Work in IT consulting is somewhat specific and requires possessing a number of skills facilitating everyday work with a client. An IT consultant in IT projects is supposed to analyze and diagnose clients’ needs. These activities result in the recommendation of solutions, then managing a project and – usually – analyzing the problems which have appeared during the work.
The following article presents some of the analysis techniques which may turn out useful while accumulating requirements and identifying the needs and business problems.
Interviews and questioning
One of the first steps in defining customer’s needs is carrying out interviews with the project’s stakeholders (users, sponsors, customer’s contractors, people indirectly related to the project, etc.). Thanks to the collected information we can capture the differences in expectations by various stakeholder groups, since more often than not they turn out to be divergent. Once we have the complete idea, the so-called big picture, and we understand the context of the client’s market activities, we can move to a more detailed analysis and begin questionig. It is a stage at which we collect information by asking detailed questions to selected stakeholder groups. This action allows us to gather the requirements from people having relevant expertise relating to the aspects of our interest.
This is a well-known and commonly used technique. It allows generating numerous ideas within one session. The premise is to gather the group in one room, pick a moderator, work creatively by brainstorming the idea, and write down on post-it notes all participants’ ideas related to solving a given problem or issue. At this stage there are no good or bad ideas, no one is being judged and all ideas end up on the board. After the given time is out, it is the end of the first round of generating ideas and all suggestions are verified regarding their applicability and reasonableness in the context of the problem being discussed. The ideas which haven’t been turned down are grouped according to the thematic areas they concern (e.g. functionality, behaviors, activities, systems, etc.). We can place ideas grouped this way in e.g. Ishikawa diagram or WBS diagram, and carry out further analyses.
The Phillips 66 method is an iteration of brainstorming, performed in an clearly defined manner. Participants are divided into 6 groups and work in separate rooms. Each team has 6 minutes to work out the biggest number of suggested solutions to a problem. After the given time elapses, everyone meets in one room in order to present the results. The next step is a group discussion on the proposals submitted and then selecting the best one.
The 635 Method
Another version of brainstorming, referred to as brainwriting. The method implies participation of 6 users. Having no possibility to consult one another and only 5 minutes at their disposal, each participant writes down 3 ideas on a sheet of paper. Next, users exchange papers and get another 5 minutes to add 3 new ideas or modify / elaborate the existing ones. This method is highly efficient – it allows the group to generate even 108 new ideas within 30 minutes!
The 5W2H method takes its name from the questions which need to be asked, i.e. Who, What, When, Where, Why, How and How much. This problem-solving technique has its special use in strategic consulting and management counselling. By detailed answers to consecutive questions it allows coming up with a solution in just a group of people we closely cooperate with. The role of the consultant is to run the whole conversation in a manner which would allow participants to single-handedly work out a solution and realize its essence.
A method similar to 5W2H. It originates from a Japanese management philosophy Kaizen and is largely an element of RCA analysis. As one might easily figure, 5 Why consists in asking the question Why five times. The technique allows for a detailed analysis of a problem, leading to the understanding of its essence and identifying its root cause.
Benchmarking is a comparative method consisting in juxtaposing processes and practices in our own enterprise with their counterparts existing in companies which we consider to be better in a given area (worth following). It is a quite common method of measuring a company’s potential, its products or directions of development. It is not aimed at copying and repeating patterns observed in others, but solely at transferring the best practices and tried and tested processes which might help our company to work much more effectively.
The examples described above constitute only a part of possible techniques to use. They are worth knowing and applying. Personally, in my daily work, I incorporate interviews, brainstorming and benchmarking. What guarantees a success is a selection of the right technique correlated with the issue being analyzed and the goal we are trying to achieve.
Michał Pośnik, Project Manager