that (obviously budget is another thing entirely) but we can start them on the journey.

Scenario 2 is much more difficult, but the strength of working for a multi-national like I do is the past portfolio of work – the “memory” we have of what has worked before in such-and-such situations. This gives us something to build from. Plus, the client invariably knows what it *doesn't* want - so if you get it wrong, you soon find out!

But what about the situation where the organisation you're working with doesn't know what they want (or thinks they do, but when put on the spot is completely unable to articulate it)? What do you do in that situation?

Well, that's the situation I find myself in here. I'm in a culture I don't know, in an industry I barely have any knowledge of, with an organisation looking for “MIS” - without really knowing what they mean by that....

So I'm starting from scratch. I'm trying to assess exactly what goes on in their daily business and basically doing some “first principles” analysis. There's no other way to do it. Sometimes you don't get it offered to you on a plate – a ready-made set of requirements all nicely laid out and categorised for you.

However, I don't think that this situation should be any different to normal. As consultants we should approach every job like this – reflecting on what it is exactly that the client needs and taking the time at the start to agree on what that is. Ultimately this is the only way that you end up delivering on your requirements – and isn't that what we're all striving for in the end?

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