Just like no two people are alike, no two customers are similar!

In the day to day life of a project manager, s/he interacts with several different customers — each unique in their own way. And like them, their project requirements are quite unique as well. Can the same approach work for all? No!

Let’s take the example of a customer who wants you to develop a training program that is user-friendly and very contemporary. Though this may sound simple, it is indeed a complex requirement – essentially, a combination of several unique needs. As a solution provider, you need to elicit the right needs by asking appropriate questions as well as articulating the customer’s thoughts. During many such discussions with the customer, you may often find that the requirements are much deeper and complex than stated.

What is the key to managing customer requirements effectively? Understanding the unstated problems of the customer and providing solution that addresses them.

In simple terms, customers have ‘problems’ and so you shouldn’t expect them to give ‘good, articulated’ requirements. Instead, the stated requirement is only a basis to get started. And therefore it becomes critical to understand the ‘problem’ the customer is trying to address with the stated need, in our example, the user-friendly and contemporary training. Many-a-times, the solution to their problem is different from the ‘requirement’ they state, sometimes subtly and sometimes drastically.

Articulating a customer problem and tailoring the solution to address the ‘problem’ instead of a solution that meets their ‘requirement’ can take you a long way in customer service.

As a customer facing manager for several years, I have found the following to be effective ways of managing customers and their requirements:

  • Be their consultant: Think for them, with them. Customers often don’t know completely what they want.
  • Define the problem, requirements, and the solution clearly: Get an agreement from the customer. Define the functional and design specifications and use these to define your user acceptance tests.
  • Acknowledge that they are busy and often don’t have time to provide quality inputs: Offer to participate and think or review with them. This way you can block their calendars and accomplish the tasks.
  • Work out risk/mitigation plans, with the customers: Articulating and discussing risks for both parties helps put together action plans for the successful completion of projects.
  • Build prototypes: Plan for and build prototypes of a few screens. This can help iron out the requirements and solution. If possible, get a user testing done for the prototype to gauge the impact of your solution in addressing the problem.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Over the course of the project, this will ensure that the solution being built stays in line with the overall objective. Along the way, be cautious of not deviating from the problem and solution established during project initiation.
AUTHOR
Kavita Lad

Kavita Lad

About the author: Kavita Lad works with InfoPro Learning as a Sr. Project Manager and Instructinal Strategist. Kavita manages high-value customer projects through her keen knowledge and experience in instructional design, project management and learning strategies.

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