Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What should you ask a potential client about?

I was recently asked to provide some "initial scoping" questions to be asked when meeting with potential clients.  Perhaps the word clients should be expanded to include both external customers for consultants and internal business units for full-time employees of a company.  Finding out what the client wants requires a consultative approach.  You must bring your expertise to the table and be willing to share and advise.  The client needs to know if their expectations are realistic or not; as do you, of course.

First of all, I want to know if a way of doing what they are asking to be done exists right now; this can be manually or some other computer application.  If the client wants to automate (computerize) a task that they do not do manually now, my advice would be to do it manually first so you have something to check the automated results against.  If it cannot be done manually, it can't be automated / computerized.  If it is not being done in some way now, how will they know if the new system is doing it right?

Sometimes clients say that they have another application that needs to be upgraded / revamped / replaced.  The following questions apply to both existing manual and computerized processes:
  • Why do you need to upgrade / revamp / replace the existing method?

    • Too slow
    • Incorrect results
    • Missing needs
    • Cannot grow
    • Need to provide results to larger audience

  • What have you already tried to improve the existing method?

    • What has worked?
    • What has not worked?

  • Are the business rules documented for the current method?

    • If not, reverse engineering of the current method can be done to determine what the current algorithms are, but this will not prove that the original business rules are being followed.  I have bult systems that proved the existing system was doing it wrong, but it takes much time, effort, and documentation to prove that to the business.
    • If yes, will the same rules apply to the new system?

  • What do you like about the existing method?

    • Interface
    • Reports
    • Processing

  • What do you dislike about the existing method?

    • How can these be improved?

  • What is missing from the existing method that you want to add?

    • Reports
    • Dashboards
    • Functionality

  • What is included with the existing method (software) that you do not use that can be eliminated from the new solution?

    • Get rid of "bells and whistles."

  • What is the timeframe?

    • Can a phased approach be used?

  • What is the budget?
  • What are the constraints?

    • Must use existing infrastructure
    • No internal resources available
    • Must use existing in-house developers (and languages), databases, operating systems, etc.

  • What phase of this project are you in right now? 

    • If not in the intitial Plan and Analyze phase, it may be too late to recommend any changes.

  • Do you have dedicated resources who will be working with me?
  • How will results be verified / validated / proven?
  • Who will take ownership of the completed system?
  • Who will support the completed system?
Remember, these are initial questions to help get an understanding of and manage the client's expectations.  There will be many more questions to ask as the cycle progresses.

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