Thoughts ...

What is it they really want?

On the flight over to Brussels yesterday, I had millions of thoughts running through my head. Some work, some just silly ones – such as why do I find the Winter Olympic sport of ‘curling’ so interesting – I’d found myself during the week totally transfixed on watching game after game. I wondered if the rest of the country was doing the same. 

We all usually travel to Brussels on Eurostar but due to the rail crash earlier last week all trains to Brussels have been cancelled. The flight is much faster than the train although the journey to the airport and the mandatory checking in time doesn’t make up for that.

My visit to Brussels is work related, a nice little piece of work – that has a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ve always liked pieces of work where there is “light at the end of the tunnel” – meaning the end of the project is in sight right from the beginning. I’ve never been a fan of projects are just go on and on and on, with no sight of the end result, product or service.

The flight gave me time to ponder ‘why do projects fail to deliver what the customer really wanted?’. Among all the reasons I thought I’d share with you was a really simple and obvious ingredient – understanding what exactly the customer wants.

I accept we all carry specific responsibilities in delivering projects, each member of the project team contributes a specific skill they bring to project. From designers, developers, architects, project managers, specialists and administration people, they all have two important responsibilities – to understand fully what the customer wants and what the end product will look like.

Sometimes you’ll find that the customers doesn’t  really know what they want or find it difficult to articulate it, what they do have clarity on is what the end product will look like and feel like. Their requirement usually comes from an issue, a need to fulfill or a desire to get ahead of their own marketplace. The point I’m making is that you need super-eliciting and realisation skills to not only build the divide between where they are now and where they want to be – but also how to get there.

They say when you buy a 20 mm drill bit you’re not buying the drill bit but paying for the 20 mm hole. It’s imperative that we understand what the customer wants from their dialogue with us.

In reality things change all the time, the longer the project the higher the probability that the customers requirements may change. To accommodate, try considering ‘hitting the pause button’ and revisiting their requirements to establish what they wanted previously – matches what they want now. 

It is also important that this ‘want’ is re-communicated to all those involved otherwise you may find members of your team going in different directions.

Next time you finish a project consider asking ‘Is this what they wanted?’ – Hey, you could be bold and can ask it before then.

I’ll leave you with this tip: While there are the obvious ways of gaining an insight into customer’s requirements/needs such as focus groups, surveys and questionnaires, there are radical ones such as mystery shopper and sampling – one I came across a while ago was the ‘Three Minute Rule’ (TMR).

The idea behind the three minute rule is that you can learn a hell of lot about the service you offer by monitoring what your customers do three minutes before they use your service and exactly three minutes after they’ve used your service. 

As an illustration, how many times have you heard or watched your finance people frantically prepare budget tables in excel prior to importing into your finance system or cautiously edit/format financial data exported from the finance system with excel prior to presenting at a board meeting – couldn’t these activities be included in the service you offer?

Tell me – what is it you do before sending an email, where you feel the spell-checking in the email is not up to it? do you copy and paste in to MS Word to double check the spelling? – I do!

The TMR may force you to think out of the box, creating possible customer opportunities and value add-on that may make you realise ‘Wow, is that what they really wanted!’

Photo credit: pjohnkeane / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)