Starting from the client’s needs

Recently I had the good fortune to work with a great team of programmers who were developing an internal online application for their organization.  My role was pretty much to act as a liaison between the client and the programmers.  Fascinating project, amazingly quick turnaround and major deadlines, all of which pushed us hard.

One of the things that I kept thinking about was the need to do a full client needs assessment earlier in the project.  We encountered issues when the client, myself and the programmers each defined things differently and held expectations that didn’t always get expressed early enough.  Things were complicated a bit as I had joined in part way through the project and I must admit, I can have high expectations.  That being said, I took lots of notes when checking with the clients, asking as many questions as I could think of, and regularly got direction when a new issue/option came up that hadn’t been discussed. The programmers were supremely responsive, creative and thoughtful about implementing their work so that intentions got addressed as well as specific requests. Just awesome.

I love working with programmers and listening to them brainstorm new ways to solve problems.  So cool.  But still, a really, really important component of these types of projects is to ask questions like: “What do you mean when you say XYZ?” and “When you say you want the application to do XYZ, what are all the steps related to that action that come to your mind?”  Without making the time to ask these questions, you risk not meeting your client’s needs and possibly losing future business with them.  If you are the client, insist on going through the specifics of what you want.  Take time to play with ideas about what you want, like email notifications, automatically sorted lists, icons or text instructions and etc.

Whether its a multi-million dollar project, or a task for one’s manager, getting the client perspective early is critical. Checking in with them regularly is equally important.  Of course clients vary in their expectations – that’s why its so very important to ask good questions, to question one’s own assumptions, and to check that what you are actually delivering to your client is actually what they want.

Sounds like common sense right?  It is.  And yet time after time, people forget to start building from their customer needs.  That’s actually one of the reasons that I offer a free 45-minute consultation.  Not only do I want my clients to be sure that I can meet their needs, but I also want to ask them some preliminary questions so I can get a grasp of what they actually want.

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