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Sep 2, 2008

Requirement gathering: The pain in a consultant's life

"How do you prepare tea?"

"Well, we boil some water, put some sugar, add some milk, add some tea, put this powder and boil it all till it becomes tea".

"What is that powder?"

"We don't know."

"Then why are you adding it?"

"Because our mom used to add it?"

"Why did your mom add it?"

"We don't know."

In the world of requirement gathering, this is a scene one comes up so often. Here is an example.

"How do you you create a purchased order?",

"Well first we note down the details of the requirement, take a printout, get it approved and then enter the PO in the legacy system",

"Why do you get the PO approved and then enter in the system?"

"I think it is because....... well I don't know, I have always done it this way"

Or another,

"What are you expecting from the system?"

"We have many warehouses in the city. We need warehouse wise trial balance"

"Why do you need warehouse wise trial balance? do you track assets at each warehouse"

"No, but we are currently doing it this way and we want the system to provide that"

Requirement gathering can be one of the most frustrating part of an ERP Consultant's life. Especially if you are sitting with users who 'add the powder while making tea' without knowing why he / she is doing that way. They follow a process because they have been doing it that way since they started working. Can the system meet their requirements?

Unfortunately many consultants also end up providing whatever the user asks for without probing further without knowing the real reason for these requirements. Many a times it is due to the lack of business knowledge on the part of the consultants. Most of the ERP functional consultants join the IT industry immediately after graduation without having a feel of how the business funtions. Through practice they become very comfortable with the application and end up providing whatever the client asks for in a bid to please the customer. For instance, in the 'Trial Balance for warehouse' scenario mentioned above, one of the consultants came out with the idea of creating each warehouse as a 'company' segment value in Oracle. On deeper probing it was found that what the user wanted was 'warehouse wise profitability' which he had confused with 'trial balance'

He was making tea without knowing why he was adding the 'special powder'

PS: On deeper probing it was found that their mom used to add the special powder because they were living in a cold weather and the special powder had a way of invigorating the body.

7 comments: said...

This is really a great article. An eye-opener and certainly motivating to do self introspection while advancing in career as a Functional Consultant.

Thank You .

Siva said...

Good one.

Monica Kanchhal said...

as above said :eye opener and motivating !!


Brett Beaubouef said...

Good article and there were key challenges identified. I've been a consultant for 20 years and there are two strategies I've had success with using with customers:

(1) Lead with a solution.

For more details please see the following blog article:

(2) Speak the language of the business.

For more details please see the following blog article:

Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Best Regards

Ramaswamy VK said...

Hello Brett,

I think you have hit the nail on its head. These are the only options possible when taking requirements. In case of Solution driven approach, start with a Solution. In requirements driven approach, start with the requirements. Either case use business language and not product or technology language.
The problem is that most of the consultants starts off as Product Specialists and move up as product specialists only after a couple (if not more) of botched implementations and unhappy customers. Many IT companies follow the principle of 'Junior - Senior ratio' where they try to mix Experienced snd raw consultants. But thi9 is a zero sum game. The end user to whom, the raw consultant is assigned to is frustrated and critical and this affects the overall satisfaction of end customer.

Gene Kaplan said...

Many years ago a client of mine told me "The Ham Story". The mom is teaching the daughter how to cook the holiday ham. She says "you cut each end off the ham and put it in the pan". The daughter says "why do you cut off the ends?" The mom says "I don't know, that's how grandma taught me, why don't you go ask her?" So the daughter goes and asks her grandma who says "Your mom has been stuck doing it that way for 20 years now. The first time I taught her the pan was too small for the ham and she just keeps doing it!"

I call these tru-isms". Our job is to find them and tug on the thread until we get to the end!


Ramaswamy V Krishnamurti said...

Very true Gene. Well said...