Written by: Karen Fischbach – Pro Leaders Academy

Everyone wants something different in their vision of a solution outcome.  So what will it take to get the clear and right details from them to deliver their vision?

It is vital to commence the information gathering process as early as possible because it takes a while to refine and gain the client’s agreement that you have captured their vision.  A client’s idea starts with them articulating what they want, but rapidly transforms when the desired capability and required resources are considered.  Multiple sources of input from various stakeholders, organisational and market data and business capability confirmation will refine what is possible and this is where a requirements document is developed.

It is a Project Manager’s role to help extract the appropriate detail from the client and other sources, or to determine what to extract from each source.  This may be similar to the role of a marketing professional, a Procurement Officer or a Business Manager.  The skill that each of these roles must leverage is to ask the right questions.  This is crucial because the answers lead to the details that will achieve the desired vision of the client’s outcomes. These are transformed into the requirements.

By creating a clear requirements document very early, articulating what the end product will look like, how it should function and what the benefit is to the people who will use it, a development or procurement method can then be determined.  This may start with the options of buy, build or share and develop into a formal procurement process.   Since new products are often about solving a problem, this means that the solution should resolve the immediate issue at hand for the client or the client’s clients.  Therefore, agreement must be reached between the client and the service provider.  This could be in the form of a Statement of Work, a Statement of Requirements, Business Requirements Specification or a brief.

Some clients don’t have all of the facts at the start, so time is spent assisting them to see their vision clearly.  However, some clients continuously change the detail.  There should be some scope for changes, however a limit should be agreed upon and set.  The limit may be capped at a point in time when it is too late to start again or make significant modifications, or an allocated number at which point the costs will begin to increase commensurate with the effort required by the changes.  This is to encourage the client to make an agreement on the most appropriate solution rather than continuously trying for the perfect solution, which may never emerge.

How much detail is enough or too much? When taking an idea and turning it into a viable product or service, the more detail at the start, the better.  Without the detail the venture is much more risky, ambiguous or unclear and more difficult to estimate time and cost.

As the idea is refined, more intimate details can be included, and the product or solution will begin to take its shape.   Once fully documented and planned, the agreement is made and the product creation commences.  Some nuances may be made to meet the organisation’s capability, technology, infrastructure or other critical needs.

There should be a range of checkpoints and tests or trials that enable the client to take part in the development in an iterative fashion.  This allows for feedback and tweaking throughout the development lifecycle to further refine the product functionality or aesthetics “as you go”. This also assists in identifying risks early on, allowing the creation of Risk Management.

The importance of the client as a stakeholder in this development is quite clear, particularly that their input is critical to success.  Clarity of documentation and meaning are also critical to achieving the outcomes, as is checking at specific stages of development.

Finally, the art of gathering meaningful detail involves listening, finding the right stakeholders to approach, understanding the problem to be solved and working within the constraints of legislation, frameworks, culture and financial capacity of the organisation or client.

All of these things will help in creating a successful project, and a positive, trusting client experience.