Needs Analysis — Drive the train. Don’t hang from the caboose!

Picture this:  A handful of stakeholders and one subject matter expert/service provider in a room.  The question for the service provider, “What do these folks want or need?  They are looking to me for advice.  How do I get them to the point of achieving their goals?”

I work in a technical field but I believe the issue is similar across many sectors of business.  The “committee” of clients that you are meeting with has ideas for help they need.  Maybe these ideas are organized, well thought out and structured or maybe they are scattered like loose leaf paper in the wind.  When gathering requirements the service provider must lead the charge.

Big Picture First Please

It happens all the time.  All these folks are suggesting ideas and approaches and you barely know what the organization does or what the work environment looks like.  Don’t be afraid to put the discussion in pause-mode while you get up to speed on the basics.  While you try to be as prepared as possible ahead of time, try asking questions such as these: What does your organization do?  How many rooms do you have needing my services? What sort of person uses your rooms?  You can’t get into the weeds until you have surveyed the land.  Don’t allow stakeholders to steer you into a very specific discussion before you know the high level broad strokes. Doing so can leave you with a lot of pieces without knowing what the puzzle as a whole should look like.

Get In Your Groove

Whatever service you offer, develop ritual habits of how you guide your client through their needs-analysis process.  Try to do it the same way and in the same order every time you get in front of a client.  You can fine tune your approach as you grow but keeping the basic steps the same each time will help you remember topics to cover and help keep you organized.

Listen Up

While it’s your job to steer the discussion, it’s also your job to listen to the feedback you are given.  The stakeholders know what they want they just may not know how to relay what that is.  Ask intelligent questions and then hear and understand their answers.  If you go in a direction they don’t like, move on.  Don’t force the issue.  They will just get annoyed with you.  Listen to the feedback they give and proceed accordingly.

Educate As You Go

Clients often don’t know the vocabulary or basic concepts behind the technology that my field can offer them.  I like to tailor my presentation to match their ability to understand.  Your stakeholders will comprehend that you know what you are talking about when you show them that you understand their needs and when you help them tobetter understand their goals.  If you speak over their heads however, they will tune you out and you’ve accomplished nothing.

What’d We Say?

Once you have finished your needs analysis meeting, follow up with a summary email.  This documents your findings that can be used as fodder for more formal descriptions of services at a later time.  It also allows your client to review what was discussed after they have had a chance to think about the discussions.

Wrap it up—I’ll take it

Showing the client that you are well versed in your subject matter will help you make the sale.  Your process should be automatic.  You shouldn’t have to think about what you are asking but instead focus on the information you are getting.  This information can then quickly be developed into a thoughtful conversation with your stakeholders—a conversation that your client will value and think positively about.