When you visit client to gather requirements

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As I have stated earlier, my experience as a Product Owner/Business Analyst/whatever-comes-in-between is entirely from working for IT Service Companies. Now a typical scenario for any BA or Requirements person in the beginning of a project is to travel to client site and gain an understanding of what needs to be done.

These visits are usually short (on average not more than 3-4 weeks). So you as a BA or Requirements person are pressed for time with a big responsibility on your shoulders to get things right the first time. Now if you are working in an Agile environment you always have opportunity to learn from your mistakes and improve as you iterate. The change in requirements in also embraced and not fought with. But, even in that case, a client visit is crucial because the whole idea is to meet with the client in person, break the ice and create a foundation to build a good working relationship.

7 out of 10 times this does not happen. (Not as a result of your requirements visit anyway)

There are a few important reasons to it.  In my experience I have never been able to figure out where does that chain of command start. I know there usually is a sales pitch and then a proposal and bidding and then if you win it, you sign the contract (In my mind this contract is really high level and is created just so that both parties are bound together in this committment) Anyhow, I am blank as ot what happens after this. All I know is as a BA or Requirements person, someone would just tap me on the shoulder and say we have this new project coming in from XYZ and you need to go understand what they want us to build. Fair enough. As a BA or Requirements person, I have learnt to make my way through lack of information or ambiguity that usually surrounds any IT project at the beginning. I can handle confused client and work with them to define goals and form an idea of the end product. And yet I would be hard pressed to accomplish this if my visit to the client is planned poorly.

This happens so often that is baffles me why no one ever raises a flag and says “NO. This is not enough for me to go and have a decent conversation with the client and achieve what you are asking me to achieve” I will take a stab at describing each of these situations and suggest what you as a BA or Requirements person can do it avoid them:

  1. Know your timing and their availability- When you as a BA/Requirements person are sent to the client to understand requirements, the minimal expectation is that you will be able to spend time with the client. In conference room meetings, in coffee shops or in their cabins overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Seems the most obvious thing right! And yet it does not happen. Management always takes care of sending you to the client ASAP but often times they don’t pay slightest attention to the availability of the key client personnel. In one of the projects I came across, a BA team was sent to a US based client just before the Thanksgiving weekend in a winter storm prone area. Out of the 3 weeks they were there, they could meet with the client only for 5 days! You would think this scenario is an exception but it actually isn’t. So whenever anyone taps you for a certain client visit, always make a point to ask them, Do they know I am coming? Do they have time for me?
  2. Do your homework – In situations like these not knowing a lot is perfectly OK, but there is always information scattered around that can help you prepare. Get in touch with the Sales team and ask for the proposal documents. Get your hands on any client shared material. There is always a loose timeline mentioned by the client against which your company did the bidding. Know that timeline and any other constraints that were highlighted during the bidding process. Google the client and know their industry and market positions. These things will help you get a quick ramp-up when you actually begin talking to them.
  3. Ask for an Agenda- Always always ask, why are you sending me there? What is it that I need to focus upon during my visit. Understand that “Meet with Joe and capture everything he says” is not a clear agenda. On the other hand “XYZ wants to build an easy to use content management system that works on mobile. Meet with Joe and gain as much understanding as possible on that” is slightly better. It tells you, albeit on a high level, what the client is looking for and more importantly, what your company has agreed to build.
  4. Be flexible and keep an open mind- When you get there, you may be asked to meet with a different set of people than what you were informed. They may actually tell you that though they want a content management system, they actually want to make it searchable and that search is the heart of the end product. Change in scope and direction could come your way. Be ready to take that into account and lead the change from delivery perspective.
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