The Sports Bar Confusion

My wife was at a grocery store we don’t often shop and she was having trouble locating an item on the shopping list.

She spotted a staffer down the aisle and she said, “Hi, can you help me find the sports bars?” The young associate perked up quite a bit, “Sure thing Ma’am, I’ll take you right to them!”.

Kirsty thought it was odd that he was so excited over something so mundane as nutrition supplements. She followed him halfway across the store and they turned down the candy aisle. “Odd place for the sports bars,” she thought. As they approached the end of the aisle, the excited young man turned around and pointed to a shelf full of small model cars and said proudly, “Here they are- the sports cars!”

After a good laugh, Kirsty modified her request to be more specific and they found the items she needed. But this funny story reminded me of how our enthusiasm for certain technology solutions can cloud how we hear our customers.

Often we hear vague requirements like, “I need a place to store and share files” so we rush to point to cloud-based document storage solution when the customer really needs a workflow management solution. A couple of questions to help clarify the need go a long way in preventing delivering an incomplete solution. You can ask, “Who is going to use it?” and “What types of documents will be stored and shared?” These simple queries (and careful listening to the answers) will help you get to the real issue they are trying to solve.

In addition to clarifying unclear requirements, consider your own biases and preferences when you’re listening to your customers explain what they need from you. The grocery store clerk clearly had an affinity for the model cars and it clouded his hearing of the actual customer need. Your preference for a certain product might cloud you finding a great solution to the problem. Work hard to discard any products that come to mind while you’re listening for requirements.

These two simple techniques can help you immensely in your technology career:

1. Clarify with simple questions and listen for the actual needs
2. Eliminate biased “solutioneering” before the requirements are clear

These just might save you from a “Sports Bar” moment when the stakes are much higher.

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