Part of preparing any project for success is pulling together accurate and complete information about objectives, deliverables, and expectations. Gathering this data as it relates to end user requirements can sometimes be tricky—conflicting opinions, competing priorities, lack of big picture awareness, and little or no influence over final budget approval can all hamper your efforts. Below are some tips to help you get the information you need, proactively spot potential problems, and deal with requests that you know aren’t going anywhere.
Ask the right questions
Talk with users about what expectations they have both after the project is finished as well as while things are underway. Will they need accommodations in the interim? Have they put short-term solutions in place that will need to be removed? Ask about potential safety concerns along with the need for training on new equipment or processes. It’s also important to inquire about headcount plans. As you pose questions across the organization, be specific about needs and timeframes, and keep asking until you feel you have enough information to formulate a good plan. When you have a lot of users to manage, consider using a survey to gather the first large batch of information. You can then follow up with individual users to get additional clarification.
Talk to the right people
It’s likely that you’ll need to gather information from more than just end users. You may want to consult with functional experts, department managers, and your executive team for better high-level strategic direction and confirmation of long-term plans. Your end users, however, are usually your best source of information on day-to-day needs. As you make notes and record data, include the source for each piece of information—this will help you resolve any inconsistencies or conflicts later. If you have concerns about the information you’ve been given, check in with someone a level up in the organization.
Sidestep frivolous requests
As you talk with end users, it’s not uncommon to receive requests for things that your budget, resources, or corporate policy can’t support. How do you deal with these situations without putting yourself in an uncomfortable spot? The key is to be candid from the beginning. When you get a request that you know can’t or won’t be implemented, tell the requestor right away. Explain as honestly as you can why you aren’t including their request in your project plan, but never divulge sensitive information and be careful about discussing decisions that are still pending—you don’t want any miscommunications looming over your project. You might also encourage the requestor to take their idea to their manager (or yours). If either supports the request, then you can modify your project to include it.
Talk to the budget folks
Before you try to implement solutions to every end user need, it’s important to know how much funding you have available. If you end up with too many or competing requests, you can look to your budget to determine what you can do and what needs to be set aside.