Friday, August 24, 2012

Handcuffed by Technology

Most of us have been there at some point in our career.  You re in a requirements gathering meeting with a client to discuss the project, get an understanding of the business processes and discover the items that will be the foundation of your development efforts.  Everything starts out fine.  You re looking at their current systems, discussing what works, what doesn't work, what needs to be changed, what needs to be different... all good information to help you build the plan of action.  When all of a sudden the focus changes.  The client starts whipping out Visio drawings of how they envision the sites to be created or they want folders in this library, etc.  Then they call in the incumbents, who are clueless on SharePoint and want to argue about how its an inferior product to the custom solution they have been overcharging the customer with for years.  It can all quickly go to shit right in front of your eyes.

Afterwards, as you re going over the notes, you try to think back to where everything went so wrong.

I can tell you from first hand experience, it was the moment you started to let technology run the meeting.  The second you started talking in 0s and 1s you lost the battle.  But the war can still be won.

It's important when you are gathering requirements for any project that you focus on the business needs.  The WHY, the WHAT.. not the HOW.  The how is what you are getting paid the big consulting bucks (or meager corporate salary) to provide.  That is where your expertise with the product, your years of experience and understanding of the requirements comes in to play.  But you can be in trouble if you do not first understand WHY they want a new system.  What aspects of their business need help?  Are we making an improvement on their current business processes and if so, understand and document them.

Too many times I'll have a client ask me to create a workflow to do X, Y and Z.  or they will come to me and as for a list without thinking about the metadata or how will that list be interacted with - do they want dashboards or certain views.  They will say they need a top-level site with a list that filters to a sub site so blah, blah, blah.. you get my drift.  At this point, I always take a step back and ask WHY?  Don't think in terms of technology because technology is a solution to a problem.  You want to know what the problem is so you can apply the correct solution.  Take a moment to ask them to walk you through the human process of that particular aspect of their business, so you can understand WHAT needs to be addressed and WHY it is not working now, before you start throwing "technology" at the problem.  Sometimes technology is the problem.

So next time you're watching that meeting fly off the tracks like a runaway train, remember to focus on the human processes - its always a safe bet to take a step back, forget about the technology for a moment and focus on their business needs.  You'll be a better solutions provider for it.

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