The first thing you'll want to validate is the customer's need, which is the problem the project customer is trying to solve. Although the need should have been defined in the charter, you'll need to make sure you understand the need thoroughly. The best way to do this is to visit the customer and actually experience the problem he or she is facing.
The reason you explore the customer need is to make sure you understand the root cause or causes of the problem that has led the customer to request the final deliverable, which is the customer's perception of the solution to his problem. Customers often come to us with stated solutions. "I need a caplet formulation for the new aspirin product." It may be that the caplet formulation is the best solution for the problem that the customer or his or her customers are experiencing. On the other hand, you may find there is an alternative solution that might work even better. By exploring the need, you get beyond the stated solutions to the real problem.
Visit the customer and ask him or her to show you, if possible, the problem or problems that are being experienced. If you can't see the problem interview the customer, so that you understand the problem. You may find you'll have to probe the customer to get to the real problem he is facing. For example, if Ken, the fulfillment process manager, were to say that his need is for an in-house fulfillment process, then you might ask, "What are the problems with the current system that an in-house system is supposed to relieve?" The in-house process is a solution. Long cycle times and inaccurate shipments are the problems.
Here are some suggestions for helping to probe the customer on the real problem he is facing:
✓ What effect does this problem have on the business?
✓ Why do you think this problem exists?
✓ If we deliver the solution you have requested, what problems would go away?
What you're really doing is probing the customer's assumptions about the solution or final deliverable that he or she has requested. Assumptions are things we believe to be true. For example, Ken assumes (believes) that long cycle times and inaccurate shipments are a result of having an outside vendor manage the fulfillment operation. He has come to the conclusion that bringing the fulfillment process in house will solve his problem. This assumption may or may not be true.
You can't test an assumption unless you know what it is. When you validate the customer need you make sure the assumptions that are held by the customer are true or the best approximation of the truth available at the time.
There are more quantitative methods for getting at the real problem and making sure you've got the right solution to that problem. (The solution is the final deliverable you've been asked to produce.) These problem-solving methodologies can be employed to analyze the problem and select the best possible solution. (MartinTate has a three-stage method that is described in Appendix D.) If you're unsure of whether you have identified the true problem, you should consider using a problem-solving methodology before you proceed any further with the project.
What's the danger of not understanding the customer's needs or assumptions? If in our fulfillment example, the long cycle times and inaccurate shipments have nothing to do with the outside vendor, but instead have to do with inaccurate orders coming in through the customer sales process, we will have designed and installed an in-house fulfillment process and we will not have solved the problem. This is not a good thing. Therefore, it's best to get to the root problem(s) before you get too far down the road of planning how you'll produce the final deliverable that's supposed to solve the problem.
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What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.