I’m sure most of you have had this situation when they deliver a product:

Situation 1: What the client wants and what the client asks for are two different things

Client: It’s really nice, but that’s not what I wanted

Supplier: This product was built to meet the specifications you gave us.

Client: Yes, but that not what I want.

Supplier: …

Situation 2: What the client needs and what the client asks for are two different things

Client: This product is great, but it’s not doing what I need it to do.

Supplier: We built the product you wanted.

Client: I know, but it turns out I need the product to do something different

Supplier: ???

What do you do?

Now, you end up with a dilemma in these situations: should you rebuild the product so it does what the client wants/needs, at you cost, or at their cost?

After all, you built a product to meet their specs, and it’s not your fault if it’s not what they really wanted.

Or is it?

What should you have done?

As the project manager, you should have made sure you understood what the client wanted, needed, not just what they were asking for.

See, the problem is clients often approach us with a solution: I want X feature added to your standard system. However, if you dig deeper, you’ll find out what they really need is something else.

Here are some questions to ask your clients:

  • What do you want? – This question is easy enough to answer for them. Most of the time, you’ll know what they want from the get go. Getting the specifics of what they want might be a little trickier, though.
  • What the problem are you trying to solve? – This is harder to understand. The best way to get this answer is to have the person show you.
  • What do you need? – The difficulty in this question is to get a precise answer.

Here’s an example:

Client: I want a new report in AceProject.

Supplier: OK, why do you want this report? (what’s the problem?)

Client: Your Time Report gives me all the weeks one by one, I just want a total for the whole period.

Supplier: OK, and what do you need the new report to do?

Client: Well, I would like the report to give me monthly totals for each project, and email it to all my project manageers automatically.

Supplier: OK, so you want a monthly time report of all the actual time worked on each project, that is produced automatically every first of the month, and emailed to any user with Project Manager access to at least one project?

Client: No! I want each PM to get the data only for their projects, not everyone else’s!

Supplier: OK, let me send you a detailed scope of work and a mock-up before we get started on the quote.

It’s detective work

It’s not easy to get what the client needs, wants, and asks for. But if you don’t do it from the get go, you’ll end up spending a lot of time redoing your work.