It's always fun visiting the customers at their own workplaces. What takes an hour to describe can instantly be seen; the proverbial picture that's worth a thousand words. I was out at a customer site last week and noticed a very depressing ritual that I have seen many times before. Here's how it goes ...
- The consultants are brought in to solve a problem;
- The business users are excited that, finally, something is going to get done to fix the problem;
- The problem is discussed, a couple of quick suggestions and concepts are described and the business users are enthusiastic about the possibilities;
- The business users ask, "So, what are the next steps?"
- The IT manager says, "Well, we need to gather the requirements."
- The business users physically roll their eyes and slump back in their seats in anticipation of another snail-paced, IT boondoggle.
Here is a very, very important lesson every technology consultant needs to be mindful of: The biggest barrier to your success as a consultant is the technology organization you are there to help/support/augment.
This isn't about folks in IT not having ever learned how to read a balance sheet or other such easily learned knowledge. This also isn't about understanding the basics about how their employer actually makes money and who the customers are. This is about being able to put yourself into the shoes of the people who actually use and need the products and services you provide/build. This is remarkably easy to do.
The key to "getting" the business is to "get in" the business. In this particular case, I had spent a significant chunk of the day on the factory floor observing how people actually accomplished their tasks, complete with impediments, workarounds, frustrations and pride. No requirements document would ever be able to describe the environment and conditions under which the tasks needed to be completed. They would only describe what the user interface was supposed to do. Hopefully I will return in a few weeks where I will resume gathering requirements from the factory floor.
That's right, turn off your computer, put down your whiteboard markers, leave that sterile ivory tower and get onto the floor or out into the field!