October 19, 2015

Finding the missing link between goals and solutions

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Often, the trigger for new projects consists of ideas at two levels: very generic and very specific. For example:

  • Generic: “We need to improve customer experience.”
  • Specific: “We should let customers enter their personal data online before their visit to our branch office.”

Both levels are relevant. Both contain useful information. But something is missing: the link between them. Luckily, the BA is in the perfect position to make that link visible.

First listen, really listen

A first and natural reaction to the high level statement could be: “Oh no, yet again some vague but unactionable buzz word idea!” The second, detailed statement could elicit a response like: “That’s a solution! I don’t want a solution, I want a problem!”

We need to stop our thinking right there and then. In the stakeholder’s mind, it can make perfect sense:

  • Improving the customer experience is important, perhaps even strategic.
  • Online data entry prior to the visit can be a useful improvement.

This easily and understandably translates to “We need online data entry to improve our customer’s experience.” So, at the surface, it makes perfect sense. Which is why we need to stop our thinking and start really listening to our stakeholder.

6 step to really listen

For example, we can try to find out:

  • Whether customer experience improvement is the trigger for the idea, or if there is another trigger for this specific solution and the stakeholder linked it to strategy afterwards.
  • In what way different aspects of the proposed solution will improve customer experience. What data precisely, and why this specific data? Why online? Is that at home, or in a branch office’s waiting room? Why prior to the visit?

So don’t start questioning these triggers, but accept them as the starting point of an interesting conversation, in which you try to find out both the underlying concerns and how the stakeholder believes his solution suggestion will contribute to tackling these concerns.

Structure your insights

This conversation will bring you many new insights. For example:

  • Some customers applying for a loan are uncomfortable with explaining their financial situation in an environment that doesn’t offer full privacy.
  • Gathering basic financial information is a cumbersome activity that doesn’t add much value for the customer or the loan specialist.
  • It also happens that the customer doesn’t have all necessary data with him, making it hard to give the customer a valid offer quickly.

With this information, the BA can expose the link between both triggers, clarifying how he understands

  • the goals the stakeholder is trying to achieve with his solution suggestion;
  • the way the stakeholder thinks different aspects of his solution suggestion will help achieve these goals.

To support this conversation and to validate my understanding of the stakeholders’ reasonings, I find the benefit map a powerful tool.

Benefit map example loan application

  • It’s visual. It quickly gives you a complete picture of the idea and allows you to highlight gaps visually.
  • It allows you to focus on how different aspects of goals and solutions are connected, instead of each goal or requirement by itself. This helps understanding the importance of different solution features.
  • It triggers further exploration of both the problem and the solution space, which is what you want before jumping into project execution mode.
  • It is easy to create, even live in a workshop. You can for example use post-its that you re-arrange in real time, building the chain from goals to solutions together with your stakeholder.

Workshop benefit map with post its

Expose what lies hidden between goal and solution

We now have refined our goal from “improve the customer experience” to “increase the customer’s sense of privacy when applying for a loan in our branch offices”. We discovered other goals along the way. We also exposed that different solution aspects contribute to different goals:

  • Data entry in a private environment increases the customer’s sense of privacy.
  • Online data entry improves the quality and completeness of the data, enabling quick loan offer proposals and making the loan application process more efficient.
  • Up front data entry also improves the efficiency of the process by having the loan specialist do what he’s best at.

The hidden gem is that now, we have described what we can do in order to achieve our goals, without telling how we could do it.

  • We can create a private environment for the customer to share his financial information. This could be online, via telephone, in a separated office room instead of a cubicle, …
  • We can enable the loan specialist to create a valid offer quickly.
  • We can make sure the loan specialist focuses on value adding client advice.

Carefully specifying the enablers between the goals and the solution, highlights why we believe our solution is a good one, helps identify gaps and creates room for solution alternatives.

What’s next ?

In follow-up posts, I will explore further some things touched upon here:

  • The importance of quantified goals
  • Creating room for solution alternatives
  • Identifying assumptions and turning them into falsifiable hypotheses, enabling a test driven project approach

Are you using the benefit map or another tool in this way? What’s your experience with it?



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