When determining customer needs, there are three areas of concentration:
If you are having trouble with figuring out what the customer is trying to say or determining a customer's need, you are probably missing one of the three parts.
In general, we all could do better at listening. Listening to what the customer:
- and more importantly "does not say".
Customers, like most people, do not want to admit to issues until they are way past critical stage. Some gentle questions, open-ended, will usually get the customer to speak more directly to their pain, and therefore business need.
If you are always convincing people you are right, you are not listening to their needs. I think lively exchange is the best. Lively exchange focuses on a conversation that elicits emotion from the customer. Give the customer every opportunity to express their needs.
Ask open-ended questions (open-ended questions cannot be answered with yes, or no, or one-word answers). Ask clarifying and follow up questions. Take excellent notes. Those notes would include your thoughts, strategies, and tactics too.
The next step is to analyze what you heard. Sometimes this can happen during the conversation, but I found it is more effective to focus on information gathering during the conversation and it is better to analyze after the conversation. Why? Because by reviewing your notes after a bit of time passing, it gives you a better analysis. Your brain should be working behind the scenes to analyze the information.
Make sure to:
- Think about what business issues you are trying to solve, including the desired deliverable.
- Discuss with internal sources (salespeople, internal technical resources, etc).
- Re-read your notes to reveal key themes.
Synthesize is defined as combining various components into new whole; to combine different ideas, influences, or objects into a new whole. So the act of synthesizing is a process of 'connecting the data' you have gathered into a new whole. What does the 'new whole' consist of:
- An understanding of the problem to be solved in a clear and definitive way. What is the business problem to be solved.
- What is the defined solution to the problem. As you should note, the solution needs to solve the problem.
- How will you know when the problem is solved. How will the customer know? This would correlate with the Conditions of Success.
- An understanding (even if just in a broad way) the major tasks required to accomplish the solution.
A collogue of mine suggested that this is mostly a vetting process, and I quite agree. Part of the process may conclude in that you cannot solve the business problem, the customer does not have a compelling event, or there is not adequate schedule or budget to solve the business problem.
David Haynes, PMP, is Director of Consulting at Ideate, Inc. (www.ideateinc.com). David's experience is in providing companies with business process analysis and change implementation. @dhaynestech.