IntroductionIn this article, I will describe what I consider key questions to cover from the point of view of an external consultant/partner starting an engagement at your client.
Writing this article made me realize that I was not consistently asking key questions on all my previous engagements. When you are pulled into the middle of a challenging project with tight deadlines, it’s sometimes easy to skip the big picture and go straight into break-fix mode.
If you don’t take time to understand the full picture, you will end up fixing only parts of the problems.
Why this is important
Because you need to know if you are fixing the “right” problems for your client and if they are worth fixing.
- Get the full picture of who is your client: Try to feel and understand your client and their current pain points. What is your client’s strategic business plan? What are the key challenges and problems they are facing? What’s happening in the industry? If we don’t get this information, you will subconsciously try to find reasons for why things are being done. Ask key questions early enough so that you can prepare your brain to formulate more ask specific questions when discussing requirements and possible solution designs later during the project.
- Pick inconsistencies: If you get different answers to your questions from different stakeholders, try to figure out if it’s an exception or if there is more to it. It’s ok for stakeholders to have different opinions about some requirements, but if they don’t have a similar goal for the Dynamics 365 platform you are implementing for them, then you need to help them come to an agreement.
- Make sure you help solve the “REAL” problems: You need to understand the real problems and if Dynamics 365 is the correct solution for it. Your client doesn’t know Dynamics 365 as well as you do. Ask your client in advance if they are happy for you to challenge and validate their requirements so that you can advise if it's worth being fixed or not.
What are those Key questions?
The following diagram covers the typical stages of a Dynamics 365 implementation using an Agile methodology. My key questions are related to stages 01 to 05 and help understand why the project exists.
01. What is the Strategic Business Plan?
Understand where the company wants to go. Check the company website and get more insight about the key priorities for the company. Why even bother with this? Because it will help you understand the company’s key priorities.
Ex: If the company focuses on customer excellence, then ideas on improving customer experience and customer satisfaction will be well received.
02. What are the company’s current challenges?
Get an understanding of the major challenges the company is facing and why Dynamics 365 is the right solution? Usually, these can be found in the initial request for proposal or quote documents. If you are dropped in the middle of an ongoing project, then ask this during the very first meetings you have with the key stakeholders.
Ex: For one of my clients, capturing clean customer data is seen as a key priority as it has to be reported to external stakeholders. Knowing that we have prioritized User Stories that help resolve that challenge. Ex: In Dynamics 365 we use Business Process Flows and lock the process at specific stages to make sure critical data is captured at the right place.
03. Define the Business Benefits of the solution
Business Benefits or Key Success Factors are essential to the success of your project and must be set as early as possible. Defining key success criteria will act as rail guards and will help prioritize conflicting requirements down the track.
Ex: When deciding how to implement a particular user story, you can fall back on the key success factors to assess whether investing in heavy customization is worth it.
In another example, you can use Key Success Factors to help two stakeholders find a compromise when pushing for 2 conflicting requirements. Refer back to your Key Success Factors to help the product owner make a choice.
Some examples of Key Success Factors:
- Users must be able to view, search and book resources to deliver work orders based on their availabilities, skills, locations and rates.
- Streamline and improve customer data capture along our customer acquisition process.
- Allow users to search and find relevant articles using keywords and a categorization tree.
04. What is the Product Backlog (and don’t be afraid to challenge it)
Product Backlog items must translate into Business Benefits and fit within Key Success Factors for the system. If not, challenge the requirement. Is this a nice to have or are we missing Key Success Factors?
Some great questions to ask:
- What problem are we trying to solve and is that problem worth solving?: Don’t forget to challenge if the problem is worth solving. Ex: We were recently investigating options to synch back leads into Dynamics 365 from an Offline App. It turns out that each of the proposed solutions would require a significant amount of effort to make the seamless integration work. While evaluating those options, the Product Owner decided not to invest in it as the problem was not worth beeing solve in this case. Users could still export a CSV file from the Offline App and load reacords in Dynamics 365.
- What are your requirement assumptions? How could you confirm or disprove that assumption? Don’t forget to follow up on assumptions you made and convert them into Acceptance Criteria or Out of Scope items.
- What would (different stakeholder) say about that? Ask multiple stakeholder their opinions, especially if you conduct one on one interviews.
Additional questions to challenge requirements? Listen to the following podcast:
- Socratic Questioning - Kent McDonald: In this episode, Kent shares a powerful approach to eliciting information using an ancient questioning technique. Link to the podcast: https://masteringbusinessanalysis.com/mba180-socratic-questioning/
Other resources I found helpful while challenging requirements:
- CRM Workshop Questions and Requirements Gathering Techniques - Mark Margolis: https://markmargolis.me/2013/04/08/crm-workshop-questions-and-requirements-gathering-techniques/
- Gathering Business Requirements with the 6 Ws - Joe D365: https://www.powerobjects.com/blog/2018/11/05/gathering-business-requirements/
- Dealing with ambiguous requirements – Dani Kahil: http://www.danikahil.com/2019/10/dealing-with-ambiguous-requirements.html
05. What are the Project Scope and implementation plan
Help your client create an implementation plan, aligned with the 4 previous stages.
You can use the following 2 techniques to frame your project scope:
- Dynamics 365 Discovery: Where the goal is to define the scope, plan and estimates. A great article that presents what is a “Discover Engagement” for Dynamics 365 can be found under: The Art of Gathering Requirements for D365 - Nancy Khunkhun: https://blog.armaninollp.com/dynamics/2019/03/15/the-art-of-gathering-requirements-for-d365/
- Dynamics 365 Story Map: Another great post from Neil’s Benson covers how Neil produces a Dynamics 365 story map to communicate scope, timeline and costs to stakeholders: Dynamics 365 Story Maps for Release Planning – Neil Benson: https://www.customery.com/blogposts/2018/9/8/dynamics-365-roadmaps-for-release-planning