The first thing we need to know when starting a project is – what are we trying to accomplish? There are multiple ways to answer this fundamental question, and the answer is coloured by the context of who is answering it. As solution providers, we need to elicit a useful answer in order to deliver effective results. A certain amount of mind-reading is required.

Every organization has a different culture. Some are formal, with a well-articulated strategy. Others shoot from the hip, and may be less clear in expressing the thinking behind their needs. The challenge of getting a useful answer is compounded when the client is not fully aware of the range of opportunities available from making an investment in technology.

With new clients, we must spend some time up front getting to know the organization. Some come to us in order-taking mode, and they may not be prepared to build up context for the project from organizational strategy to business objectives for the project. In these cases, our mind reading must be particularly honed, to ensure we provide the best solution. We get better results when we have more information, such as working with long term clients who consider us business partners. Not only are these clients often more willing to share their plans, but we can draw on our previous experiences together to refine our lines of inquiry.

In all cases, we need to balance our efforts to gather information with the benefit such efforts will yield. This judgement applies to requirements gathering as well as clarifying goals and objectives. For example, we need to balance our upfront effort to pre-define project details against revision effort. Sometimes it is more efficient to begin with a simple high level view of what we’re trying to accomplish, then develop a basic but expandable solution, reserving a larger portion of the budget to make revisions and add details as needed. Again, a certain amount of mind reading is required to determine the client’s comfort seeing an unrefined version of the solution, before we proceed to elaborate.

We have worked with several new client this year. One was very easy going, and we felt comfortable proceeding by developing a basic solution and then elaborating. They accepted our basic solution as acceptable, with little refinement. Only after launch did we discover additional business rules. Our mind-reading could have been better, picking up on signals that the client was not prepared to appreciate the number of exceptions in their workflows while testing the new system. Fortunately, the new system was well-designed, and was readily able to incorporate the new rules.

For another client, we felt branding was important and developed a greater number of purpose-specific mockups than was strictly required. We could have started with fewer mockups and relied on input from reviews to create additional layouts if needed, saving a bit of design effort.

For a third client, working with fixed budget, we de-prioritized the graphical interface in order to deliver full feature set without compromise. This client was adept at providing clear input when we demonstrated our work in progress, resulting in a functionally complete site at 80% of budget. We are now able to add some nuance to the interface with the remaining budget. If we could have anticipated their ability to provide concise and effective input, we could have taken more confidence in our ability to deliver both a new graphical interface and the required functionality in one stage.

In each case, we feel the projects have been successful, but as is always the case, improvements are possible. Having gained a better understanding of each client through the projects, we hope to serve as better mind readers as we continue to work together.