When managing web projects it’s not uncommon for customers to not immediately reveal a lot of details about what the project requirements. They may make a lot of assumptions about what you already know, or what others have told you. When leading the development of a web project it’s your job to pull information about all requirements out of your customer. During the discovery phase you must probe your customer with deep questions, constantly.

For instance, let’s imagine that your customer wants to use the site for lead generation and inbound marketing. They are imagining a site where their customers can fill out forms that will collect personal information like email addresses and phone numbers. Their plan is for the sales team to receive this information and use it to follow up with leads. This is a golden nugget of information, but we’ve only brushed the surface. It’s now your job to dive deeper.

To dive deeper, you begin asking very detailed questions. You have to understand

– Why would customer hand over their information?
– What will they be given in exchange for that information?
– Why would anyone want to be contacted by the sales team?

Also, let’s assume that you are going to set up this form to collect information.

– How will you push people to that form? How many people should fill out the form? Should the sales team get 100% of the leads?
– Can the system do anything to help qualify those leads?
– What kinds of communication should the customer receive?
– Who on the sales team should receive the lead information?

These are just example questions about this one topic. Keep in mind that you should uncovering many topics. Other examples details that customers forget to discuss with you are things like:

– We need some customers/partners/resellers to be able to log into the site
– We need customers to sign up for email newsletters. We need their email to go directly into our Email Marketing Software
– We have a product that we want to sell on our website
– We need to collect payments for services on our website
– We need to be able to export specific reports from the website
– We have a seasonal event that will require a custom page with a custom design
– We need customer information to push into our CRM

The over laying point here is that you can not rely on your customer to tell you everything. Internally, their team may have been discussing these ideas for months, but if they don’t “remember” to tell you about them they may either assume that you already know these things, or they may simply think that these features are included or easy to add on later.

Note that once you begin uncovering these kinds of details usually the customer will begin remembering and revealing all the required features.

From experience, I can tell you that getting through these questions early in the project will ensure that the end result satisfy’s the customers needs. I always tell people that projects are 75% planning and discovery and 25% building the end result. Often I get push back that I’m requiring too much, or diving too deep but the projects in which we didn’t dive deep, the customer was not satisfied with the final result.

My advice is to “interview” the customer early and often. Get as much detail out of their brain as possible and get it all on paper. Once you have it formalized into a document, you then have a real scope of work and a set of blueprints to begin working against. Later down the road, if a customer tells you that a feature is missing or that you missed an important aspect of the project, you’ll have that discovery document to lean on. If it doesn’t come up in discovery and you’ve done very thorough requirements gathering, then it isn’t in the scope and requires a change order.

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