The Ultimate Solution Experience™ - uSX Part 5
In our previous posts in our Ultimate Solution Experience™ series, we discussed understanding your team, your REAL audience, and the Human-Centered Approach. Now that we know who we’re working with, we can begin gathering requirements, ideas, and concepts for our project using what we call Envisioning to Innovation.
Gathering requirements, understanding business needs and objective, managing personal agendas, and dealing with potential corporate politics is always challenging. If you are creating a product or service that will ultimately end up in the hands of consumers on an extremely broad customer base, you may want to consider using envisioning and innovation sessions. These facilitated sessions are a great way to overcome the requirement gathering challenges. The sessions can be used to:
- Digest and synthesize existing or new customer requirements
- Develop empathetic understanding of the customer’s desired outcome
- Develop a common understanding about what are the true priorities for the project
- Create a communal list of unknowns and risks that could impact the project
- Develop an action plan and prioritize immediate next steps
- Collaborate and brainstorm new ideas for what the new experience could be
- Understand timeline constraints and market considerations
Including the Stakeholders
The stakeholders are anyone whose functions and needs are directly and indirectly affected by your solution. Stakeholders may be internal (i.e. part of your client’s department) or external (i.e. other departments or vendors). Another stakeholder type, and the most important one at that, is the customer for whom the experience is being created.
Early in the project, have a meeting with key stakeholders to ensure everyone has a chance to weigh in on specific opportunities, concerns, and constraints. Explain in detail how the project will be managed, timeline, budgets, resources, change orders, acceptance, methodology (Agile/Scrum/Waterfall), time expectations of those involved, and consequences if they do not participate. The best way to engage stakeholders is in a collaborative working session that is sometimes referred to as an envisioning or innovation session.
Envisioning & Innovation Sessions
There are a number of envisioning and innovation session types. A few of these are:
- Traditional Session: 8–12 people in a group with a discussion lasting 1–2 hours.
- Mini Session: A smaller version of the traditional envisioning group with 5–6 people.
- One-on-One interviews: A business analyst interviews 1 person for 30 minutes to 1 hour following a script or a loose guide.
- Dyads: Two people, normally colleagues from the same or different business areas are interviewed by the business analyst. This is effective when you are trying to find out answers to questions that are hard to articulate in a straight interview format. The colleagues are set to discuss the problem openly and the insights are gathered from the interactions.
- Triads: In this format, three people are chosen due to their similarity or dissimilarity in a very specific way. Triads can provide the same level of depth as one-on-ones, but they can also provide even more depth.
- Off-site Discussions: In this format, a group of people, usually friends, are gathered in a non-work environment to hammer out the details of the solution. The uSX Leader has three goals here: encourage open communications to discuss the business needs and objectives for the solution, make sure the topics are covered, and make sure everyone has an enjoyable time.
For the most effective use of everyone’s time, use a facilitator to drive these sessions. The facilitator should be comfortable managing both the discussions and the personalities of the attendees so that the overall session stays on target in terms of time and scope. You may want to employ a third party facilitator or the business analyst who will lead the requirements gathering. Preferably, you don’t want your project manager or engagement manager leading these sessions. Usually, it is much better for these roles to participate in the discussion rather than facilitating. Regardless of who fulfills the facilitator role, they need to follow a script. The script is necessary to ensure consistency across multiple session groups so that each group has a similar experience.
Prior to the sessions, the facilitator should provide preparation materials for the attendees. These materials may include a series of thought provoking questions, data and information gathering tasks, or even internal team discussions. The purpose of the pre-session materials is to provoke thought and supplant the notion of change, improvements, and prepared mindset for the participant. The goal is for each participant to be prepared and eager to participate in conversation during the session.
In general, it is helpful to structure the overall pattern of the working session as follows:
During the session, all ideas are good ideas as a general rule. As you begin the session, try to promote creative, exploratory thinking in the group, and frame questions in different ways. Open ended questions are best with the words, “why” and “how” versus “what” and “where.” The discussion may become very abstract. Keep in mind, you are on a quest for elegant solutions that can be implemented, not just pipedreams with no hope of success. As the session progresses, start converging on realistic ideas for solutions. This is where the discussion becomes more concrete. Repeat the pattern, creating and prioritizing as many times as necessary, until you arrive at the right quantity and quality of ideas. The reason for this structure is that strategic solution development is a creative process, and you need to allow everyone in the group to explore possibilities outside of the normal scope of vision.
Use common sense here, too much divergence may leave you and the group in abstract space where ideas are great but cannot be implemented. However, if you converge too early you run the risk of “leaving opportunity on the table”, by not exploring truly innovative and effective ideas and strategies.
Session length will vary and depends on the complexity of the project, but typical sessions are 2 to 3 hours. Working sessions with a moderately complicated agenda could take a half to a full day to complete. Additional follow-up meetings may also be scheduled, especially with key stakeholders.
One of the obstacles you may encounter during your session is resistance from your internal stakeholders—due largely to a lack of experience with working in this style. Some may want to pull rank or exert their authority over the process. It is critical that everyone from all levels be involved, mainly because it takes all levels to truly know if the idea can be implemented. However, if you have been charged with creating a truly unique and engaging experience, you can take that as a mandate to let them know why you are doing it differently this time. Stress that every idea is a great idea, we are anxious to get them all on the table, then we will prioritize them based on resources and budget and competitive advantage.
If this sounds overwhelming, feel free to test at least parts of the process before you use it full scale. In addition, you can always hire a professional facilitator to organize and manage this process.
If you happen to be short on the number of requirements, reaching out to the end consumer using questionnaires is a great way to gather insight from the end user’s perspective. If questionnaires can target specific class of users, then you have added ability of customizing the questionnaire by consumer type. For example, if Delta Airlines is looking for input on a new mobile solution for the number of bags to be checked on a flight and they feel they have a good handle on males 40-50 years old who travel more than 100,000 miles per year, they may want to gather more data on females between 25-35 years old who travel more than 100,000 miles per year, to see if they are more likely to add an additional bag at the last minute.
This approach allows the business analyst to gather solution requirements asynchronously over an extended period of time and a broad geography. This approach reduces the cost, and reduces the need for a business analyst running multiple requirements gathering sessions. The data, once gathered, may be put in a central data repository and analytics applied to derive the desired insights.
Choosing the Right Approach
There are many ways to gain insight into what people truly want and need. We have only provided a brief introduction to a broad set of methods at your disposal. Don’t feel overwhelmed about choosing the right approach. There is no hard and fast rule about solution requirements gathering – it all depends on the uSX you are wanting to provide to your customer.
As we discussed earlier, the human-centered approach requires a focus on the customers in their most likely environment, where their specific needs arise. When examining customer needs in a business context primarily, with a secondary context of working in an at-home environment, the requirements gathering approach must examine the combined contexts in the most accurate and unobtrusive method possible.
If you are still uncertain of the right approach to your human-centered approach to requirements gathering, you might want to consult with knowledgeable colleagues to either leverage existing similar requirements or to gain help in conducting additional research if necessary.
Stay tuned, we've got a lot more to come:
In our next post on The Ultimate Solution Experience™, we’ll discuss project communications. Who, how often, and the message delivered to those involved in our project.